Saturday, 10 October 2015

The Classics

Often overlooked in listings of Corgi Toys from the era before things went wrong are the Classics that they produced from around 1964. These were beautifully detailed models of jalopies from yesteryear and that, of course, may have been one of the terms they had in mind at the time as Matchbox had established a good name in this field already with their 'Yesteryear' brand.

These were not models that kids would zoom around the floor, though, and were, perhaps, the first that may really have been aimed at older collectors, not just because they were a bit staid in comparison to Oldsmobile Toronados or Buick Rivieras but they had bits that might break off more easily. I remember that I had no interest in them at all and only had the Steed Bentley because I had been a huge fan of The Avengers and my parents bought me the Gift Set. The Lotus was well played with but the Bentley, to this day, stayed virtually unmarked.

That set, however, was not where things started and may even have only come about as a result of sales of the Bentleys not being exactly massive. It all started with a green 'racing' edition which came with a hood and a driver clad in what looked like a pile of bandages. I didn't put the driver in the photos. 

The wheels of 9001 were always steel and it can be identified from similar models by having white Racing Number 3 on the rear and radiator grill. There is also a Union Jack on the passenger door panel.

In the first launch also was 9002, a red Bentley, just the same as 9001 but this had red wheels and no Racing Numbers. It had the same full hood. I think it also had a driver who still seemed to be wearing bandages but not as white.

The same Bentley appeared later in Gift Set 40, as Steed's vehicle from The Avengers TV series. Most were red with steel wheels but there were also green Bentleys (which would have been a more appropriate colour as Steed never actually had a red one!) which were like 9001 but with no Racing Numbers or Union Jack. In either case the full hood was replaced by a folded variety. The green Bentley would have red or steel wheels. A figure of John Steed, dressed in a grey-brown suit and tie would be at the wheel.

Much later than all the others, the same Bentley re-appeared as 9004 in green again but this time with grey-black rails and a much brighter red-brown interior. Jeeves would be at the wheel with his master, Bertie Wooster, leaning against the car in quite a remarkable tweed suit and nice reproduction of his monocle.
This would have steel wheels and, again, no Racing Numbers or flag.

After the Bentleys came the Ford Model T cars. Again, wonderfully well-made but quite vulnerable to damage. the screens on these are often broken. First was 9011 in black with a couple of figures.

9012 was the same Model T but in yellow and with the same two figures in the box. Both 9011 and 9012 were open with folded holds at the rear.

9013 was the Model T in blue and came with a fixed full hood. It also had a chap leaning down at the front, grabbing the starter handle. I have him but he isn't in the photo.

The catalogues illustrate 9014, a Lyons Tea Model T commercial vehicle but that never made it into production.

9021 is a very impressive and bright Daimler. This is packed with characters and is also a very heavy model compared to the others. The bright red paint and yellow wheels really look quite extraordinary. I totally missed this car at the time and it was only a few months ago that I became acquainted with it. There's no way I would have bought one then. Now, you'll see in the catalogues another Daimler described as 9022 with a hood, I think it is in dark blue. This never made it into production although I have seen a pre-production example from the factory and maybe some are circulating.

Next in the catalogue come two 1910 Renaults. 9031 is a sort of mauve colour and 9032 is primrose.

In other respects these are identical and had no characters with them, a cheaper option all round.

The series ends quite soon after it began with this extremely old-fashioned and rather unappealing to the young Rolls Royce Silver Cloud which is more like a bus than a car. It is, again, beautifully made, with remarkable detail, jewelled headlamps on this one and the flying lady on the radiator. I have two varieties: one with gold wheels and a grey exhaust, another with steel colour wheels and  a black exhaust. 

These are all models for older folk to display. Indeed, most came with picture boxes and some had stands included or a sort of street scene illustration inside the box. Not the Rolls, though, which came in a ubiquitous bubble pack - quite inappropriate for that class of vehicle! Cost were being cut, though, and these didn't sell well. Many were made, though, and as a consequence you can but these for really low prices, even with their boxes.

If you just want to buy the cars themselves then you'll find Rolls Royces going for £10-£20 and the Renaults and Fords seldom cost more than £30. The Bentleys can be a bit more expensive, often because people confuse them with Steed's from the Gift Set. A 9001 would be £30-£40, a 9002 £40 -£50 and the most expensive is the comparatively scarce 9004 with Jeeves and Wooster at around £60.

An original Steed's Bentley in good condition may also cost you around £60. Most green ones I encounter are adaptations of one of the others and original green Steed's Bentleys are likely to be a bit more.

If you ignore the Bentleys, though, you'll realise that you can have a complete set of the Classics, all easily found in A/A+ condition, on display for less than £100.

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