Toy Trader
Die Cast Insider - December 1998
1998 Paul M. Provencher
'55 Chevy Stepside by Superior
Pull-Back Vehicles

This column is dedicated to all the no-name brand die cast of varying quality that try so hard to be chosen over other mainstream offerings that sit on the next shelf over. We have all seen them. They sell for a couple dollars. They often have crude details, bad paint jobs, and the dreaded "pull-back" motor. Even worse, they can be so bad that the manufacturer even fails, intentionally or otherwise, to put their mark on them. Most, if not all of them are made in China.

There is not much doubt in my mind that many readers are getting ready to turn the page in much the same way that they turn the corner and move to the next aisle. But give it another minute. Amongst the rubbish are some gems worth another look. The next time you are in the craft, hobby, "dollar" discount drug, or grocery store, take a minute to check them out. You might be surprised by what you find!

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VW Beetle

The undisputed king of "pull-back" motorized cars is the fine line produced by Darda ). The motor is a precision clockwork mechanism that runs for thousands of cycles. And when the motor does finally give up the ghost, a replacement can be ordered to bring the car back to life. Darda make track sets and accessories so you can race them against your friends. My favorite is the VW Beetle. The body proportions are a bit stylized but it still is one of the best renditions of the ubiquitous Bugs. The wheel hubs are made of metal, the rear tires have rubber tread surfaces to make them grip better. And they are fast. With just a couple of back and forth drags across the floor they will careen across the room at a very high rate of speed. Make sure the kitty is not in the room! 

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M C Toy and Maisto

My second choice in this under-class of die cast vehicles are the Maisto Power Racers. What they lack in motor design, they more than make up for in good proportion and detail. There is an extensive series of cars in this line. They are sold under a couple different names. Many of the cars made under the old MC Toy mark are now part of the Maisto line. They are also sold in special Mega Mover packaging at KMART and other stores. I began collecting these several years ago and have found them to be a very good value for the price. There are some excellent subjects as well.

Jaguar E-Type - Click to Enlarge
Jaguar E-Type

I collect just about anything related to Jaguar cars. I am the proud and sometimes miserable owner of an E-Type and XJ6, so I guess you could say that my car collection is a tribute to the beauty, if not the reliability of these cars. The MC Toy E-Type Roadster is quite nice. It has a lot of nice details that are true to the original. The doors open and the windshield has clear plastic. The seats flip forward (even though they are fixed in the real car). The dash has pretty good detail for a toy in this size and price range. The bumpers are chrome. I besmirched the originality of this toy by painting additional details to bring out the turn signals and taillights. I also painted the interior that was white plastic. I may have added the chrome trim on the windshield surround, although it has been so long that I can’t remember for sure. I also applied a black "wash" to the wire wheels to bring out the details. This model has since become part of the Maisto series and is still available in several different packaging variations.

Ferrari 250 GTO  - Click to Enlarge
Ferrari 250 GTO

My favorite Maisto series are the Ferraris. Last year, a dear family friend sent me an entire set that was sold in Shell stations in Brazil. Interestingly enough, a couple of the cars in the series were very hard to get there. Notwithstanding, all of the cars in the series are available here in the States in good quantity. But of course if you collect packaging, the Brazilian ones will have just a little extra appeal. The pick of the cars is the Ferrari 250 GTO. In 1962, Enzo built this, the definitive GT car. It has a rip-snorting V12, Borrani alloy wheels and a body to die for. Precious few models have been made of this glorious car. The Maisto Power Racer is certainly a far cry from the Bburago, but it does a very good job illustrating all of the salient details. If you have young children, you will be forced to get two of these – one to open and play with, and one to keep in good shape. The doors open. It has a black plastic interior that is pretty accurate. The windows and headlights are clear plastic. The prancing horse is cast in to the grill but will have to be painted to stand out since it is red like the rest of the car. The wheels are probably the weakest feature of this car, the real ones are deep-dish affairs; these are a little too convex. Still, with some black and chrome paint, this model will look a lot more valuable than it really is. And it may even be possible to find some decent wheels if you really want to go crazy.

Superior and Sunshine

I spent hours trying to locate an address or distributor for this brand. I was unsuccessful. And I am disappointed because the vehicles that they make are wonderful. Now I would not be so positive if I were going to give them to my infant son or another kid to play with. They are fragile. They have lots of small parts that can come apart very easily. I have my suspicions about the chemical content of the paint. But as static models that will never see the inside of a child’s mouth or be bashed into the wall, they are great. I have found a wide variety of vehicles to choose from. The details and proportions are generally very good. Most models from this maker have opening doors and other moving parts. I don’t know how long the motors would last, but they are of secondary importance to me.

'55 Chevy Stepside  - Click to Enlarge
'55 Chevy Stepside

The ’55 Chevy Stepside is remarkable. There are lots of chrome parts, including the side mirrors and windshield trim. The doors open, complete with window surrounds, which is uncommon for any model in this price range. The tailgate flips down. The detail molded into the body of the truck bed begs to be painted to simulate wood. The head and taillights are clear plastic. The numberplate holders have tiny dealer plate stickers. The interior has two-toned seats. The paint is red metallic. It even has tiny chrome door handles and a gas cap! The grill is almost nice enough to rival photo-etched metal parts. I found it in a discount drug store one day when baby needed a break from the car seat on a long drive. It was very hard to choose from the different vehicles that I found in the store. But with a fixed amount of cash on hand, I was forced to leave behind several that I would have liked to bring home.

VW Beetle  - Click to Enlarge
VW Beetle

Never one to leave a VW Bug behind, I did buy a complete set of these in every available color. While they are not a pull-back toys, they are more or less in the same class as the other cars in this feature. They’re a little bit larger than the others too, and look like a ’53 Oval window versions of the early VW’s. The doors open and the front seats flip forward. The interior detail is quite good even though the steering wheel looks like it belongs on a 1973 model. They have gray plastic wheels and chrome hubcaps, complete with the embossed VW logo. Other features include chrome door handles, hood trim strip, bumpers, horn grills and headlight surrounds. I have so far resisted the temptation to apply some detail paint and bare metal foil to complete the trim.


Trabant  - Click to Enlarge

Welly has been around for about 20 years . But not many people know much about them. I found several of their models in a discount drug store in West Virginia. The vehicles are made in China and span a wide range of subjects. One of the more interesting ones is the Trabant. Last manufactured in 1991 in Zwickau, East Germany, this little gutless wonder was the transport of choice (like it or not) for the east until the Berlin Wall came down. It has since achieved cult status (probably with people who never had to drive it). Don’t get me wrong – I do not harbor any dislike for the car. It is attractive in its own way. Kind of a square VW Beetle, if you will. I ran across this model in a dollar store in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. The doors open. The pull-back motor is pretty strong. The details are nearly correct - the driving lights and side mirrors were accessories that would have been added by a fortunate owner. The proportions are remarkably accurate, and pleasing. I had to have it – I mean how many Trabant models do you run across in a lifetime? It has the insignia on the hood, clear amber taillights, and clear plastic windows.

'53 Chevy Bel Air  - Click to Enlarge
'53 Chevy Bel Air

Another Welly subject, the ’53 Chevy Convertible is a bit on the unusual side. There are not many models of this car in any scale, so when I found it, I had a hard time choosing from all the funky paint and tampo combinations available. I settled on the ivory white convertible with the most tame graphics of the lot. The doors open. The hood opens to reveal a crude engine. But it’s cool! When I was growing up, my Uncle John-Paul had one of these cars that we took on a daylong excursion to Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. What a blast! With a little bit of work, this model could be stripped, repainted and detailed. It would be a respectable replica in short order. It has a nicely detailed grill. The trim normally found on the sides of the car are molded in and painted the same color as the car. But some bare metal foil would work wonders.

Mini  - Click to Enlarge

Another favorite of mine is the Mini. This model is very nice. Several color schemes are available but I chose the classic blue with white top. It has chrome headlights, grill and bumpers. The taillights are molded in clear amber plastic. The doors open to give a better look at the tan plastic interior. The opening hood reveals a lame representation of the engine that should be inside. It’s too bad that the wheels are not Mini-Lites, the stock mag on the Cooper version, but it is still a great model of one of the most eclectic car designs ever put to metal. I am sure that this model is very popular with anyone who owns or loves Minis.


Marathon Checker Cab  - Click to Enlarge
Marathon Checker Cab

My wife grew up in the upper west-side of Manhattan and has a soft spot in her heart for Checker Cabs. While I seriously doubt we will own one, I was lucky enough to find a pretty decent model to fill in. This one is truly a "no-name" brand, marked only with the words "Made in China" molded into the plastic base. The only clue to the maker is a logo that looks like two stickmen holding hands. It has the familiar billboard on the roof with a Statue of Liberty theme. The doors open and the pull-back motor does a good job of moving the car along (assuming there is no traffic)... One interesting piece of trivia about this real-life car is that it was designed by the same stylist that did the ’55 Chevy. It is easy to see the resemblance.

Jaguar SS100  - Click to Enlarge
Jaguar SS100

Another in a long list of the Jaguar’s in my collection is this no-name Jaguar SS100. It is another example of the gems that can be found where you least expect it. This one came from a card and gift shop. It features nice chrome accents, opening doors, "wire" wheels, and a convertible top. The motor in this one gave up before I bought it, but as you might guess, that made little difference to me. I spent a few minutes applying some black paint to highlight the wire wheels and some tan paint to bring out the leather hood straps. The rubber tires have all split but remain attached to the wheels. I have my fingers crossed that they will not get worse.

Jaguar XK-120  - Click to EnlargeJaguar XK-120  - Click to Enlarge
Jaguar XK120

As a kid, my family was associated with a couple brothers who were "motorheads". One brother was a drag racer and the other was into Jags. I got my first ride in a Jaguar XK-120 when I was about eight years old. It was an experience that I never forgot. And I spent countless hours playing Ian Appleyard in the parts car (perish the thought) that was left over after the restoration project was complete. This model, the XK-120 is a pretty nice model. The doors open. The hood opens to reveal a better than average attempt to show the XK engine. The car is done as a right-hand drive, The dash detail is also pretty good. A little paint… The bumpers, lights and grill are all chrome. I managed to find this model in four different colors and naturally added them all to my shopping bag. These were found in a little gift shop at the airport in Des Moines, Iowa. As a matter of fact, many of the models in this class that found their way into my collection came from airport shops.

'32 Ford Roadster  - Click to Enlarge
'32 Ford Roadster

Hot Rodders and vintage car restorers love the ’32 Ford Roadster. It was a great car in it’s day. After some teething problems with the new V-8 engine and despite the mechanical brakes, the ’32 Ford was one of the most popular cars in its day and has continued to be a hot number. This model accurately shows the most recognizable features to good advantage. Some details, like the spare tire screwed to the rumble seat are not quite right, but overall it is pretty good. The doors open. The headlights and bumpers are chromed. The windshield has clear plastic "glass". The interior detail is minimal and the hood does not open, but it displays well nonetheless.

So take a walk on the wild side! Look past the low price tag, cheesy friction motors and low-rent retail locations and you will find some nice little cars that can evoke memories and provide a nice contrast and a little variety to your collection!

Catalog Number Maker Description Scale (if known)
  Maisto Ferrari 250 GTO 1/38
5602 Superior ’55 Chevy Stepside 1/36
  Unknown Marathon Checker Cab  
  M C Toy Jaguar E-Type 1/38
9012 Welly ’53 Chevy  
9045 Welly Mini  
  Unknown Zil  
  Unknown Jaguar XK-120  
8875 Unknown 1932 Ford Roadster  
8876 Unknown Jaguar SS100  
7707 Sunshine Volkswagen Beetle  
11019 Darda Volkswagen Beetle  

Paul M. Provencher

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