I received a comment on my web site a few months ago. I place a great deal of emphasis on toys sold in the United States and one visitor, known only as "batterty", took exception. His/her comment was "why does everything have to be yanky doodle duncy - try collecting and writing about Australian classic collections". Well, that is quite a challenge! I know that Top Gear Trax is made in Australia but beyond that I come up empty. But there is one little known brand from that part of the world that I do collect. Even though it is a well-known fact that there is a distinct difference between Australia and New Zealand, I believe that a few words about Fun Ho! and related makers would be welcome. (I must note at this point, as much for the benefit of my editor as for my readers, that the Fun Ho! trade mark includes the exclamation point, so please dont think that I have taken leave of my senses as you read this column!)
While the United States and other affected parts of the world started to climb out of "The Depression", H.J. Underwood was tinkering with making lead toys in his basement in Titahi Bay, Wellington, New Zealand. About four years later, in 1939, the "Fun Ho!" name was coined and a trademark was designed that featured a clown. In 1940, he began experimenting with aluminum (he probably called it "aluminium") and came up with a toy-making formula that would persist for the next forty-odd years. Featured items in the early days were tractors, trucks and cars.
The first impression one gets when looking at these toys is the similarity to early Lesney Matchbox toys. Undoubtedly the giant in England influenced the design of many of the cars. But there is no mistaking the unique character and offbeat construction of these toys. They are not quite so precisely scaled. The proportions of some subjects are caricatures of the full size vehicles that they imitate. Nonetheless they are pleasing despite the sometimes curious appearance and above all extremely durable. If popularity is any indication of a toys value, it must be said that these are very highly sought by New Zealanders as well as many British collectors.
I first became aware of Fun Ho! a couple of years ago when, over the internet I made the acquaintance of a dedicated VW Bug collector in New Zealand. In the never-ending quest to find the next Bug toy, my friend mentioned that she could get me some Fun Ho! "Vdubs". I was as interested as ever in getting another version of the Bug for my collection but had no idea what a Fun Ho! was. A couple months later, when the package arrived, I got a look and have been a fan ever since.
There were several lines of vehicles. They came in various sizes and a couple different materials. Most were made of aluminum as I have said, but there were also some lead and some stamped-vehicles in the larger sizes.
Started in 1964, the first 9 dies were obtained from Streamlux, in Australia. Fun Ho! continued production in-house and expanded the range. Up to Number 32 were chromed or copper plated, as well as painted for about two years. The chrome models were made prior to 1966. Some of these Midgets have a number of variations in the dies and many different colors and decals. David Daw has written a book on them with information and pictures that is available from the Fun Ho! Museum for NZ $ 25 plus shipping
No. 5 VW Combi Bus (1964 1966)
My VW Bus is chrome, known by New Zealand experts as "Chromies". It has "VOLKS-BUS" on the base and small black plastic tires on stout axles. There is no interior or window plastic. The Bus is about 2 inches long, 7/8 inches wide and an inch high. It is molded in two pieces, split right down the middle, and mounted on a one-piece base. The axles are crimped on.
No. 9 Volkswagen (1964 1966)
This highly desirable model somehow didn't last as long as its long lived real life VW. The first castings had chrome or copper bodies. Some bodies were only nickel-plated. Some early bases were painted red, while others were chrome or copper plated. When the bodies were painted around 1965-66, the bases were zinc plated. A number of this model were made with one side of the axles crimped flat. Bases were first embossed "Streamlux-Aust", but this was removed at Underwoods, who later replaced with "FUN HO No 9 VOLKSWAGEN MADE IN NEW ZEALAND". For a time, there was no marking on the base. There were small red and white or red and yellow boxes.
I have two different examples. Both are 1 7/8 inches long, ¾ inch wide and ¾ inch high. One is a Chromie and the other was at one time painted. The chrome one appears to have had the copper finish at one time, as there are some hints of copper in the crevices. The other one was yellow. Both have small black plastic wheels on sturdy metal axles.
No. 16 Fordson Super Major Tractor (1964 1982)
The light green and the blue tractors are part of the Midget series, made by pressure die-casting using a zinc alloy known as "muck metal" in the trade. They are 1 5/8inches long, 1 inch wide, just over an inch high. There is no exhaust pipe. A Small tow hook in the rear. The wheels are cast aluminum, much like early Matchbox toys. The rear wheels are mounted on a separate axle, the front axle is part of the casting. There is a driver with a cap, and hands on a stationary steering wheel. There are fenders on the rear wheels. On the green one, the axle ends are rounded; on the blue one, the axle ends are dimpled. Both have "Made in New Zealand" on the inside of the left fender and "Fun Ho No. 16 Fordson" on the inside of the right fender. These markings are almost obscured by the driver. The blue one is a few years older than the green. Earlier models have the dimple in the middle of the rear axle and later ones have a rounded finish. They were made between 1965 and 1982, and were one of the 70 or so die casts made by Fun Ho! from 1964 to 1982.
No. 43 E-Type Jag (1969-1982)
Since I own a vintage E-Type and a more contemporary XJ6 Jaguar (the latter usually referred to as the "Nemesis"), I collect Jaguar models with some relish. There are no shortage of good and bad attempts to recreate the leaping cat in miniature.
Fun Ho! did a very pleasing E-Type that had a good run of several years. The bases were always zinc plated. The wheels were "number one" size, smaller than the typical Lesney Matchbox wheels. The first bases had "NZ FUN HO! "E" JAG" embossed on them. Later it was changed to read "FUN HO No 43 E TYPE JAG MADE IN NEW ZEALAND". In the modified bases, two lines can be seen through the rear window, the luggage protector strips found in full sized cars. A few were painted in gold, and some in silver to a special overseas order that never was filled. There were several variations, both in the car and packaging. There were two types of base, a few different colors, and packaging that was "visi-pack, blister or plinth carded. All were about 2 inches long, ¾ of an inch wide and 5/8 of an inch high. The reproductions were produced after Fun Ho! closed. Mine is one of the reproductions, made from left over parts, and distinguished by the blue windows. It was hand painted by Barry Young. It is a good choice of color as Jaguar did produce E-Types in this shade.
No. 58 - Midget Jeep (1976 1982)
No. 58 dies were completed in 1976. There were a few delays in the production of this detailed JEEP and it was released after a lapse of about five years from the previous issue, (No. 57). A limited number were issued with plain seats, steps, and no side lights on the front of the fenders and no windshield wipers. The tow bar on the first few with unmarked bases was free standing and had no side supports. Most of these early examples had painted bodies and seats with brownish-gold colored seats.
Most Jeeps had the seats marked with upholstery lines. The steps had a grid design and a pair of parking lights were added to the front fenders. Wipers were also added under the windshield. The tow bar had a pair of "L" shaped sidebars, and the base was marked "FUN HO! No 58 JEEP MADE IN NEW ZEALAND". Wheels were "number four" size, larger than the number one size. A spare tire was mounted on the rear of the body. Some unusual variations were a gray Police model, and a white Red Cross model. The Jeep was also included in four Service Construction sets but was not found in the Road Construction Set. Fun Ho! Midget 63 was the same model with military decorations
My example is red and measures 2 3/8 inches long, 1 1/8 inch wide and (minus the missing windshield) 1 inch high. It is also missing the spare tire. The back of the body bears the classic "JEEP" lettering. Of all the Midgets that I own, this is the most accurately detailed and proportioned.
Prior to the advent of the Midget line, a long run of successful large toys was produced. These consisted mainly of tractors, trailers and other implements. There were a few cars, including popularly styled 50s Indy racers, planes, motorcycles, Hot Rods, vans, tankers, fire engines and trains! There were also road signs and even a shovel. For collectors of Fun Ho! there are many different subjects from which to choose.
No. 81 Oliver Tractor (1942 1976)
My friend in New Zealand sent me a message saying that she was going to a flea market and expected to see some Fun Ho! So I asked her to keep a watch for me and pick up anything that she thought I might like. Later that day she caught me online and asked if I would be interested in some tractors. Having grown up in a rural farm community, I have always enjoyed tractors, so I said "bring them on." She found three for me. Each one is interesting; the kind of toys I would have died for as a child.
The Oliver is one of the earliest tractors produced by the Underwood firm. It is said to be a very accurate likeness to the real thing, the Oliver 70. Mine is red with white plastic wheels, a headless driver wearing blue, with a hole drilled in the back of the base, intended for accessories. I was disappointed to see that the driver was so seriously injured, but my friend came through with a replacement part that was made from the original molds, so one day soon, my headless farmer will once again be whole!
The tractor is about 5 ¼" (134mm) long. From 1942 until about 1946, the wheels were 1 ¾" x 1" diameters, made from solid cast aluminum. Subsequently, they were came with black rubber wheels. Around 1951, plastic wheels were put into use. My example has the later wheels. They are pretty well chewed up, but still are in one piece and quite functional. The axles are at least ¼ in diameter so it is no surprise that they are still straight and true.
The toy is assembled in a clever way. The main body of the tractor is made of two halves that hold the driver, dashboard and steering wheel along with the tow bar and foot plate (one casting) in place through the use of a single pin that passes through the body of the tractor. The rear tires are mounted on an axle that passes under the driver and is riveted to the outside fenders. The front wheels are attached to the main part of the tractor. A sticker on the hood was the only decoration.
Later models had a lower plate with no pin. The footplate acquired a hole that was intended to be used for towing Fun Ho! farm implements. The driver had a pink face and arms and a dark color for his hat, either brown or black. Sometimes his shirt was painted.
Among the attachments made for the Oliver was a 5 ¾" (145mm) long trailer (no. 81a) The tow bar doubles up and curves to form an upward hook. It was said to be difficult to put in and take out of the tractor tow hole. It is quite unusual, having only been made for six years.
No. 104b Tractor (1942 1982)
This tractor is one of my favorites. It reminds me of the Fordson tractors that were rusting into the ground in the towns surrounding mine, when I was a kid. This toy is all aluminum. The body and driver was cast in two pieces. The wheels are attached to axles that pass through the main casting. They are very robust and again, I am not at all surprised that this toy has survived in such great condition. The body is painted red and the wheels, yellow. The drivers hat is painted blue. There is a hole in the back for towing accessories. Mine shows a lot of wear on the road surface of the wheels. It has an overall length of 5 3/8" long, 3" high and 2 7/8" wide. There is a single decal on the top surface of the gas tank, which has survived some hard play. I have acquired replacement decals. Should I decide to restore this item, they will come in handy. One feature of this toy that is quite impressive is the way in which the axle ends are covered with little chrome caps. This gives a nice finished appearance. This feature marks it as a post-1972 version. This model has been reproduced. It is distinguished from original production by the powder-coat finish and the inscription "Repro". These have become hard to find because so many New Zealanders are collecting Fun Ho!
Another tractor made by Fun Ho! is the No. 103, which is a smaller version of the No. 104b. It came with various wheels that were solid rather than spoked.
A number of other brands were made in New Zealand around the same time that the Fun Ho! factory was active. But in the 70s, with the relaxed import restrictions resulting in increased competition from offshore toy manufacturers, many of these companies closed. The Fun Ho! company purchased tooling from some of these companies as a way to reduce domestic competition. Consequently, there are some overlaps in models from brand to brand, and some toys that were never made again. In 1979 Fun Ho! bought a large Auckland firm called 'Tri-ang Pedigree (NZ) Ltd'. Up until this time Fun Ho! toys were sand-cast. But found among the Tri-ang equipment were some gravity die casting machines. Fun Ho! tried the gravity die casting and in 1980 introduced the "Sandpit" toys, based on "Jumbo" dies, formerly owned by an Auckland firm, McKenzie & Bannister. These were made until 1982, along with the traditional sand-cast and pressure die cast Midgets.
Jumbo Tractor 407 (1960 1970)
The "407" was made by McKenzie & Bannister in Auckland ,NZ. They made a range of gravity die cast toys called "Jumbo" toys until they closed in about 1970. (More may be learned about the "Jumbo" line in the Fun Ho! Repro Magazine, written and published by Barry Young, in New Zealand.) Fun Ho! did not use this casting but it has a familial connection. It was also sold with a double frame and scoop in front, operated by a lift lever on the right and tripped by a lever and wire to the left of the frame ; a model with a rear mounted blade; and one equipped with a clever post hole digger. At peak, about 7000 pieces were made per year.
The tractor has "407" cast into the front, running vertically behind the nose. It is painted red with an aluminum plow and lift lever. The rear wheels are unpainted aluminum with rubber tires. The front tires are one piece rubber and are attached with a washer and crimped axle ends. The steering wheel appears to be held in place with some sort of rivet. There is no driver. A smokestack is centered on the top of the hood. Overall, it is about 7 1/2 inches long, 3 3/4 inches wide and about 4 inches high to the top of the smokestack. It is a robust toy and even as worn as it is, still has many miles left on it!
Search Yahoo! for Fun Ho! sites, then do the same search on Alta Vista. Here are some of the sites I found:
Fun Ho! National Toy Museum
I would like to thank Barry G.B. Young for his dedicated assistance in compiling and sharing the technical information found in this article. Mr. Young worked for the Underwoods and is the curator of the Fun Ho! Museum in Taranaki, New Zealand. If you take a tour of New Zealand, be sure to stop by and pay his museum a visit! I would also like to thank Rosemary Allen for supplying me with the start of my Fun Ho! collection shown here, and for supplying many of the little bits of info and reference materials used to compile this article.
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