Many British people and collectors are very familiar with the Corgi brand of toys. They were a mainstay of many a childhood of the 1960s and 1970s, with their range of real life cars of the era, TV and movie toys, agriculture and more, so come with us as we take a look at the 50 years of Corgi.
The origins of Corgi can be found in a company called Mettoy. They were well known throughout the 1930s and 40s for creating tin plate toys that are still highly sought after by collectors. In the 1950s, as Tin Plate was still highly expensive in the post war world, they began to experiment with cheaper alternatives. They experimented with Zinc and Aluminium models. These were called Castoys and are considered the grandfathers of the modern Corgi toy. They were rebranded to Corgi by Philip Ulman, for three reasons. 1. The factory being in Swansea. 2. The shorter name was catchier and designed to compete with Dinky. 3. The connection to Royalty.
In 1956, Corgi toys were first released to the UK public, costing 3/ or about 15p. The first batch of cars were based on popular car models of the era, such as the Hillman Husky, Ford Consul and Rover 90. There were a few things that put them above Dinky toys was that Corgi used small crystals for the headlights, plastic glass, Glidamatic suspension, opening doors, bonnets and boots that had detailed interiors. Some even had turning wheels.
By the end of the 50s and the start of the 60s, Corgi began to expand out of the British market and British only cars. In 1958, Corgi had released it's first batch of European cars. The market had expanded to Europe, America and Asia, with new models of cars being made to match these markets. By 1960, we'd seen American cars make their debut.
By 1964, Mettoy had decided to compete with Matchbox by releasing a smaller line of cars. There were 75 in the initial line of cars. They were sold at a price point that was cheaper than Matchbox. They were sold in blister cards that showed the car inside and had the Husky logo on the top, on the back of the cards was a tick check list. The line was popular as they came with accessories with the car, such as a figure or a molded on detail. Though the line wasn't without it's criticism. One such involved the Studebaker Lark, which was made by both Corgi and Matchbox at the same time, but were almost identical. Later on, in 1970, they were rebranded to Corgi Juniors, though were practically the same vehicles and later just called Corgi. They were also modified in 1969 in a line called Corgi Rockets, which allowed children to remove the chassis, place oil on the axles to make them move faster. Corgi also released racetracks, however the line quickly vanished in 1971. Many people have suspected that Corgi were sued by Mattel over the idea due to it's closeness to Hot Wheels.
In 1965, Corgi released the first toy in it's TV and Movie range, which was The Saint's Volvo P1800. However, it wouldn't be until The Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger that the line would prove it's popularity with children and fans alike. It was one of the biggest sellers of 1965. It was a modified DB4, with new features such as the ejector seat, bullet proof shield, tyre slashers, machine guns and opening bonnet. The factory was unable to meet demand at the Christmas period. This model is still being sold by Corgi to this day and has sold over 7 million.
:Later models included the George Barris Batmobile from the Adam West TV series. An Avengers set with Steed and Peel and their respective cars of choice. The Man from U.N.C.L.E, which was a remold of the Oldsmobile Super 88, this time with figures of Solo and Kuraykin leaning out the windows with guns in their hands. It was at this time that Corgi had one 2 very prestigious awards. The Queen's Award to Industry and National Association of Toy Retailers Highest Standard Award.
Corgi continued to release famous movie and TV cars throughout the 1960s through to present day. These ranged from Batman The Movie, The Monkees, James Bond, Minder, The Professionals, Daktari, Jeeves and Wooster, The Beatles, Noddy, Popeye, Magic Roundabout, Wacky Races, The Muppets, Magnum PI, Vega$ and Starsky and Hutch. Many of these have been reissued since and updated. They are still for sale in many places.
Aside from making toys for younger children in their Husky and Juniors ranges, as well as TV and Movie favourites, Corgi continued to make lines based on pretty much every major vehicle type you can think of. From buses and taxis, to agricultural and farming, to trucks and vans, military vehicles and tanks and even famous racing cars. Le Mans 24 hour racers, rally cars and Monte Carlo, but they still continued to produce models based on famous cars of the world. They still do.
Sadly, by 1983, Corgi had filed for bankruptcy. Attitudes towards the cars by consumers had changed, rising costs had meant they couldn't compete with the rival brands in Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Dinky. In 1985, the company had made a return, this time with cheaper molds from China and Hong Kong. They launched the Corgi Collectors Club at this point and gained world wide attention from collectors. The company was sold to Mattel in 1989 and continued to operate, The factory was under the Microlink Industries Limited, now in Leicester, which was Mattel's UK headquatrters at the time. It was at this time, Mattel released the Corgi Classics Line, which helped reinvigorate the collector's market by re-releasing the original molds for vehicles that collectors had grown up with, as well as a ranges of vehicles from the 1930s - 1960s.
In 1995, Corgi had regained it's independence and was operating under the new name of Corgi Classics. It was under this that they went back to their original business model, releasing a new range of TV and Movie cars for Mr. Bean, Inspector Morse and Noddy, as well as bringing back the branded haulage vehicles with Cadbury and Eddie Stobart on them. It was also that this time Corgi had started to appeal to a wider and yet niche audience by releasing the Omnibus series, which was a series of bus models from all over the world and all different time periods and liveries, some especially designed for Royal Events, anniversaries and other special events. Examples include the recent Queen Elizabeth II's 90th Birthday and this year, Corgi's 50th anniversary. To date, there are over 800 Omnibus models.
In 1999, Corgi released it's new brand of collector's model called The Aviation Archive. This was a 1/144 scale series world famous aircraft from both Military and Civil Aviation. Corgi still continues the civil aviation side of the Aviation Archive, but to a lesser degree than what it used to. The Warplanes still prove a massive selling point with collectors. Not only did Corgi release aircraft, but in a smaller sub line called Forward March in 2006, which featured soldiers and vehicles from all wars, primarily World War 2. It was more based around tanks and armoured cars, as well as WW2 soldiers.
In 1999, Corgi was purchased by an American company called Zindart. By the early 2000s, Corgi was back into the 1960s levels of popularity and sales. By 2002, Corgi had purchased a Welsh company by the name of Lledo and was continuing their popular Day's Gone series of cars. They continued to release them under the name of Lledo Vangards and Days Gone until 2004, when the Lledo name was dropped and they were released under the Corgi Classics range.
In 2008, Corgi was purchased by Hornby, a well renowned model railway company for £8.3 million. Corgi were restructured and rebranded, featuring an all new logo. Under new leadership, Corgi continues to thrive as a dual marketed product. Not only do they still continue to cater to the collector's market, but they also thrive at putting these toys back into the hands of children. As part of the 60th anniversary celebrations, which will feature some of their most iconic models, as well as a limited edition.60th anniversary van and pin badge.
So there we have it, a condensed 60 year history of Corgi. I remember this brand and have some very fond memories of it over the years. It has remained extremely popular with fans, collectors and children and original models continue to be a major part of collector's fairs the world over. So thanks Corgi.