Memories of the 1960s – Toys
I was born in 1962. The first 1960s toys I remember are a fluffy ball with a bell inside, a red, plastic train and a ‘musical box’, about the size of a food can, with a crank on top. As you turned the crank, metal tongues were flicked inside, much like an African lamellaphone. It had pictures of the royal guards and Buckingham Palace painted on its sides. I don’t remember what the tune was. The plastic train was from a Playcraft train set (see image below). All these toys seemed to be around since a time before I could remember anything clearly.
The first 1960s toy I remember actually receiving was a motorised Centurion tank (possibly Scalecraft). My dad came home late one night (it was always late when a father came home for any kid that was at nursery school!) and presented me with this thing that drove up and down a pile of books on its own! My dad showed me how to open a book and turn it upside down so that its spine formed the ridge of a hill. The tank could go over this too.
Then there was Lego. I had quite a small set of Lego, about enough pieces to fill a large biscuit-tin. But this included an electric motor attached to a remote controller! I seem to remember I broke the motor quite quickly, but not before making a tank or two of my own. I usually made dragsters, biplanes, lorries, artillery guns and steam trains. I also had a car garage with a roll-over roof, but I broke this quite quickly too.
My main love at an early age was toy cars. I quickly started to accumulate a large collection (eventually 240 vehicles) of Corgi, Matchbox, Matchbox King Size, Dinky Toys cars and trucks. I had bad luck with a Batmobile, a double-deck car transporter and a baby-blue Buick Riviera. After I had the Batmobile for only a few days, a rocket got stuck in the car’s insides. In those days, cars were all metal and riveted together. Repairing them was difficult and, because of its complexity, repairing the Batmobile was almost impossible. My dad was an engineer, so he took it apart and I had great hopes of him fixing it but he couldn’t reassemble it. The bits sat on a plate, on my window sill, for many years before I finally threw them away. The transporter’s tail gate/ramp broke. I wrote to Corgi many times, begging them for a replacement, but they never replied. The Buick disappeared mysteriously. I remember playing with it with the boy in the house opposite. A few weeks later, the car went missing. I tore my bedroom and the house apart, hunting for it. I never found it. I suspected my sister C or the boy opposite, but now I think it was somebody who shall remain nameless.
Swapping was a very common way to accumulate cars then. I had a Bedford flatbed which I obtained that way. I was very lucky to have some rare items in my collection. From my dad, I inherited some old Grand Prix cars of the 1950s. These are worth a lot of money now. They are still in the loft. I was also given some cars by a friend of the family, who was about five years older than me. Thus I obtained some nice cars from the 1950s. My dad also made me a wooden petrol station for my cars. Some of you will remember a plastic petrol station, complete with a lift, which was available in toy shops. Mine was even better; it had a lift, petrol pumps, a ramp and a show room but all with more space than the plastic toy. I loved it. Does anybody remember Tonka Toys, or Matchbox Kingsize kit cars? All my Matchbox cars are still in a small suitcase, in the loft. Here is a video, taking you through the 1974 Dinky Toys catalogue. My red Matchbox King Size Lamborghini Miura was my favourite.
I mentioned the wooden garage, which my dad made. He also made a nice dolls house for my sister C. She was two years younger than me. The dolls house front and back walls could be lifted off to reveal eight large rooms. Two were joined by an archway, a feature popular then on full-sized houses. There was plenty of miniature furniture available for a girl to buy with her pocket-money and some of it was exquisite but it was expensive. I think she quickly ran out of funds and the house was never fully furnished.
My sister C was an ace at Marbles. Again, we were both blessed with fantastic marbles, inherited from a great aunt or uncle. These were Victorian antiques. Some were made of white glass with lovely red swirls but my favourite had no stripes or twists inside but was filled with tiny blue bubbles. Although we were given half each, my sister C soon began to win all mine from me. We would play on the carpet, in the garden and in the school playground. Not only did she eventually win all mine but she soon started beating everyone at school. Her collection became enormous and I could only stare with envy at the standard sized marbles and the bigger ‘alleys’ and ‘half-alleys’. I remember you could buy marbles in the shop for a couple of shillings but they were never as nice as our antique ones. My sister C also had a pink, plastic pram and, later, a miniature, white pram with canopy, very similar to our own pram (which was white with a blue canopy). We both had an upholstered dog on wheels with handles that you could ride. She also had a cuddly toy dog, which she called Poodly-Woodly. I would often hide it which upset her but I would always give in and tell her where it was in the end. Once, while on holiday in Sidmouth, Devon, I threw it out of the window, onto the hotel roof. She couldn’t find it for days. When I finally showed her where it was, she told my parents and they made me retrieve it! I don’t think I ever hid it again after this. She had a weird spider toy, which consisted of a clockwork motor inside a drum about 5 cm diameter and 2 cranked legs, all covered with black velvet. It was very creepy when it moved, and I often pranked my sister by winding it up and wedging it against the legs of her bed. After she had been in bed for a while, the bed would move just enough to release the spider, terrifying her in the dark as it violently flung itself around the room.
Of course my sister C also had plenty of dolls and she had Tiny Tears – the doll that cried! You fed the baby water from a miniature bottle and then she would cry when you turned her over:
I probably became bored with Lego around the age of ten so my dad bought me a Meccano set. I think it was about Set 5. I didn’t really get on with it though. I tried to build a crane from the plans but as you progressed, the nuts from earlier components would become loose and you would have to go back and tighten them all. In the end, it was like a house of cards.
In about 1969 or possibly 1970, a new phenomenon appeared in the UK toy car scene, Hot Wheels. I immediately ordered a set from Santa but I was disappointed. While the track was flexible, the joiners were inexplicably made from brittle plastic and broke very quickly. Within weeks, the track was useless and in the UK at least, you could not buy joiner replacements. However, I got lucky. My next door neighbours had a Matchbox Superfast set. This was Matchbox’s answer to Hot Wheels and was virtually identical. The crucial difference was that the joiners were flexible. I was stuck with a load of Hot Wheels cars and no track. But the cars would run on Superfast track. So, after some negotiation, I managed to persuade them to part with it. The result was many happy days running amazing tracks down the stairs from the landing and out onto the porch. Below is a picture of Matchbox Superfast cars:
One novelty, I should mention was American remote-control cars. When I was about five, our next-door neighbours’ father regularly traveled to America. After one trip, he presented his two sons with these remote-controlled cars. I can’t be certain but I think one was a Cadillac. These were way ahead of what we had in the UK – positively futuristic. We didn’t have remote-control until about 1980, when I did finally get one. American toys always had a mystique for me after seeing these two cars in the 60s.
After cars, I progressed to trains. Horny and Tri-ang trains were the thing. In 1968 the two companies hadn’t yet merged. I saw the Tri-ang Princess class pacifics of a friend’s train set and I had to have one of my own. My dad chose the Hornby Flying Scotsman train set. It had a lovely big, green steam engine, a tender, three standard carriages, a Pullman carriage and about twenty feet of track. At first, I just laid it on the carpet but it was soon clear this was not a good idea; the cat couldn’t resist taking a swipe at the train every time it came around.
“You need a proper, permanent track base,” my dad told me.
‘Great!’ I thought. ‘Maybe the loft? Or all round the landing!’
The problem was that we lived in an ultra-modern chalet house. It had a long, sloping roof so the loft was tiny and only about four feet high at its highest point. The landing was no good either.
Imagine, then, my horror when my dad bought home a prefab door panel! I had to build my whole set on a door-sized fibreboard panel which measured three feet and six inches wide by six feet and six inches long! My dad fixed it to the wall at waist height, in the study, and left me to it. To this day, I don’t understand why he couldn’t give me a panel four feet wide. Just another six inches! The amount of heartache caused by the missing six inches! First of all, I needed a mainline set, two tracks, one inside the other, because the Flying Scotsman is a mainline train. But this made the inner curve about 18 inches radius. Hornby didn’t make curves this tight! Even the outer curve was hanging over the edge of the panel. My dad had to screw a two-inch wide strip to the side so that the track fitted and I could have a station platform. For the inner track, I had to buy flexi-track, which was very expensive.
My train set days were not to be the paradise I had envisioned. The motors never ran smoothly and consequently, I was constantly oiling them and cleaning the track with ‘track cleaner’. The problem was so acute that I converted a coal wagon to carry the cleaner. But the cleaning solution was too expensive so I had to substitute it with thinners and white-spirit. Unfortunately, this made the plastic sleepers brittle and they would break off. I had an elaborate plan for the set I would build but I never finished it. I found that toy trains are bloody expensive!
After trains I progressed to model aircraft. Aircraft would quickly become my greatest love, but at first, my experiences with models were frustrating. My dad first whispered of rubber-powered wooden models when I was about seven. I didn’t understand what he was talking about but after he brought home an Airfix Hawker Sea Fury (my kit came in a plastic bag or a bubble pack like the Hurricane here) and built it for me, I could see the attraction of a model that could fly.
My father brought home a Keil Kraft, rubber-powered Hawker Hurricane. The box contained balsa wood parts for the whole airframe but they weren’t even pressed out, as later kit parts would be! The box clearly said ‘Ages 10 and above’ and I was 7! It was too much! I struggled for a few weeks before consigning the kit to its box. It’s unclear whether it was my father’s ambition or my own that would plague my early aircraft building career but the trend continued. When I was ten, Airfix had just released the first two aircraft kits at 1/24 Scale, the Hurricane and Spitfire. These were huge. I never was so impressed by the Spitfire as others; I thought then and, in fact, still think that the Spitfire is a bit ugly. I wanted the Hurricane. I think it cost £3.99 (the Spitfire was £3.49) which was a huge sum at the time but I remember carrying the enormous box proudly home. Again, I wasn’t really old enough to build this kit. I managed to build the thing but it took months and frayed my nerves.
Other toys I remember from the 60s include toy guns. Although I refuse to touch a real gun these days, I had two Western style pistols, one a long-handled black one with an imitation pearl stock and a shorter barrelled metallic one with a wooden stock. I also had a Winchester rifle. All fired caps. I had a battery torch which had a green and a red filter for the lens. You could shine a normal beam or flip over the filter and then everything in the room would turn green or red. I had a Mamod working steam Traction Engine and several traction engines of a different make. I had a plastic friction-drive Comet airliner (possibly Tomiyama). Another curiosity, which my father brought home in shrink wrap pack, was a tiny, a Lone Star die-cast American diesel engine, along with some plastic track. It was just a push-along engine but later, I understand, the company used tiny electric motors. I loved it. but with about twelve inches of track and no carriages, it had limited play value. I had a Scalextric set, which was almost as old as me. I guess my dad must have bought it as soon as I was born! The cars were Grand Prix cars from the 1950s! I cannot omit mention of my finest toy; an Ever Ready London Underground set. My grandparents ran a combined Chemist and record shop in the 1960s and Ever Ready gave out 500 toy train sets of red, London Underground trains as a promotional gimmick. I inherited this. It wasn’t that much fun to play with because it only had a single circle of track, but it looks great. It’s still in its box and the box is in good condition. When I last checked, one of these sets went at the auctioneer, Christies, for £500. That was ten years ago. If anybody else has one of these, let me know.
While I continued to work my way through the Airfix model aircraft range, my father moved me on to control-line aircraft. These were model aircraft whose control was by means of two steel wires which led from a handle, held by the owner. This system was much like the system used by aerobatic kites. The main difference was that these aircraft flew round you at speeds of up to 100 mph. For some reason, which is beyond my comprehension, my dad chose to buy me the fastest and most sensitive aerobatic model Keil Kraft made. It would be fair to say it was a competition-only model. Not only that but the only model engine my dad could lend me was far too powerful. The result was a monster; far too fast for even the most expert control-line flyer to handle. When he powered it up for me in the field and let it go, it flew straight into the ground. And I mean, straight into the ground! I never had a chance. I was left with a bag of bits. Consequently, he bought me a smaller engine and we modified the design to make it a bit easier to handle. I rebuilt the model. It still didn’t last long but long enough to teach me the basics. I wanted more and progressed to a Focke Wulf 190 and eventually a Focke Wulf TA 152.
I ended up flying radio-controlled aircraft and even designing my own. My love of aircraft has never been quelled and that passion informs some of my thrillers, such as Attack Hitler’s Bunker! My love of technology led to me writing about Die Glocke (the Nazi Bell) in The Hole Inside the Earth.
List of toy cars that I can remember owning (most still in my parents’ loft):
Matchbox (List of Matchbox toys by year with photos – opens in a new tab)
Matchbox Dodge recovery truck (green and white)
Matchbox Lamborghini Miura (gold)
Matchbox Lamborghini Marzal
Matchbox Lotus Europa (blue)
Matchbox 1968 Mercedes ambulance (white/cream)
Matchbox Mercedes Truck
Matchbox Ford Pickup (red)
Matchbox Refuse Truck (blue)
Matchbox Pipe Truck (red)
Matchbox GMC Refrigerator Truck (blue and red)
Matchbox Mercury Cougar (metallic green)
Matchbox Rolls Royce silver Shadow (Maroon)
Matchbox Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow Coupe (gold)
Matchbox Ford Mercury Station Wagon (green)
Matchbox Iso Grifo (dark blue)
Matchbox (Ford Galaxie) Police Car
Matchbox BMC 1800 Pininfarina (gold)
Matchbox Ford GT40 (white)
Matchbox Refrigerator Truck
Matchbox 1953 Aveling Barford Road Roller
Matchbox Site Hut Truck (blue)
Matchbox Ferret Scout Car (green)
Matchbox Ford 3 Ton 4×4 Service Ambulance (green)
Matchbox Faun 8 Wheel Crane (green with red jib)
Matchbox Ford Group 6 racing car (green)
Matchbox Ford Kennel Truck
Matchbox Massey Ferguson Tractor & Trailer (red)
Matchbox Gruesome Twosome (1971 ) (orange)
Matchbox Lotus Super Seven (1971) (orange)
Matchbox Firetruck (US style)
Matchbox Models of Yesteryear
Matchbox (1968) 1928 Mercedes Benz 36/220
Matchbox 1909 Thomas Flyabout
Matchbox King Size
Matchbox King Size Racing Car Transporter (green)
Matchbox King Size Scammell Contractor Pipe Truck (yellow)
Matchbox King Size Esso Heavy Wreck Truck (white)
Matchbox King Size Ford Mercury Station Wagon (white)
Matchbox King Size Lamborghini Miura (red)
Matchbox King Size Allis-Chalmers Motor Scraper (yellow)
Corgi Toys (Illustrated List of Corgi Toys by Year with photos – incomplete – opens in a new tab)
Corgi 1961 No.1120 Midland Red Motorway Express Coach
Corgi Bentley Continental Sports Saloon (cream and green)
Corgi 1962 No.235 Oldsmobile Super 88 Sheriff car (black and white)
Corgi 1962 No.235 Oldsmobile Super 88 saloon (repainted black)
Corgi 1964 No.245 Buick Riviera (with working trans o lite headlights) (light blue)
Corgi 1964 No.236 Austin A 60 Driving School Car
Corgi 1973 John Player Special Lotus 72 (black and gold)
Corgi MacLaren M19A racing car (orange and white)
Corgi 1960 No.226 Morris Mini-Minor (grey)
Corgi 1964 No.247 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman – working windscreen wipers (red)
Corgi 1965 No.249 Mini-Cooper De Luxe (known as the Wicker Mini)
Corgi 1965 No.248 Chevrolet Impala (repainted black)
Corgi 1965 No.248 Chevrolet Impala Police Patrol Car
Corgi 1968 No.266 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Corgi 1966 No.267 Batmobile with Figures of Batman + Robin
Corgi 1969 No.302 Hillman Hunter ‘London to Sydney’
Corgi 1970 No.301 Iso Grifo 7 litre (blue)
Corgi 1967 No.339 1967 Monte Carlo Mini-Cooper S (red)
Corgi 1960 No.417 Land Rover Breakdown Truck (red)
Corgi 1962 No.420 Ford Thames Airborne Caravan
Corgi 1963 No.441 Volkswagen Toblerone Van (with working trans o lite headlights) (light blue)
Corgi 1966 No.437 Cadillac Ambulance
Corgi 1962 No.437 Superior Ambulance on Cadillac Chassis (with working lights)
Corgi 1966 No.494 Bedford Tipper Truck
Corgi 1967 No.479 Commer Mobile Camera Van
Corgi 2 x 1961 No.1123 Chipperfield Circus Animal Cage
Corgi 1962 No.1130 Chipperfield’s Circus Horse Transporter
Corgi 1966 No.1138 Carrimore Car Transporter with Ford tilt Cab
Corgi 1966 No.440 Ford Consul Cortina estate
Corgi Guy Warrior Tanker
Corgi Junior Rocket Aston Martin DB6 (with key to remove chassis) (gold)
Dinky Toys (Illustrated List of 1960s Dinky Toys with photos -opens in a new tab)
Dinky Toys Alpha Romeo racing car (red)
Dinky Toys Ferrari racing car (red)
Dinky Toys Talbot Lago racing car (blue)
Dinky Toys Mercedes Benz streamlined racing car (silver)
Dinky Toys Masarati racing car (red and white)
Dinky Toys Mini Monte Carlo Rally
Dink Toys Ferrari 312 (of much later year ) (red and white)
Dinky Toys Sunbeam Rapier Mk1
Dinky Toys Austin Van, ‘Raleigh Cycles’
Dinky Toys Four Berth Caravan (blue and white)
Dinky Toys Four Berth Caravan (yellow with transparent roof)
Dinky Toys Foden Diesel 8 wheel Wagon Flat Bed with chains (but mine are missing) (red)
Dinky Toys Pontiac Parisienne (red)
Dinky Toys Cadillac Eldorado (purple)
Dinky Toys Ford Cortina Mk1 East African rally car (white)
Dinky Toys MGB Sports Car
Dinky Toys Humber Hawk Police
Dinky Toys Aveling-Barford Diesel Roller (green)
Dinky Toys Police Accident Unit Presentation Set (Ford Transit) (white)
Dinky Toys Police Accident Unit Presentation Set (Ford Mini Cooper S) (white)
Dinky Toys Police Accident Unit Presentation Set (Ford Zodiac) (white)
Dinky Toys Land Rover (dark green) with plastic, removable tarpaulin
Dinky Toys Shado 2 Mobile (dark green)
Dinky Toys Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle – SPV – from Captain Scarlet (Blue)
Dinky Toys AEC Fuel Tanker (white)
Dinky Toys Chieftain Tank
Dinky Toys Honest John Missile Launcher
Dinky Toys D.H Comet Airliner
Dinky Toys F4 Phantom
Dinky Toys SEPECAT Jaguar
Dinky Kits (die cast – build it yourself kits) – 1974
Dinky Mercedes 600 Pullman
Dinky Ferrari 312
Beatnik Bandit (Blue)
Budgie Leyland Hippo Cattle Truck
Budgie Toys Euclid Mammoth Articulated Dumper
JCB Excavator 5C 1970S
Rolls Royce Silver Cloud (die cast) (silver) in presentation case
Fiat 128 East Africa Rally Car (complete with mud spatters – beige)
Large Tipper Truck (green cab, red tipper)
Pressed Steel (Yellow ) Wild-life Safari Land Rover
(Possibly – Manufacturer Uncertain)
Ichico VW T-1 Transporter (Police van)
Scalecraft Centurion Tank (motorised)
Scalecraft Traction Engine (motorised)
Bandai Traction Engine
Tomiyama Friction drive DH Comet Airliner
Gama Mini Mod
#955 Volkswagen Bus blue
Let me know what toys you had in the 1960s? Leave a comment below.
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