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The Tonka Jeep Story


 

The Beginning

Tonka Toys were first produced in 1946 by Mound Metalcraft Incorporated, of Minnesota. The name Tonka was taken from nearby Lake Minnetonka. Their first construction vehicles were introduced at the New York toy show in 1947, and the company added many other pressed-steel toy trucks (and Jeeps) to its line during the 1950s and 60's.

Runabout with Clipper boat

The first Tonka Jeep, the ten-inch-long flat-fender, apparently made its debut in 1962, and was sold in many variations for more than a decade. Its basic design, in steel with plastic interior, seems to have incorporated features of the CJ-3B Jeep Universal and the DJ-3A Jeep Dispatcher, and was sold under both of those names, as well as the "Jeep Runabout" and the Jeep Surrey (100K JPEG). For more variations, see Dispatcher Details: How to Date Your Tonka Flat-Fender.
 

GR22431Tonka produced a U.S. Army "Military Jeep Universal" starting in 1963. The "Jeep Commander" introduced the following year had a plastic canopy. The hood number GR2-2431 was apparently Tonka company's phone number in Mound, Minnesota; there was indeed a GReenwood telephone exchange in the area.

For some reason, the hood number was shortened after 1965 to G-2-2431 as seen on a later Jeep Commander (30K JPEG) with white interior and whitewall tires.
 

The Jeepster

1970 Look BookThe Tonka Jeepsters, based on the 1967-73 Commando, were larger -- about 12 inches long. This 1970 catalogue page shows several configurations. See Other Tonka Jeeps for more Jeepster photos.
 

Collectability

Mike Boyink says: "I've found the best place to buy the older Tonkas is at toy shows and not the antique shops. I found one for $20, and there were a few to be had in that price range. It's not mint, some rust here and there, but it cleaned up pretty well and to me the somewhat rough shape adds to its appeal somehow. Of course after I got it home and showed my parents what I bought, my mom told me she had kept the one from when I was a kid....  Any variations on the toy such as the ambulances, wreckers and fire Jeeps did fetch a much higher price, anywhere from $80 up."

WreckerHere's the white wrecker. See a rear view (20K JPEG) showing the "AA" decal. Later wreckers are blue and orange, including most of the ones made in Canada.

An unusual version is the U.S. Army wrecker (35K JPEG). Does anyone have more information on this model? It was possibly part of a set. Photo by Jenni Hypes.

Perhaps the most collectable variation is the Fire Pumper.
 

The Mini-Tonkas

1967 Look BookOther emergency vehicles including Police, Fire Chief and Rescue Ambulance, are among a number of Jeep Wagoneer toys produced by Tonka in their smaller Mini-Tonka series, as seen in this 1967 catalogue page. A 1967 advertisement (120K JPEG) from the Milwaukee Journal shows a price of $1.79.

See also the Emergency Service Jeep Toys page.
 

Gladiator and horse trailerIn addition to the camper, wrecker and fire truck, Mini-Tonka versions of the Gladiator pickup included a dump truck, cement mixer and a horse trailer set. See Mini-Tonka Does the Full-Size-Jeep.
 

Smaller TonkasThe U.S.-made Mini-Tonka Jeeps also include a six-inch version of the Universal flat-fender, sold in both a stock configuration and a modified version with a plastic roll cage. The latter came with wide wheels and various paint jobs, and was obviously designed for sandbox racing. See a great photo from Mike Albright of some of the Mini-Tonka varieties (100K JPEG) including some smaller, less-detailed toys produced in Mexico, Japan and Hong Kong under the Tonka name.

See also these Mini-Tonka photos:


 

The Tonka CJ-5

CJ-5
There is a newer ten-inch Tonka Jeep, introduced in the late 1970's and based on the CJ-5. It has a plastic frame, grille and windshield, as well as interior -- only the tub, hood and fenders are steel. It's also found with a plastic hardtop and in other variations.
CJ-5 at work
 
Note: the driver in this action photo from a construction site, doesn't come with the Tonka.

 

Thanks to Terri Key for the photo of the Runabout with the Clipper Boat, Dan Fedorko for his Jeep Commander, and Butch Cudahy, Bill Kelsey, Mike Albright and Jarek Skonieczny for Mini-Tonka photos. -- Derek Redmond

For lots more on Tonka Jeeps, return to the Toy Jeeps Pages on CJ3B.info.
 


Elsewhere on the web, see Neat Old Toys for more Tonka information, original catalogs, and restoration tips.

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Last updated 19 February 2006 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
http://cj3b.info/Toys/TonkaStory.html
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond