Jeeps were strongly associated with the Tour de France cycling competition in the 1950s, as seen in this image of fans greeting their heroes after a day of racing in 1953.
Not surprisingly, many French toy companies responded with models produced in pressed steel, tinplate, paper, plastic and diecast metal.
The Tour jeeps were used for much more than joyriding. Eighteen surplus wartime jeeps had been purchased by race organizers in 1947, painted white, and equipped with racks for spare bicycle wheels and frames (look closely in the photo above.) One was supplied to each national team that year, and they were used as official support vehicles until 1955, and unofficially into the 1960s. They followed the peloton (pack of cyclists), ready to speed ahead if one of their riders had a problem. Jeeps were also widely used by reporters and media teams covering the Tour.
Probably the best known model today of the Tour de France support jeep is the early-2000s diecast from Norev. The company was founded shortly after World War II in Lyon, France and initially sold plastic toys, but moved into diecast metal by the 1960s. Their detailed 1/43-scale jeep was photographed for CJ3B.info in front of the cover illustration from a special edition of the magazine Miroir-Sprint devoted to the 1952 Tour.
The Norev model is based on the Willys MB with license plate 249 RS used by Team Switzerland and seen here in 1951 with Swiss star Ferdinand Kubler (1919-2016) who had won the 21-day race the previous year. His teammate Hugo Koblet won in 1951, and they are still the only two Swiss riders to take home the famous yellow jersey.
Obvious in this photo are the large headlamps fitted in front of the MB's standard lights; this detail is reproduced on the model.
Norev included the decal for the sports magazine L'Equipe, but dispensed with the ad for Nitrolac paints. They got the rack for wheels and frames correct, whereas most earlier toys (see below) simply hung little bicycles off the rack by their front wheels.
The model came on a plastic display base (60K JPEG) inside a box featuring the logo adopted in 2003 for the Tour's hundredth anniversary, and still in use as of 2022.
The 1951 photo of Ferdi Kubler above appears to be posed, but this shot taken in 1949, the year before he won the yellow jersey, looks like an authentic moment in the grueling race. The Tour covers over 2,000 miles on a course that changes from year to year.
The Norev Willys was licensed to Editions Atlas in 2004 for their "La Caravane du Tour de France" series. The models and booklets were sold on newsstands or by subscription and included some sixty support and parade vehicles from Tour history.
The largest reproduction of a Tour de France jeep is this 1:1 clone created for the hundredth anniversary of the first Tour in 1903. Jean Pisapia of UNIVEM (the National Union of Collectors of Military Vehicles) restored this MB in white, but elected not to bolt on the big headlights. (See "Le Centenaire du Tour de France Cycliste".)
Jean welded the rack assembly for the rear of the Willys, which has continued to be a popular attraction at auto shows since 2003. This photo from the Locomotion 2017 event in Melun-Villaroche is © Philippe Calvet.
The first toy based on the Tour jeeps dates from 1948, the year after the introduction of the jeeps. In photos, the Polichinelle pressed-steel toys are reminiscent of big Tonka Toys, but they're only about 3 inches (75mm) long, approximately one-third the size of a Tonka.
The wheels are wooden; see also a photo of the underside (70K JPEG).
The Polichinelles are notable not only because they were the first, but also because they did several variations in addition to the team support jeeps.
I haven't seen photos of jeeps carrying loudspeakers during the Tour, but since several toy manufacturers have done these, I assume they must have been a thing.
This frame from 1950 newsreel footage shot near Metz shows some of the eighteen white Jeeps, along with other vehicles and some stragglers from the peloton of riders.
Jeeps were popular with the press corps covering the Tour, and motorcycles were also common because they could maneuver past the the crowds of vehicles and cyclists.
The team from Agence France Presse seen here (photo © AFP) is ready for the start of the Tour in 1955. Their shiny Jeep with the dual horns to clear the way is possibly a Hotchkiss M201, which first appeared that year (see Jeeps in France.)
A motorcycle goes up the middle between a line of team jeeps and scores of other vehicles, in this photo taken for Miroir-Sprint magazine.
A big part of the reason the press liked Jeeps was probably the freedom they gave photographers to shoot in every direction. This Polichinelle apparently represents the ride for the shutterbugs from the newspaper Le Parisien.
Although in some of the photos you will see the support team carrying a megaphone for shouting instructions, I haven't run across photos of big loudspeakers, presumably used to clear the way and announce race standings to the crowds along the road.
An interesting feature of the Polichinelle toys is the design of the steering wheels, which has resulted in most of them surviving, unlike in many other vintage Jeep toys.
In this photo, a French team mechanic uses his megaphone to shout at a motorcycle, maybe something like "Give our boy some room!"
Their boy is Jean Robic (1921-1980) who won the event in 1947, the first year for the support jeeps. Robic was quite a character and one of his nicknames was tête de cuir ("leather head") because of the helmet he wore, at a time when most riders did not wear helmets. This was after fracturing his skull in the 1944 Tour (and still finishing the race.)
Judging from the tricolor flags on the windshield, this early-1950s tinplate Jeep from Joyax was intended to represent the French team. It was quite a bit larger than the Polichinelle, at 5 inches (13cm) long, or approximately 1/25 scale.
Here's another photo of Jean Robic and his French support crew. This one looks like it might be a posed shot, partly because he's not wearing his leather helmet.
The Joyax Jeep suiveuse ("follower") came with four plastic bicycles. I wouldn't want to be riding in the back seat with those bikes swinging wildly.
Like the Polichinelle, the Joyax had a solid underside (130K JPEG).
Another popular tinplate Jeep from the company had a woody station wagon body (see Early Jeep Toys Made in France on CJ3B.info.)
A bit of an oddball in the history of Tour de France toys is a paper cutout, part of a series that reportedly came as free premiums with Albatross Biscuits in 1954. Thanks to Jeeptic for finding this.
The paper Jeep actually doesn't look too bad for a freebie, when it's cut out and folded. You can download the template above, print it on cardstock, and get out the scissors.
And if you enjoy that, there are some more complicated Paper Jeep Toys on CJ3B.info.
This photo was taken in 1955 for LIFE magazine. No indication which team this is, but note the label indicating the jeep is equipped with a Solex carburetor. A stack of inner tubes and a can of Renault oil are at the ready.
If a chain needs oiling, no need to stop. Photo from Miroir-Sprint magazine, 1951.
There seem to be lots of surviving examples around, of Salza's diecast Tour de France vehicles which appeared in 1967, so they must have been pretty popular. The series included press, loudspeaker and support Jeeps, as well as other non-Jeep vehicles.
The Salza toys were approximately 1/36 scale, and came with decals representing various different sponsors.
An odd detail of their Zamak casting is the way the front fenders are cut off short at the front, but extend back past the door openings.
This little Salza diorama features the support crew apparently trying to pass a satchel (maybe some lunch?) to a rider, who's too busy waving to the crowd, while a gendarme tells them they're going the wrong way.
CBG Mignot, a company best known for its toy soldiers, created a new casting in the early 1970s that was more detailed and accurate than the Salza. It was the first toy to feature a realistic rack of wheels on the rear.
Mignot apparently also took over the Salza casting, although it's not clear whether this was before or after developing their new version. Most surviving Mignot examples seem to be from the old short-fendered mold, but they do use the new, better painted driver figure.
One of the ultimate finds in Tour de France Jeep collecting must be this CBG Mignot diorama (about 18 inches long) with a camera Jeep leading a peloton made up of pretty detailed little cyclists:
The diorama above includes the polka dot jersey which goes to the rider with the fastest climbs in the mountains, the most challenging stages of the Tour. The mountains also provide the most dramatic photos. In this one, a Jeep from the newspaper France-Soir threads its way through a crowd of (all male) fans, following a rider apparently descending a switchback.
Not all the "jeeps" in use by the press were Hotchkiss or Willys MBs. This is the Paris Match editorial staff before the start of the 1953 Tour, on a Delahaye VLRD. The Delahaye was a new, short-lived 4x4 adopted by the French Army in 1951 (see more details in The Blue Caps: French Jeeps in Algeria on CJ3B.info.) Photo © ParisMatch.
This mini-diorama from Altaya was produced using the diecast Willys MB manufactured for them by IXO in China, with some new graphics added to turn it into a newsreel vehicle.
See also a rear view (140K JPEG).
I don't know the size or anything else about this plastic kiddie toy, but the pennant and the loudspeakers clearly identify the Tour de France as the inspiration.
Jeeps haven't been seen much around the Tour since the 1960s, but one exception is a Wrangler customized in 2012 to advertise Festina watches in the Tour parades. Festina was the official timekeeper of the Tour from 1992-2016.
Here's a look at the Festina JK in the parade prior to the Tour's departure from Besançon in 2014.
GreenLight Collectibles had apparently seen the Wrangler's debut at the 2012 Tour, so they were ready with their model in 2014.
(See also other early Scale Model Wranglers from GreenLight on CJ3B.info.)
There haven't been any Jeeps in use as team support vehicles in recent years. Most teams now use cars and SUVs from Tour sponsor Škoda, carrying fully assembled bikes as well as spare parts, tools, first aid and nutrition.
Here's the Lotto Soudal team car from Belgium, in 2020. Pretty slick, but it doesn't have the character of those war surplus Willys MBs that appeared in 1947!
Thanks to Philippe Calvet and the other photographers. -- Derek Redmond
See more Early Jeep Toys Made in France.
Also on CJ3B.info, see Jeeps in France.
Return to the Toy Jeeps Pages on CJ3B.info.
Visit CJ3B.info on Facebook.
CJ3B Home | Contents | Search | Movies | 3A and 3B Community