by Johan van Zyl
"Modelled Miniatures" were introduced in 1931 by the Frank Hornby toy firm of Meccano Ltd. at the Binns Road factory in Liverpool, England, and were intended to be used as accessories to accompany Hornby train sets. These models became very popular and in1934 the name was changed to "Dinky Toys". Production continued at the Binns Road plant until its doors were closed in 1977. A branch of the firm was also opened in Paris, then in Bobigny, France. Certainly, the first casting of the Dinky jeep is a landmark in the history of Meccano. The jeep with catalogue no. 153A was the first entirely new model to be made by the British plant after the Second World War.
I can well imagine the Meccano management committee, during wartime hostilities, coming up with the idea of designing a model of the jeep. Even so soon after the war the jeep had won the respect of all those who came into contact with it. Some today refer to the jeep as being the hero of the war, as it played its role in every theatre of the strife, in every conceivable role, and with every Allied army. When hearing the word "jeep", most people associate it with the Willys MB. Because of Willys' limited production capacity, the U.S. Army contracted with Ford to build the Ford GPW, the Willys' exact look-alike, which served in its shadow. But it served in no less efficient manner, and now both these jeeps are equally popular and cherished by collectors and restorers.
Over 640 000 units were produced, and all parts are interchangeable between the MB and the GPW. What detracts somewhat from the Willys MB's claim to fame is that the most definitive feature of its outward appearance is not a design of its own. In fact, it was Ford who designed the pressed radiator grille by which the jeep would be universally recognised.
Following the Meccano committee's decision to model the jeep, the design team got to work on the crafting of the die, from which would come the first casting. It is a feather in the designers' cap that the real jeep's outward characteristics by which it is widely recognised, are well represented in the first issue of the Dinky jeep 153A (right).
At about the same time, the same thing was happening in Paris where it was decided to tool up for the jeep which was also to be the first French post-war Dinky issue.
There were a number of original Jeep castings and variations over the years of Dinky Toy manufacture, many of which represented the now-famous workhorse of the war. It is the first casting of the Jeep series to which this article is devoted. In the run of this 68 mm long casting, three model numbers were used. These are:
Another early Dinky jeep model belonging to an altogether different casting -- the no. 25M jeep, 1946-1949, 80 mm long, made in France -- falls outside of the scope of this investigation. The same applies to all Dinky Universal Jeeps and the Dinky Hotchkiss Jeep variations.
The models 153A, 25J and 672 were made to a scale of approximately 1:48, which blended in with O scale railway models. Checking up on this, I found a full-size Willys MB to be 3,327 mm long in comparison to the 68 mm model. On calculation, this gives a scale of 1:49. It's been said the army models were all made to a smaller scale (according to one source about 3/16th of an inch to the foot, which is 1:64) than the other Dinkies. In contrast, the Dinky Universal Jeep, for example, is made to a scale of 1:40. In the matter of scale, Dinky Toys have tended to be erratic.
What I personally like about the first casting is its obvious historical value. The early success of Dinky Toys came to an abrupt halt as a result of the Second World War. The Dinky enterprise started up again with this jeep model first off the production line in 1946 (which is my year of birth), together with a Lagonda sports coupé. But the difference is, the jeep was a new design.
Then there's my personal nostalgic attachment. The Dinky jeep 153A was one of the toys that I played with regularly during the middle 1950s. I especially loved this jeep, finding that it conformed ideally to my youthful prerequisites in terms of shape, handling and, well, general playability. It served as my reconnaissance car that I used to imagine myself travelling in, racing up and down my columns of other military Dinkies, getting them ready for the next engagement! Sadly, that jeep was lost sometime during my high school years. I think I might have given it -- in an unguarded moment -- in exchange for something else to the boy next door, who had quite a large number of Dinkies.
A final aspect of the first casting which I like is the absence of plastic in the materials used at that stage. Plastic as we know it had not yet been developed. For the basic casting the metal used throughout is a type of pewter, an alloy of zinc, aluminium and copper. The additions put on afterwards during the assembly process include pewter (for the wheel hubs and steering wheel), steel plate (for the windscreen and spare wheel rim), steel wire (for the axles and steering column) and rubber (for the tyres).
The die-casting of the Dinky jeep is an industrial process which came into being towards the end of the Great War (WW I). It simply means introducing molten metal into a mould. The only real drawback to die-casting is the cost of making the die for each new model. Die-making as in the Dinky jeep is a process requiring great engineering skill, beginning with the handcrafting of a mock-up of the jeep, perfect to the tiniest detail. The really fine features like lines and radiator grilles could be added with wire. From the mock-up the metal die (mould) is made. The delicacy of the initial work is limited only by the ability of the casting metal to flow successfully into the smallest crevices of the mould. The process used allows almost hairline detail to be incorporated into the surface of the model. In fact the first casting of the Dinky jeep is very detailed, with, for example, grab handles and a shovel on the side of the body.
The preferred pewter type for die-casting toys like the Dinky jeep is mazak, which is a zinc alloy. Basically it's zinc with 3-4% aluminium and 1-2% copper added, and was used from 1934 onwards.
In die-casting the Dinky jeep the molten metal is forced under pressure into the die. This process is called injection moulding. The die, a relatively ingenious and intricate affair, is basically a two-part metal negative of the finished model. As soon as the casting has cooled to its solid state the die is opened and the basis for the finished model falls out. This illustration shows a typical die used post-war. Here are seen the two halves of the die, and in front of the die is an actual casting (not of a jeep, but a Bedford cab and chassis).
Each Dinky casting is tumbled in what is called a Roto-finishing process, in a rubber-lined drum partly filled with small, loose pebbles and soapy water to remove any "flash", the unwanted residue of the casting process. Next comes a chemical preparation (called a Bonderising liquid) to help the enamel paint bond to the metal, and then the paint itself is applied by spray gun as the models rotate along a conveyor belt to the ovens. Baked on at 200°F, the finish is extremely durable. Detail work is hand sprayed through masks before the final assembly is completed.
In some of the earliest pre-war toy castings (before the jeep), lead was used as part of the alloy. The slightest contamination of this mixture causes that bane of early die-cast collectors, metal fatigue. Most die-cast enthusiasts are spared this -- only collectors of pre-war models must beware. The jeep first casting fortunately falls outside of that time frame. Dinkies like the jeep 153A produced immediately post-war showed in the quality of the models that the firm had served its apprenticeship admirably, and had licked the metal problem as well.
When discussing the first casting of the Dinky jeep, it is obvious we have here a basic jeep body shape that will be very similar throughout the run of the first casting.
During final assembly, the attachments like axles, hubs and tyres, spare wheel mounting, spare wheel, steering wheel, and windscreen are added. (See factory assembly drawings of the jeep 153A.) The axles are made in the machine shop, and the axle ends formed to keep the wheels from falling off. It is in the choice of some of these fittings that variations occur.
It has also been stated that among the jeeps produced in the first casting there are those (the "early" ones) with flat bonnets, as well as those having a longitudinal ridge running down the bonnet. This fact continually presented me with a problem in interpretation, because even the flat bonnets are ever so slightly ridged. The other variation, sometimes referred to as "domed", has a more pronounced ridge and raised bonnet centre line.
A difference in bonnet shape implies at least a modification to the existing die. Obviously it requires a different mould to make a jeep with a more domed bonnet! Seems one can expect to find 153A's as well as 25J's having either flat or domed bonnets.
The origin of the flat/domed bonnet remains a mystery. The actual full-size wartime jeep has a truly flat bonnet. Why would Meccano have modified a die for a jeep having a bonnet unlike the real thing, while already producing a correct version?
I was pondering these questions when Jacques Dujardin volunteered invaluable information. He confirmed that, according to Keith Harvie in his excellent but short-lived Binns Road Gazette no. 1 (1999), there were two dies. The variations are as follows:
Circular marks, called ejector marks -- made by the die ejector pins -- are visible underneath the models. The centrally-located painting ring, also underneath, is where the model is affixed before spray painting.
The two army versions (no. 153A and 672, the latter being for export only) are painted dark (matt) green. It seems there were also some jeeps brought out in green-brown for a time. But from about 1950 they came in matt green only. The army versions have a white U.S. Allied Invasion star decal on the bonnet.
The single "civilian" model (25J, coming out in 1947) was simply painted other colours -- how many different colours is not known to me, but red, green and blue have been come across. Except for the "civilian" colours, in this case red with blue hubs, the 25J is identical to the 153A.
In this photo of a 153A the domed bonnet is clearly visible, as well as rounded axle ends and smooth tyres. The variations (besides colour) that occur within the flat bonnet and domed bonnet versions of the jeep seem to be as follows:
It has been said that a 153A with plain hubs and a solid steering wheel is a bit of an oddity, because it is a mix of pre-war and post-war features. There is a bit of disagreement on this point. Some argue that the hubs have larger holes in the centre to accommodate the thicker post-war axles -- no oddity therefore.
The 672 is the same as the 153A, merely marketed by that number in the United States and Canada in the early fifties. One would therefore not expect the same variations that occur in the 153A and the civilian 25J to also appear in the 672.
The windscreen on the first casting is always rigid, that is, not hinged. Only when the much later French Dinky jeep 80B (modelled after the Hotchkiss M201) appeared -- a different casting -- did the windscreen fold forward in some of their models. See more details on The French Dinky Toys Jeeps: 80B, 80BP, 816, 828, 829 and 1412 on CJ3B.info.
The first post-war Dinky Toy adverts appeared in The Meccano Magazine in April 1946 and featured the jeep 153A. There was another model also on the first advert (70K JPEG), but that one was a re-issue. The jeep was the only post-war design, eloquently described as "a wonderfully realistic miniature of the most famous car of the war. On all fronts, in all countries, the jeep was ready to go anywhere and do anything". The price was 2/6 (half-a-crown) each, including tax. In March 1948 the price upped to 2/9.
In the picture on the advert the jeep is shown with flattened axle ends and lightly treaded tyres. The bonnet would have had to be flat. The same illustration was used until it was dropped from the Meccano Magazine adverts by December 1948, the reason probably being that there were so many new additions by this time, and space, as always, was at a premium.
During the course of production of the 153A it was decided to bring out a civilian version, distinguishable from its army counterpart only in the colours used. Thus the 25J arrived in 1947 and kept coming until 1948. The domed bonnet phenomenon reared its head in 1947, in both 153A and 25J guise. In 1953 the 672 (outwardly the same as the 153A) was produced for export to the United States and Canada. Seems it was made available individually as well as included in a set of five different military vehicles, till 1955.
Although it seems the 153A was deleted from the European market in 1952, it was still in production until 1955, according to a variety of sources. It was then that the models were deleted from the Meccano literature. At this stage, apparently, the Austin Champ (catalogue no. 674) took away the shine of the jeep in the eyes of the British people, both in the Dinky Toy catalogue and in real life.
Probably no-one knows how many units of the 153A/25J/672 were actually produced.
Individual boxes for Dinky jeeps came in the late forties -- or did they?
It has been claimed that whereas most collectors seem to think that the 153A only came in trade boxes of 6, it did have its own box. The earliest Dinkies (before the jeep) did not have individual boxes -- they were packed in retailer's boxes of three to twelve, known as trade boxes. This photo shows a jeep perched on a six-pack trade box. I do not expect to see an original individual box for a 153A.
Fact is, the jeep 153A was deleted from the European market in 1952, and the yellow individual boxes were only introduced the next year, 1953. The re-issue of the jeep for the American market occurred in 1953-55, and only this issue, going by the number 672, may have been marketed in individual boxes. Six-pack trade boxes for this issue are marked "672 U.S. Army Jeep 153A".
The photo also shows why I decided to use a capital letter A behind the jeep catalogue number. It is a fact, however, that the designation 153a (small letter) abounds in Dinky literature.
Because of the lack of Dinky jeeps in my immediate vicinity, I was brought into contact with a gentleman in Pretoria who was familiar with eBay auctions. During September 2005 I requested him to search and bid for an early jeep for me, after agreeing on a suitable amount to offer. Five weeks later I received word from him that one of his bids had been successful. After a lengthy wait I finally took possession of my own 153A, on November 17. It might surprise readers to learn that most of this article was compiled without my owning a single early jeep of the first casting.
This is the jeep I received through eBay in November. The seller lives in Ilfracombe, Devon County, England. Ilfracombe is a seaside resort on the north coast of Devon, with a small harbour, surrounded by cliffs. The Dinky jeep, pleasantly heavy for its small size, which I gingerly extricated from the package had been advertised as "in very good -- near mint -- condition, dark green body with white star on the bonnet and on the left rear side, and spoked steering wheel. Made in England, no restoration -- all original". The winning bid had been £44,80. I found to my gratitude that the model was in the condition advertised.
In fact, after scrutinising my jeep minutely, I found it to be in virtually immaculate condition. I did no more than remove a few grains of fine reddish sand particles from some of the furthest recesses of the jeep and cleaned up the axles, which were ever so slightly tarnished.
Turning the jeep over, I saw that the ejector marks were flush, as was the painting ring. Making use of the Binns Road Gazette variations list, I concluded that my jeep, with its flat bonnet and open steering wheel, was indeed a 1947 model.
In this photo the difference between the flat bonneted (left) and domed bonneted jeeps can be seen to be very slight. In fact, it varies by probably not more than 0,7 mm from the one to the other.
A few days later I was fortunate to be able to view one of the largest collections of military Dinkies in my city. Amongst the arrays of models there was a single 153A and a variety of French jeeps. Comparing the British jeep with my own, I discerned the very slight difference in the shape of the bonnets. The other jeep had a slightly raised bonnet centre. The difference was so subtle that I was quite surprised. The collector and I both ran our fingers over the bonnet centre of each jeep. Now the French ones: they had truly flat bonnets!
An intriguing revelation came out of this visit. Seems the South African Defence Force had ordered a large consignment of Dinky vehicles directly from Binns Road during the early 1950s. They were required for use in sand models during training and strategic battle planning exercises. Some were military vehicles, including the jeep 153A, but others were non-military ones painted olive drab by the plant, on special order.
Looking at my own little jeep, I wondered where this little toy had lain for all these 58 long years without falling into the clutches of a child and consequently suffering its rough attentions. In the final analysis, I mused, that was the purpose for which this jeep had been manufactured in the first place!
One might say the toy I had in my hand missed its goal in life. It was instead destined to end up in the care of an enthusiast living more than 9 000 km away near the southern tip of the continent of Africa -- a toy no more!
The author wishes to thank each and every person who kindly responded to the call for information in the compiling of this article. I have to admit that it was the Dinky Toys Jeeps article on CJ3B.info that originally got me going. Thanks is especially due to Piet Hauptfleisch for making available Dinky books for scrutiny and study, for instance those by Tony Stanford, without which, obviously, such an undertaking is impossible. Also to the various members of the Dinkyclub forum -- Jan Werner, Bob Barnes, Jos van Blokland, Keith Cholmondeley and Michel Cousineau -- who with their knowledge and helpfulness not only assisted me with advice and photos, but kept encouraging me. Jacques Dujardin also volunteered very able critique which is sincerely appreciated. I am grateful too for being able to visit the collections of ardent die-cast enthusiasts in my city, notably that of Bazil Kriel. Thanks to Derek Redmond, whose offer to put this article on CJ3B.info gave me the incentive to put extra effort into its completion. Will readers of this article please comment and help to identify remaining dubious statements. I desire to present only correct facts and justifiable assumptions. -- Johan van Zyl
Thanks to Johan for a valuable piece of research and writing, to Tony Standefer for the Willys MB photo, and Jos van Blokland for the hood comparison photo. The die-casting illustration is from Meccano Magazine (March 1954). -- Derek Redmond
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