Mini-Tonka Does the Full-Size-Jeep

Building on the immediate success of the Tonka Toy Jeep in 1962, the Mini-Tonka Jeeps were introduced in 1963. Roughly 1:22 scale, about two-thirds the scale of the original Tonka Jeep, the Mini-Tonkas included a series of models based on the Gladiator trucks and Wagoneer station wagons now known as the "Full Size Jeeps".

The toy designers in Mound, Minnesota must have worked quickly on this line, and possibly had some advance information from Kaiser Jeep, since the prototype Gladiator and Wagoneer had only been introduced in November 1962.

Christmas 2021 Frank Sanborn's J200 Gladiator in Michigan is a 1965 model. For Christmas 2021 he turned it over to "Kringle's North Pole Trucking."

1965 catalogue Compared to the open body Jeep, the Mini-Tonkas with their metal cabs and plastic windows were relatively complicated to make. One reason that Tonka was able to design and manufacture them quickly was U.S. Patent No. 2916851 for a method of "Toy Vehicle Cab Construction," invented by Charles Groschen and patented on 15 December 1959. (See more on Charles Groschen, head of Tonka's Tool and Die Department, in The Original Tonka Surreys on CJ3B.info.)

The introduction to the patent reads in part: "In the manufacture of toy vehicles of sheet metal or the like it is common practice to fabricate the vehicle body and driver cab independently and then mount the cab in the desired position. Heretofore such mounting has necesitated a welding operation or in the alternative a step where connecting tabs are bent under or the like. Furthermore it has been found that where rigid windshields are used and are held in place between the cab and body, the cab and body members must be separately painted prior to mounting, or the windshield masked, to prevent the windshield from being subjected to the paint spray. It is with these problems that the present invention is primarily concerned.

"A principal object of the invention is to provide a novel toy vehicle construction wherein the cab may be readily and simply mounted and locked on the vehicle body by merely placing it in position without the need of an entirely separate manufacturing step."

As may not be obvious from Groschen's Figures 1-4 seen above, the cab is attached with tabs which snap in place to hold the cab for painting, and then snap down tighter after the windshield is positioned.

Frank Sanborn's GladiatorsFrank Sanborn has a Tonka Gladiator to match his full-size Kaiser. He says, "The Tonka logos are magnetic and are easily taken on and off. I get grins and thumbs up from people who remember (like me) playing with the little Jeep trucks as a kid. Both trucks must be about the same vintage (the big one's a '65)."

See a closeup of the Tonka (40K JPEG) and a photo of Frank and his Tonka collection (40K JPEG) at the 2002 Spring Willys Reunion.

1965 catalogue The Tonka pickup is based on the Kaiser "Styleside", and did not appear in the "Thriftside" version with narrower box and external rear fenders. But just like the Kaiser prototype (and perhaps even more so) the Mini-Tonkas were available in a variety of other body styles.

As of 2002, Frank says that in his collection, "I currently have a dozen or so Gladiator toys (50K JPEG) and am trying to get every configuration in every color combo."

1963 pickup
Apparently Tonka soon realized that in their haste to release the Jeep trucks, they had missed one opportunity to make the toys' appearance more realistic. The front grille on the 1963 models was stamped as part of the body -- the most commonly found example is this red #50 Gladiator pickup. In subsequent years a more convincing chrome grille was mounted as part of the front bumper (as on Frank's Tonka, above).

Later pickup
New FSJ variations and colors appeared, including fire vehicles (see Toy Jeep Fire Trucks) and a set with a horse trailer. Other later changes included the removal of the Tonka decal from the doors, and a gradual changeover to larger wheels.

1963 Wagoneer
Despite their smaller size, the Mini-Tonka Jeep trucks were more accurate than the original Tonka Universal Jeeps, in regard to prototype proportions and details. And they were produced well into the 1970's.

1970 Wagoneer
Jeff Nelson points out that it was not until the mid-1970's that Tonka replaced the small center grille on the Wagoneers (correct for 1963-65) with a grille matching the 1974-78 prototypes. This Wagoneer was also produced in an extended-headroom ambulance version (35K JPEG).

Accident Andy Cameron took this photo of an accident involving a couple of the trucks in his collection. His comment: "Here's what happens when the cable on my Mini-Tonka crane isn't as strong as gravity!" The crane is perhaps a custom variation that somebody kitbashed. The other trucks is actually a Tonka knockoff by another firm, likely in Japan, who did imitations of several of the Mini-Tonkas. Note the metal headlights.

See the Japanese wrecker, the cement mixer, and the dump truck (40K JPEGs) from Bob Keniston's collection. The toys have front-axle friction drive.

Thanks to Lee Martin, Frank Sanborn, Andy Cameron and Bob Keniston for photos. -- Derek Redmond

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

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Last updated 7 December 2021 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info