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Introduced at the 1956 British Industries Fair by Mettoy Playcraft Ltd., the toy car company founded in 1936 in Swansea, Wales, Corgi Toys quickly became recognized around the world for their excellent quality & attention to detail. Most of the cars in the 1966 guide shown above retailed for just a couple of dollars each. Deluxe models, like the popular Batmobile, sold for 4 bucks. Today, this model in top-notch condition and with the original box can sell for hundreds of dollars. Corgi Toys were the first die-cast scale models to be fitted with windows and introduced other features over the years such as spring suspension, jeweled headlights, operating windshield wipers and Trans-o-lite front / rear lights.
Corgi Toys were a direct competition to Meccano's Dinky Toys models, which had dominated the British toy car market for many years.
A factory was built to manufacture the new range of toys providing up to six thousand jobs in an area of high unemployment following the scaling down of local coal mining operations. The name 'Corgi Toys' was chosen by Philip Ullmann in honour of the new location and was taken from the Welsh breed of dog, the Corgi, also popular with Her Majesty the Queen. It was also snappy and easily remembered, and echoed the name of their great rival, and the famous Corgi dog logo was chosen to brand the new range. Corgi Toys' initial sales gimmick was to include plastic glazing which lent the models a greater authenticity, and they rapidly became known as 'the ones with windows'.
Initially, all models were issued in free-rolling form, or with friction drive motors, with the notable exception of the heavy commercials which would have been too bulky, and the sports cars who's low slung bodies would not be able to accommodate the motors. The Mechanical versions, as they were known, were indicated by an 'M' suffix in the model number and were available in different colour schemes. They were issued with tougher die-cast bases to support the extra weight of the motor, and in far fewer numbers. They were phased out by 1960 - the final Mechanical model being the Ford Thunderbird (214M), and today command higher values amongst collectors. The die-cast baseplates were expanded across the range to replace the original tin plate at the same time.
In March 1969 a year's supply was destroyed in the Swansea factory by a fire - a major setback cutting profits tremendously. Despite this, Corgi continued to remain among top collectibles for many years. Sales rocketed in the late 1960s and early 1970s after the James Bond Aston Martin DB5 and the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car was released, but sales were dramatically cut after the 1969 fire. Because of the fire, substantial ground was lost to its main rival Dinky, but by 1971, the Swansea factory was back to full production again after major repairs costing over £1.3 million. The Queen's silver jubilee model edition released in 1977 was an instant bestseller, along with other nostalgia model: Edward VII's coronation state coach of 1901. After a rapid decline of sales, in 1983 economic analysts said that decline was inevitable; children and adults had moved on to more sophisticated pleasures, others however did not agree; they believed if it had not been for the fire there would have been no problem.
In 1989 the company was taken over by Mattel, worldwide toy manufacturing giant (manufacturer of Barbie Dolls and Hot Wheels model cars), production was moved to Leicester, the Mattel headquarters. Corgi then bought out its new range: Corgi Classics, selling nostalgia cars, vans and trucks from the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s; a huge success aimed at people who had been children at that time giving them the chance to return to their childhood memories, a brilliant innovation that is still running strong today. At around the same period in the US, Corgi released a new range of trucks, fire tenders and buses based on North American prototypes, but was not as successful as hoped.