Dinky Military Toys
Dinky Toys is a legendary brand in the history of British toys. It was created in the mid-1930s by Meccano Ltd as a name for their newly-introduced range of dinky (charmingly small) diecast model vehicles. Meccano, founded at the turn of the century by Frank Hornby, was already a highly successful toy manufacturer, with well-established ranges of construction toys (Meccano) and trains (Hornby Trains). Dinky was immediately successful, and by 1938 the range boasted of almost 300 items including vehicles, aircraft and ships.
After a hiatus during the Second World War, production picked up again and perhaps the 1950s was the golden decade for Dinky. Competition gradually grew, however. In 1964 the range was taken over by Tri-ang Ltd, and in 1971 with the demise of Tri-ang, Dinky passed to Airfix. A decade of frantic innovation to update the Dinky range came to an end in 1979, when manufacturing in the UK ceased.
Although the majority of items produced by Dinky were civilian, military vehicles have always formed an important part of the range. A selection of pre-war British army vehicles appeared in 1937-9 (see here for one example). In the 1950s, first the British and then the French factories created new, more extensive ranges of contemporary military vehicles used by their national forces.
It’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of these ranges in the history of military model toys. The vehicles are understated classics of diecast modelling and a benchmark to judge other ranges by. They were mass-produced and, in their heyday, extremely popular. The reasons are easy to see: the models are relatively simple yet reasonably accurate, painted correctly but conservatively in military green, and generally made to a common scale, roughly 1:60*. They were also tough, and even now, some 50 years later, they are easy to come by in reasonable condition.
NB: In the final decade of production, a third wave of larger-scale and less-refined military models were produced. These really represent a different approach to toy-making and are not therefore included in the scope of these stories (but see here for some discussion of the changes that occurred during the 1970s).
* Dinky didn’t publicly advertise a scale for these models, but internal documents state the scale as being 13/64 of an inch representing 1 foot, which mouthful roughly equates to 1:59.
The Bedford RL
An important feature of the 1950s Dinky military range was that it provided a cross-section of vehicles of all roles, not just those intended for combat. One of the most numerous vehicles in any army is the general-purpose transport lorry, which can be used for carrying supplies, equipment and troops. In 1953 the army adopted a new truck, the Bedford RL, which remained in front-line service until gradually being replaced during the 1970s. Not surprisingly, this was one of the first army vehicles modelled by Dinky.
The RL was a militarised version of the civilian Bedford S series truck (nicknamed the ‘Big Bedford’). The RL gained 4-wheel drive and bigger wheels (increasing the ground clearance), to provide better cross-country performance, but otherwise was essentially the same vehicle. In military parlance, it was rated as a 3-ton truck, this rating representing the amount of cargo it could carry. As such it was a medium capacity vehicle.
Dinky 3 Ton Army Wagon
Now, Dinky were generally happy to name their products after the manufacturer and mark of the vehicle modelled. In the case of the military range, however, they chose instead to use functional descriptions in the manner of army bureaucracy. Thus, the Bedford RL is never identified, but known in Dinky literature only as the anonymous ‘3-ton Army Wagon’.
Dinky 621 3-ton Army Wagon (Bedford RL)
Year first produced:1954
L108xW40xH50, Metal 146g, Scale 1:60, Features: 2
The model is a fine and typical example of the Dinky military range. It is immediately recognisable as a Bedford RL, and smartly finished as if on parade. Classic simplicity – in green.
The two main structural elements in this model are tough and durable mazak (a zinc-based alloy) castings. The first consists of the chassis and cab, and the second provides the rear body. To join the two parts, the body was cast with projecting spigots on the underside which fit through holes in the chassis. The exposed tips of these spigots were then flattened during manufacture, tightly gripping the chassis and resulting in a robust and secure junction. For further information about how the models were manufactured, you can read this story.
Tinplate is used to form the underside of the cab, and to simulate the canvass cover or ‘tilt’ normally stretched over the rear of the truck. Two steel axles carry four wheels, consisting of metal hubs and rubber tyres. Other details include a metal towing hook, a spare tyre underneath, and inside the cab, a driver. The wheels rotate, and the tilt is removable.
Surface detail is cleanly captured – for example the radiator grill, doors, and lashings on the truck body are all picked out in relief. There was no attempt to provide detail in the interior of the cab which was left as a void, or on the underside of the vehicle apart from features visible from the side. In common with most Dinky Models, the underside of the vehicle carries instead a comprehensive set of identification marks:
DINKY TOYS, 621, 3 TON ARMY WAGON, MADE IN ENGLAND and MECCANO LTD.
The vehicle is painted military service green overall, the only other colours on the model being the silvered headlights and the painted driver. Red/yellow transfers have been applied front and rear denoting the Royal Armoured Corps. Like most Dinky models of this era, the RL was supplied in a smart yellow card box, individually tailored for each item in the range.
Dinky made a good variety of army trucks. For example, the 622 10-ton Army Truck (Foden) and the 623 Army Covered Wagon (Bedford QL), both of which served in the British Army, and from the French factory, the 821 Mercedes Benz Unimog.
Dinky also produced models of the Bedford civilian S series truck just before the RL model was released, but these are based on an entirely separate casting to a larger 1:48 scale. Models 408/522/902 Big Bedford Lorry and 923 Big Bedford Van are the ones to look for.