Dinky Military – Accuracy

High Fidelity or Artistic License?

The Question of Accuracy

Dinky proudly claimed that their models were accurate reproductions, but is this true?

Before examining this question, we need to set down some ground-rules. Dinky models were – like all models which are smaller than the subject they represent – simplifications. In fact, if you consider it for a moment, all models must omit detail that would be too small or fragile to be rendered in scale. In that respect all models are inaccurate.

Further, Dinky didn’t bother to reproduce features that would be largely unseen (but not invisible) in the model. The interiors of vehicle cabs were left bare, as were the undersides of the castings (they were usually simple metal plates bearing identification marks). In this respect also, Dinky models could be said to be inaccurate.

Simplification also extended to the windows in vehicle cabs – there weren’t any. None of the military models had glazing when released, though some acquired it retrospectively towards the end of their production life.

Finally, Dinky never made public the scale that they produced their models to (though we know from internal documents that the scale they used was roughly 1:60).

Of course, none of these limitations need prevent us from assessing the accuracy of what Dinky has decided to model. It all boils down to this – is the model made to a consistent scale and finished appropriately, and are all of the features one would expect to see, present, correctly shaped, and in their proper positions? Well, let’s take a look, and to do this we’ll take the biggest item in the Military range so that we have plenty of scope for our review.

Thornycroft Antar

The Antar – just like the Bedford RL – began life as a civilian vehicle, in this case a transporter of heavy oil pipes over rugged terrain in Iraq. The army only became significantly involved when projects to develop more sophisticated bespoke transporters fell through. In 1951 a small batch were ordered for army trials, after which the vehicle was accepted for military use.

Thornycroft brochure showing the Antar.
The Mighty Antar in an advertising brochure, trumpeted by Thornycroft as “Britains biggest tractor”. In the army, the tractor was simply known as the Antar.

Tanks are obviously quite capable of moving under their own power, but when there are long distances to travel, and especially when they need to move by public road, it is more efficient to move them using a tank transporter. These massive vehicles consist of a tractor -a truck with heavy pulling power – towing a trailer capable of carrying a given weight. Two configurations of vehicle and trailer were generally used. In the first, the tractor carries a ballast-box behind the cab, and tows the trailer behind it via a drawbar. In the second, the tractor has a so-called ‘fifth wheel’ in place of the ballast box. This is a flat disk with a hole into which a peg from the trailer fits, thus gripping it and allowing it to turn as required. In this arrangement, a ‘semi-trailer’ – a trailer without front wheels – is used.

As tanks were developed during the Cold War, they tended to grow larger and heavier, and required more powerful transporters. With the Centurion tank weighing in at over 50 tons, and the Conqueror tank over 60 tons, the British army desperately needed a new transporter to replace those used during the Second World War. The Antar could meet this need, and some 350 Mark 2 vehicles were ordered up to 1957. In 1959, the Mark 3 was produced with a more powerful engine capable of towing the Chieftain tanks that were then in development, and these gradually replaced the Mark 2s. The main visual difference between the two versions of the Antar was that the exceptionally wide bonnet of the Mark 2 was replaced by a slimmer one in the Mark 3.

Antar Mark 2 towing a Centurion tank.
An Antar Mark 2 in Dutch service towing a DAF trailer with a Centurion tank loaded (National Archives of the Netherlands)

Although Dinky did not identify this, it is obvious that they modelled the Mark 2, which was in service when their model was produced. More specifically, they selected a tractor of the more common fifth wheel type, with a Sankey semi-trailer capable of carrying 60 tons. This configuration was most commonly used for transporting Centurion tanks – which of course Dinky had already produced a model of.

Tank transporters are massive vehicles – to get an idea of scale, the tyres on the Antar were 4 feet in diameter. The Mark 2 had a powerful 8-cylinder engine based on the Merlin aero-engine, which could propel the tractor at a maximum speed of 28 mph, although it took a long time to get up to that speed! Fuel consumption was a prodigious mile to the gallon, hence the Antar carried two 100-gallon fuel tanks either side to the rear of the cab.

Tanks would normally mount the trailer under their own power, but if they were damaged or broken-down, a winch immediately behind the cab could draw them onboard.

The Dinky Antar

Dinky 660 Tank Transporter

Year first produced:1956

Dinky 660 Tank Transporter model.

L300xW62xH55, Metal 479g, Scale 1:60, Features: 3

Not surprisingly, this is the largest model in the 1950s Dinky military range. It consists in the main of three Mazak castings (cab, tractor chassis and semi-trailer). Unusually for a Dinky military vehicle, there is no metal base plate as the casting of the chassis makes this unnecessary.

To the tractor are attached three axles, each fitted with a pair of wheels. In the cab is a standard Dinky army driver. The semi-trailer has two axles at the rear, the rearmost fitted with four wheels and the other with two. The semi-trailer is linked to the tractor via a bolt extending from the underside of the neck, which drops down through a hole in the tractor chassis; this allows the semi-trailer to turn to the side, and as there is some ‘give’ in the connection, it can also angle upwards or downwards, or tilt to one side. The connection is topped by a spare wheel. At the end of the semi-trailer, the two Mazak loading ramps are hinged on a further axle, so that they can be deployed raised for transportation, or down for loading/unloading.

The loading ramps on the Dinky trailer.
The loading ramps, one raised for travel and one lowered for loading.

Underneath the tractor are marked

“MECCANO LTD”, “THORNYCROFT MIGHTY ANTAR” and “MADE IN ENGLAND”

The semi-trailer carries the legend

“DINKY SUPERTOYS”, “660” and “TANK TRANSPORTER”.

The Supertoys mark was assigned by Dinky to larger, more expensive models, and these were often sold in distinctive blue and white striped boxes.

The underside of the Dinky model.
The underside of the model. Note the arrangement of wheels.

As usual the transporter is painted service green overall, with the headlights picked out in silver. The driver is painted, with face & cap detailed. On the front of the tractor, and the rear of the semi-trailer are registration number stickers “PLY 578”, plus blue and yellow stickers denoting the RASC (Royal Army Service Corps).

Review

So, the model is impressive, but is it true to the original? A quick check on the overall dimensions of the model confirms that it scales near enough to 1:60 in length, width and height. The paint scheme is simple but correct, and as the stickers suggest, these vehicles were operated by the RASC (until 1965).

A photograph of a new Antar with 60-ton trailer.
A shiny new Antar, possibly a prototype parked in the Thornycroft yard, with the 60-ton semi-trailer attached.

Looking at the photo above, it’s possible to compare the main features of the real vehicle against the model. They all seem to be present and correct: the wide engine compartment with protective radiator grill and Antar logo; the petrol tanks and toolboxes behind the cab; the swan neck of the semi-trailer where it rises above the fifth wheel; the lockers under the semi-trailer; and the loading ramps.

One mystery that arises is why the vehicle in the photo – and the Dinky model – has what appears to be an atypical arrangement of petrol tanks and toolboxes. Although there are pictures of Antars in Dutch service with this configuration, in British army service the toolboxes seem to have been placed above the tanks. Maybe here Dinky were guilty of basing their design upon a prototype or otherwise atypical original.

Photograph of an Antar loaded with Centurion tank.
A British Army Antar with the ‘standard configuration’ of toolboxes above the petrol tanks.

As already mentioned, there are details that Dinky felt to be too small to be modelled. For example, the mirrors on the cab, and bracing struts on the loading ramps. Also, some features which might properly have been depicted by incised lines, such as the doors on the tractor cab, are present but instead captured as raised lines – strange, but perhaps not very important in the scheme of things.

There are places where the simplification of complex shapes leaves something to be desired. For example, the rear of the tractor feels curiously empty. The cab is missing the rear-facing windows that must have been very useful on occasion, the winch positioned immediately behind the cab is difficult to recognise as such without prior knowledge, and the whole area of the fifth wheel attachment, normally cluttered with minor structures, is unadorned.

The rear of the Dinky tractor showing the winch.
It may not look like it, but that’s a winch behind the cab.

However, when it comes to actual inaccuracies, it’s the wheels that let the model down.

The Antar tractor had 10 wheels: two at the front under the cab, and eight at the rear of the tractor, arranged four a side, in two pairs. These wheels were connected on a bogie, so that they could tilt up or down as a set to cross uneven ground. Dinky have approximated this action by installing the middle axle in a slot.

A page from the I-Spy book of the Army.
In this I-SPY book on The Army, the arrangement of wheels on an Antar is clearly set out. Seeing one could earn you 35 points, making it one of the most valuable items you could encounter!

The model, on the other hand, has only 6 wheels, because the double wheels at the rear have been reduced to singletons. This is very noticeable, and I think diminishes the impression of strength and power of the tractor. Moreover, in order to fill the consequent vacant gap between the outer wheels and the chassis, the chassis of the model has been widened at this point.

The semi-trailer had 16 wheels smaller than those on the tractor, arranged on two axles with 8 wheels each. The model however, uses the same wheel size as the tractor and only 6 wheels. This reduction in quantity is less visible, except when viewed from the rear.

Dinky took research seriously, so these differences are not unwitting mistakes. They are much more likely to have been deliberate decisions, prompted by a desire to keep complexity, and therefore cost, to a minimum.

Conclusion

So, there we have it. As we have discussed, simplicity was an important goal to Dinky, and indeed we have seen that they chose to omit detail where they judged it would not be missed. Nevertheless, what they did model appears to be accurate, and, notwithstanding the issue of the missing wheels, we have a model of the Antar that I think does reasonable justice to the original vehicle.

But the wheels! Personally, I could easily live with some missing wheels on the trailer – after all, most of them are completely invisible from normal viewpoints. I would prefer the trailer wheels to be smaller, but the real crime is the failure to double up the wheels on the tractor. Not only does this unnecessarily introduce an inaccuracy, but the visual effect is significant – as a result, the Antar just looks less of a beast!

SEE ALSO…

The Mighty Antar was a popular model, and Dinky released two further (civilian) versions of it. 908 was an Antar towing an electricity transformer on the familiar semi-trailer, whereas for 986 the Antar was paired with a low loader carrying a ship’s propeller. Both are colourful and impressive models.

Not content with selling both the Antar and the Centurion tank separately, Dinky also sold them as a set (no. 698).

And not to be outdone by the UK factory, the sister factory in France produced a French equivalent, the 890 Berliet tank transporter.

Author: hexeres

Amateur photographer, military toy enthusiast, footslogger, dog lover, history buff and ebay trader to mention just a few...

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