Friday, December 1, 2023

Who wants a toy Royal Enfield?

Boxed model of Royal Enfield Meteor 350.
You can buy a Royal Enfield Meteor 350 in a box.

 Fans of Royal Enfield motorcycles will know that you can purchase scale models of recent Royal Enfield motorcycles. These appear finally detailed, with moving handlebars and wheels. 

But who wants a toy motorcycle? Or a toy car, for that matter? 

Well, consider the exhibit "Car as Muse, The Automobile and American Art," at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. 

It consists of artworks (of course) but also a vast array of model cars sprawling across two walls in the museum. Well more than 100 strong, the little cars were gathered by Albert H. Small. A developer and philanthropist, Small died in October, 2021, after leaving gifts of his varied collections to museums and universities. 

Walls of model cars at SAAM.
Biggest challenge might be identifying each car.

He estimated that he had spent 30-40 years amassing his miniature models of cars, ending up with at least 1,200.

His collection of "toy" cars has something for everyone. They include "Herbie" the VW Beetle and a  yellow Checker cab and, of course, a model Model T Ford.

I was lucky enough to visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum recently and see Small's wonderful collection. Here are a couple of my favorite models:

Model of a Cadillac LaSalle II roadster.
Wait, what is this? A Corvette? No.

The oddest is the 1955 Cadillac LaSalle II concept car. Who knew there was such a thing, much less a toy model of it?

The "original" was something of a model as well, although full size. For instance, its engine (an imagined twin-cam V6) had no internal parts. The show car had to be pushed onto the stage. It had chromed suspension components, but no working brakes.

GM visualized the two-seater as a fiberglass roadster with independent rear suspension, rear-opening doors and a wrap-around windshield; but it was not developed beyond a show-car shell.

Cadillac LaSalle II roadster concept car.
The "real" LaSalle II didn't really have a motor.

It was short, with the rear wheels fully open at the back. Exhaust pipes exited just ahead of the rear wheels.

The LaSalle II roadster (there was a sedan version as well) might remind you of a classic Corvette, because of the "cove" shape set into the sides. This great styling feature would not appear on the Corvette until 1956, however. The LaSalle II had it first.

The 1957 Imperial held the record for most shoulder room in an American car, and the first use of curved side glass. Its wild styling was startling in its day and continues so today, even in miniature.

Model of 1957 Imperial.
The Imperial was big and very, very futuristic, in 1957.

It was not a "Chrysler Imperial." It was an Imperial. Competing salesmen would refer to it as a "Chrysler Imperial," implying that it was just a fancy Chrysler. It was much more... of everything.

It had a "biplane" chrome front bumper (a single blade wouldn't do) and a bulge on the rear deck for a faux spare tire. There was nothing else like it.

The Ford Thunderbird was all-new for 1967. It did a deft job of imitating a F-100 Super Sabre fighter  plane. A wide air intake stretched across the front of a coke-bottle shaped fuselage that could have housed a jet engine.

Four-door 1967 Ford Thunderbird.
Four-door Ford Thunderbird with "suicide" rear doors.

Most dramatic of all, it came as a four-door as well as a coupe. The rear doors of the four-door opened to the rear, in "suicide" fashion, revealing a "lounge" in the rear seat that was cosseted by small side windows and a really small rear window.

The four-door Thunderbird only lasted until 1971 and there has not been another four-door Thunderbird since.

Gloriously impractical, perhaps, but you can understand why Small might have picked its model for his collection rather than the more common two-door.

I don't collect model cars or motorcycles, as such. But I have an impressive collection of exactingly detailed Christmas tree ornaments, including both cars and motorcycles. These came as gifts over the years from in-laws Barbara and Bob.

A new ornament just arrived as a birthday present: a 1973 Fort Mustang Mach 1 licensed from Ford by Hallmark. Its color is distinctively 1970s! But the neatest feature is the miniature gift-wrapped package visible in the front seat.

Does a grown man really want toys like this? Yes. I can't wait to experience the pleasure of showing it to our grand daughter, age five going on six.

But she will first have to promise to be REALLY REALLY careful with it.

Fort Mustang Christmas tree ornament.
Grand daughter will have to be gentle with it!

1 comment:

  1. Before I was old enough to own 1:1 vehicles, I collected toy cars from matchbox, Tomy, Tekno, Corgi and others. I think I counted around 800 at the pinacle. Most got sold to finance my adult foray into cars and motorcycles, but I still have maybe a dozen 'keepers'.


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