Die-cast toy vehicles

used in Supermarionation series

Bill Earle

if you were to drive an automobile during the mid-2060s, as envisioned in the television series Thunderbirds, what type of vehicle would it be? Well, if you were the London agent of International Rescue then it would probably be a shocking pink Rolls Royce with the registration FAB 1. If you represented International Rescue from some backwater along the hills of the eastern United States then you would probably choose a supercharged Model T Ford pickup as the roads in some areas tend to be impassible by all but the most hardy of vehicles. If you were on an archeological expedition in the desert then you may pick a general purpose vehicle capable of towing a couple of trailer caravans. This sort of thing would be the recommended mode of transportation of fellow explorers, construction company representatives and arch criminals alike. On such a vehicle you may choose optional rear wheels or mechanical track, depending upon the terrain. If en route to the Parola Sands to try out an experimental engine for example, then you would probably consider a red open-topped race car with a rear vertical stabilizer. If you lead a less glamorous, more conventional life than that of a member of International Rescue however, then you would very likely travel about in a vehicle all but identical to something which your father might have driven during the early 1960s.

If one looks closely at AP Films/Century 21 productions set during the mid-2060s, one will find a surprisingly high percentage of automobiles which had been common on roadways of a hundred years earlier. Ford Thunderbirds and Chevrolet Stingrays seem to be almost everywhere for what ought to be obvious reasons to anyone with a serious interest in the productions of the Anderson team. Whether these vehicles are restored originals or faithful replicas I don't know but I can report that people of the 2060s seem to be extremely enthused with reliving the nostalgia of automobiles of a century earlier. These background vehicle props, seen in Thunderbirds, generally fall into three categories:

  1. Die cast cast metal toys as were manufactured by Matchbox, Dinky, and Corgi.
  2. Model kits from such makers as AMT, Monogram, and others.
  3. Scratch built models, usually where large-scale or custom designed vehicles were required.

Matchbox models

By far, the most numerous of these three types were the small scale die cast metal variety. Seen during the opening titles of every Thunderbirds episode, in the scene depicting Thunderbird 1 landing at London Airport, is the Matchbox model M-9 Inter-State Double Freighter. This distinctive vehicle appears in many Thunderbirds episodes, sometimes with both trailers attached, sometimes with only one trailer, sometimes as just the tractor. The original Cooper-Jarrett yellow arrow on the trailers is normally covered with a black arrow, sometimes with a number in the center and/or with 'baoc' or 'Air Freight' lettering. The tractor is occasionally seen with a flashing red rooftop beacon.

Another often seen and occasionally disguised vehicle from the Major Pack line of Matchbox toys is the model M-1 BP Autotanker. Examples of this sleek 8-wheeled yellow and green truck may be noticed in various Thunderbirds scenes that take place at London Airport, at the site of the bogus rescue attempt in The Impostors, and at other locations where it may sometimes be noticed painted red and customized to appear as a fire tender. One such barely visible example of this is on the left hand edge of the recent Pro-Set Thunderbirds picture card number 019. This same scene appears much enlarged and expanded in the 1968 Thunderbirds Annual where it was used to illustrate the story Four Hours To Eternity.

In this same photograph, just behind Thunderbird 2, may be seen a Corgi model 219 Plymouth Sports Suburban. To the right of the customized BP Autotanker we see the Matchbox model 63 Fire Fighting Crash Tender and farther left, beyond the edge of the Pro Set card, but visible in the 1968 Thunderbirds Annual, is the Matchbox model 29 Fire Pumper.

In order to supplement a Thunderbirds comic strip story by Frank Bellamy in TV21 numbers 90 through 95, Roger Dicken produced several sculptures of Venusian monsters in plasticine clay which were photographed with Thunderbirds craft. On Somportex color card #33, one of these creatures appears posed with some Matchbox toys, namely model 6 10-Wheel Euclid Quarry Truck, model 18 Caterpillar Crawler Bulldozer, model 26 Foden Ready-Mix Concrete Truck and the model 69 Hatra Tractor Shovel. This latter model may also be seen beside the Number 1 Lift Body Hangar at Glenn Field in the Thunderbirds Are GO! feature film. Nearby, are parked several examples of Matchbox's model 35 Snowtrac Tractor. This vehicle also appears just outside the hangar door of the usaf rtl-2 rocket transporter jet in The Cham-Cham. Parked with it are the Matchbox model 70 Ford Estate Car and model 22 Pontiac Grand Prix, among others.

In addition to vehicles already cited, at London Airport may be seen the Matchbox model 7 Ford Anglia, model 43 Hillman Minx, model 65 Jaguar 3.8 Sedan, model 55 Police Car and an example of the model 59 Fire Chief Car repainted in the classic black and white 'panda' police car paint scheme. Among these Matchbox models can be spotted Corgi's model 1120 Midland Red Motorway Express Coach. When at New York Central Airport, the Fireflash is greeted by additional Matchbox models such as the model 10 Sugar Container Truck, model 20 Chevrolet Impala Taxi Cab, model 25 BP Tanker, model 37 Coca Cola Truck, model 38 Vauxhall Victor Estate Car, model 40 Long Distance Bus and others previously mentioned.

In Path of Destruction, at the base of the San Martino dam, appears the Matchbox Fire Pumper and Inter-State Double Freighter. There is also the Matchbox model 3 Bedford Tipper Truck, model 11 Jumbo Crane, model 70 Ford Grit Spreader, model 30 8-Wheel Crane and the Hatra Tractor Shovel. This last item, a 1/100 scale example just over three inches long, was also released by Matchbox as model K-3 in 1/61 scale and six inches in length. This 'King Sized' example with rear mounted spare tire appears in The Impostors, driving along the deck of a World Navy aircraft carrier.

After Thunderbird 2 crashes at Tracy Island in Terror in New York City, we are afforded the only opportunity to view automobiles at the headquarters of International Rescue. With scaffolding and repair equipment all around the damaged Thunderbird 2 in its hangar, we may see the Fire Chief Car beside an as yet unidentified white station wagon [I believe this to be the Husky Citroën Safari – JLN2nd] which also appears at the rocket launch complex in Sunprobe and at the base of the Empire State Building in Terror in New York City. Beside this vehicle in the latter episode can be seen Matchbox's model 71 Jeep Pick-Up Truck.

In the Thunderbirds episode Alias Mr. Hackenbacker, at the center of the crash site of Flight D-103, we can see rushing up to the exploding airliner a couple of Fire Pumpers with rooftop ladders added, as well as the Matchbox model 14 Bedford Ambulance. During the crash of Zero-X at Craigsville in Thunderbirds Are GO!, we may clearly see the Matchbox model 34 Volkswagen Camping Car and model 60 Morris Pick-Up Truck as well as other previously cited and others which remain unidentified.

Corgi and Dinky Toys

By now it ought to be obvious that the special effects people at AP Films/Century 21 Studios used a considerable number of die cast toy vehicles in order to help them create their vision of the 21st century. One of the earliest examples of some of the Corgi and Dinky vehicle toys which appeared in Thunderbirds is the scene of Thunderbird 1 under police guard at London International Airport in Trapped in the Sky. In this scene are two Buick Rivieras and an Oldsmobile Super 88, all in the classic white and black color scheme with 'police' emblazoned across the front doors and with rooftop light beacons. The car to the left and in the background appears to be the Dinky #001 Buick Riviera. Corgi also produced this car, their #245, which was available in several different colors. To the right of this is a repainted Corgi #235 or #237 Oldsmobile Super 88. This vehicle was also released by Corgi as the Man from UNCLE 'Thrush Buster' (#479). Almost lost among the background Matchbox vehicles in this scene is the Corgi #1120 Midland Red Motorway Express Coach.

The Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Super 88 police cruisers turn up in many episodes of Thunderbirds at roadblocks, chasing and pulling over speeding motorists, idling on the apron of the runway at Glenn Field, etc. However, they are not the most common choice of automobile by the mid 21st Century police forces or motorists in general.

The pair of Buick Riviera police cruisers at Glenn Field in Thunderbirds Are GO! are posed near an interesting selection of other die cast models. There is a Corgi #218 Aston Martin DB4 next to another example of the Buick Riviera police car. Beside it is a Dinky #264 Ford Fairlane R.C.M.P. Patrol Car. There are a couple of Corgi #263 Rambler Marlin Sports Fastbacks, a Corgi #241 Ghia L6.4 as well as others that I have yet to identify.

After the Zero-X spacecraft has completely trashed Craigsville and the fires have subsided, we may see among the debris further diecast models. There is a Corgi #229 Chevrolet Corvair, a Corgi #437 Superior Ambulance, and a Dinky #281 Pathe News Camera Car. The Corgi Superior Ambulance turns up once again in the photo of Thunderbird 1 above a prison on the cover of TV21 #115. In the same scene appears the Dinky model #259 Fire Engine.

The most frequently seen die cast metal car in Thunderbirds is undoubtedly Corgi's 1959 Ford Thunderbird, either #214 (hardtop) or #215 (convertible). In City of Fire, for example, the Carter family is driving a white hardtop while the couple which crashes in the underground parking garage is driving in a red convertible. Both cars appear to have been used straight out of the box. Examples of the Corgi 1959 Ford Thunderbird in various color schemes may be observed throughout the Thunderbirds series. Dinky's #005 1965 Ford Thunderbird turns up in a number of places as well. One prominent example is creamed by the Zero-X spacecraft as it smashes into Craigsville in Thunderbirds Are GO! while another may be spotted at the construction site for Expo 2068 in the Captain Scarlet episode by the same name. At the same Captain Scarlet location may be clearly seen the Corgi #245 Buick Riviera, Corgi #438 Land Rover, and Corgi #1142 Holmes Wrecker.

This vehicle shows up in photos of the workshop of the Century 21 film studio and prominently among the background vehicles on a well known Captain Scarlet setup photo featuring the SPV, Angel Interceptor and RTL-2 aircraft. In the same scene appears a couple of M-1 BP Autotankers repainted into fire tender colors, as well as an assortment of automobiles including a Corgi #480 1959 Chevrolet Impala Yellow Cab.

The Corgi 1959 Chevrolet Impala is known to have been released in at least nine different editions; a couple of police cruisers, a couple of taxi cabs, a couple of fire chief cars, and at least three different unmarked sedans. Even Matchbox produced one, #57, a blue and white model which may be seen at the Marineville complex in Stingray. One of the unmarked Corgi 1959 Chevrolet Impala sedans can be seen at the dock in the Joe 90 episode Trial at Sea. At this same location may also be seen the Corgi #245 Buick Riviera, #437 Superior Ambulance, #438 Land Rover, and the #1131 Carrimore Machinery Carrier.

By now it should be amply clear that the makers of the Supermarionation productions relied heavily on the commercially available die cast vehicle toys of the day to detail miniature sets which depicted life 100 years in the future.