The Vickers Vigor tractor

Malcolm Parker

during the 1950's, Victory Industries of Guildford became well known for their excellent large scale plastic models of British cars and for their pioneering range of VIP Roadways. What is perhaps less well known today is that in addition to the cars, Victory also produced several large scale models of plant machinery, all of which were similarly endorsed as 'Official Scale Models' by the manufacturers of the real vehicles. Without doubt the rarest and most difficult to find today is the 1/16 scale Vickers 'Vigor' Tractor. This was one of the last models in this series and made its debut at the National Models Exhibition held at the New Horticultural Hall in Westminster on New Years Eve in 1959.

Tractor and packaging
The Vickers Vigor tractor and its box this illustration has a larger version

At almost a foot long, the Vigor is an impressive looking beast, even when it's alongside the triple motored Coles Ranger Crane which was released at the same time. Equally impressive was its price. Weighing in at a hefty £6.8s.6d, the Vigor definitely wasn't a pocket money toy. At about the equivalent of £75 today, you would definitely have needed a wealthy uncle to buy you one back then!

This model was produced in an overall dark blue colour which closely matches the colour used by Vickers-Armstrong themselves in some of their promotional films of the real Vigor and I suspect this may well have been the only colour available. It certainly provides a vivid contrast to the bright red of the drivers rather plush looking armchair. Most of the other ancillaries are moulded in black plastic, with the engine detail and radiator grill in silver. Surprisingly the white Vickers and Vigor logos that embellish the front of the tractor are also separate mouldings.

Beneath the skin of the beast lie two of Victory's old but powerful and dependable 'Mighty Midget' electric motors, each one providing independent drive to each of the rubber tracks through the rear drive sprockets.

the actual model left side the actual model right side the actual model front
3 Views of the Vickers Vigor tractor

To switch the model on and off, you move the metal gear lever on the dashboard forward or back. Otherwise control is through the printed circuit push-button unit that had also made its debut in the Victory range at the Exhibition. Just as in a real tracked vehicle, the operator of the Victory model is presented with separate controls for each track, in this instance, two green buttons and two red ones. By pressing both green buttons together, the tractor will move straight forward, conversely pressing both red's gives reverse. Releasing one of the two buttons will give a normal gentle turn — left or right as appropriate, while hitting the opposite red and green buttons simultaneously causes the tractor to turn within its own length. The unfortunate consequences of pressing the red and green buttons on the same track together were boldly stated on the instruction leaflet!

Given the purchase price, perhaps the most surprising thing about Victory's model is the complete absence of any accessories to go with it. The lack of driver is one thing (although this is common to all of Victory's large scale models). Less excusable, given the real tractors role as a beast of burden, is the absence of any earthmoving equipment for it. Either a dozer blade or an earth scraping unit could not have added greatly to the overall cost of the model, but would surely have enhanced its overall attraction. Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the models belated appearance. With most of its large scale models, Victory negotiated deals with the full size manufacturer on the basis that an agreed amount of models would be purchased and distributed directly by them, a scheme which Victory proudly billed as 'Publicity through official working scale model replicas'. By working with the Board of Trade on this scheme, Victory succeeded where many other toy companies had failed in convincing established UK companies that a model of their product could serve as a valuable promotional tool.

Alone amongst its large scale models, Victory's Vigor was not released until after the real tractor had ceased production. Assuming that it was made with the usual promotional sales in mind, something must have delayed production by at least a year if not more. I'd speculate that this may have been related to Victory's brief but disastrous liaison with Trix in 1958. I find it difficult to believe that Victory felt sales of the model through the toy trade alone would have been sufficient to offset the production costs. That said, if press releases are to be believed, the Vigor was one of Victory's most popular products in 1962! It remained in production until 1964.

This would be the end of the story, were it not that shortly before the model was dropped from the range, it was discovered by an inventive chap called Ray Brown. At the time, Ray was teamed up with another rather better known special effects man called Derek Meddings. Together they decided that the bottom half of the tractor would be the perfect basis for a range of futuristic vehicles they were building for a forthcoming television series, Thunderbirds!

Today, Victory's Vigor has all but disappeared into obscurity. Yet, thanks to the Mole, Firefly and to most of the other tracked vehicles that appeared in Thunderbirds, at least a small part of it is assured of a place in history.

with thanks to Ivor Spence for the loan of his Vigor
and to Paul Gandy for providing background material on the real tractor
bottom two pictures originally from Malcolm Parker's Victory Industries page
article originally appeared at the TV21 website.