A History of Pre-War Automotive Tootsietoys
by Clint Seeley
edited by Robert Newson
Part 6 - La Salles, Doodlebug and others 1935-37
Clint Seeley's original text is in green, and my editorial additions are in blue.
Put your mouse over the thumbnail images to see the picture caption, and click on the thumbnail to enlarge.
Last month we covered the vintage year of 1933. 1934 was a year of developmental dormancy at Dowst, perhaps in deference to the new developments hatching out on far-away Binns Road, Liverpool (Clint is referring to the introduction of Dinky toys in 1934). More likely, it was a breather after the extraordinary year that preceded it.
The 1934, 1935 and 1936 catalogue covers:
Varous sets including LaSalles, Doodlebugs and a Lincoln Zephyr:
The Tootsietoy La Salle
If 1935 was not a "great" year, it was surely a "good" year, the vineyards producing perhaps more bouquet than body, but an historic vintage, nevertheless. The hits of the year were the LaSalles and the Doodlebug. The LaSalles are beautiful castings and elegant reproductions of this semi-prestlge car. The body and chassis parts were engaged by a slightly different method from the Grahams, the front axle being the only lock. lf any criticism of them is permissable, it might be the slight gap in the fit between the two parts over the rear mudguards. There were sedan and coupe versions, with tan tops again having separate catalogue numbers as "convertibles''. I have seen these only with the rest of the body and the chassis having a single colour, though non-convertible versions sometimes had contrasting body and chassis colouring. The one best remembered here was a silver body and black fenders and chassis. The yellow sedan illustrated with black roof appears to be original and is sometimes referred to as a Taxi version (information and photo from Larry Seiber).
The wheels were affixed by driving a sharpened axle nail into a blind hub, rather than by flattening the protruding tip. Conventional axle pins with a crimped end were also used, as seen on the blue LaSalle sedan illustrated. The LaSalle was also notable in being the first Tootsietoy with the name of the real car cast underneath. By the way, if you run across a LaSalle with a spare wheel, it is either a fraud or hallucination.
These two chromed LaSalle coupes in the factory collection (leftmost photo) were said to be from a special run made for promotional use by the LaSalle division of General Motors Corporation.
These photos show two LaSalles in a very rare General Motors dealer promotional set (courtesy of Philippe de Lespinay). The models are recognisable by wheels painted in body colour and black tyres (information from Larry Seiber). They also have Bild-a-Car axles, and lack the patent number information cast under the bonnet.
The Doodlebug is of special historical interest, and I had been planning to write a separate illustrated piece on the subject. It is quite a faithful reproductlon of a hand-made car designed by John Tjaarda and built by the Briggs Manufacturing Company for the Ford-Lincoln organisation. It was shown on "The Ford Exhibition of Progress", a tour throughout the country in 1934, and is now generally called the second Briggs prototype (the first prototype having been a rear engined job which influenced Ferdinand Porsche's original Volkswagen design). The only real lapse from accuracy of the Doodlebug was that the Briggs car had the right side of a four-door sedan while the driver's side had the broad single door and wide quarter window of a two-door sedan; the Tootsietoy Doodlebug was a straight four-door version, which never really existed. The Briggs jobs were experimental forerunners of what eventually evolved as the Lincoln Zephyr, but the Tjaarda designs were carefully destroyed and all Ford records of them expunged, because of the designer's role in the sensational new Chrysler Airflow. Photographs and data on the car survive in newspaper and other archives, but don't bother to ask the Ford Museum at Dearborn.
Thus, the Dowst firm appears to have been caught with a sizeable tooling investment in what might have been another toy "scoop", as the 1928 Model A Ford had been; but instead found that they had to sell a beautiful model of an obscure nothing. They went ahead anyway, christening it the "Doodlebug", hoping to salvage something from the disaster. The Doodlebug, with separate plated pieces for the grllle/headlamps/front bumper and rear bumper/tail lights, may have been manufactured during one or two years, but stayed in the catalogue through 1938 (it is in the UK 1938 leaflet - see part 7 of this article) to clear the inventory.
It was followed (or joined?) in 1937 by what they called the Lincoln Zephyr in the Tootsietoy catalogue, but it was merely the old Doodlebug body die reworked by modifying the grille to a Lincoln Zephyr form and casting bumpers and a large rear central tail-light integrally. A version with a boom and hook in place of the rear light was listed merely as "wrecker". Some of these were equipped with Japanese made key-wound spring motors which never worked and were dropped when the supply was exhausted.
A large house trailer (caravan) with steel baseplate and sliding door was introduced in 1937, designed to be pulled by the LaSalles. The broad hook had a way of prying the rear bumper off, and a spring-wound Lincoln was modified to pull the trailer in 1938 (by replacing the central bumper support with two, one either side of the hook); this pair was sold in a boxed set as "Tootsietoy Roamer", the name cast in the side of the trailer. The same set was sold in 1939 without the motor.
The 1934 and 1935 Fords
1935 also saw the entry of the small Fords, allowing for the debut of the new series Mack transporter, though the older open Mack transporter carrying four small 1930 Buicks stayed in the catalogue through 1936 (the three-Buick version being last seen in the 1933 catalogue). The 1934 Fords, having a separate plated radiator/headlamp/bumper piece resembling a small Graham grille piece, and being fitted with small rubber-tyred metal hubs, lasted only one year before being replaced by the one-piece 1935 Fords. The catalogue showed an open 1934 roadster in 1935, but it is not certain whether this was ever made; the only one ever seen hereabouts was the result of plastic surgery (a Willard Ford to match the Prosser Dolomite). (Clint is referring to the Dinky Toy Triumph Dolomite, announced as no.38e but never issued. British collector Reg Prosser had created an example of how this model might have been, chopped from a Dinky 40a Riley, and later he wrote an article describing how the chop was done (ref.11). Gates Willard must have done the same for a 1934 Ford Roadster). Coupe and sedan were catalogued in closed and "convertible" versions, differing only in paint as with the Grahams and LaSalles. A breakdown truck (wrecker) rounded out the Fords, and a DeSoto Airflow and "Zephyr" railcar completed the small series for the year.
1936 saw the one-piece 1935 Fords replace the 1934 models. The grille and side louvres were altered to conform quite accurately to the newer Ford. The wheels also changed to solid white rubber mounted directly on the axles. The open roadster probably made its real debut, and the line was joined by a Ford pick-up truck. This latter had the truck-type grille rather than the style on the wrecker and passenger cars. A small cab-over oil tanker was also added, differing from the later 235 tanker in being a bit more complicated casting and having an open-sided rear chassis without fender skirts.
The small Ford series was augmented in 1937 by a small house trailer with a cast tow-bar that reached under the rear of the cars to engage the axle. This was called "camping trailer". Also added to the range was a camel-back delivery van with a still later Ford grille than the pick-up. The standard version had "Special Delivery" cast in script on the side panels, but this van was also issued in a number of private liveries, as the Federal trucks had been more than a decade earlier. Two of the vans had a lithographed tinplate insert bearing the store name tabbed into the side panels, whereas the others had decal transfers.
Reproduced here is a fascinating letter showing how the promotional vans were marketed to department stores. The letter is dated July 28th 1938, and two sample vans were attached, one of which (a "Shepard" van) remains in place. The missing sample was probably a van with decals, as the prices quoted were slightly cheaper than for the Shepard style of van with tinplate inserts. As with the earlier special Federal vans (see Part 2), the minimum quantity was 5,000.
The "Jumbo" series was another 1936 introductlon, later to be called "Torpedo" series. These were six inches long and rather simpler castings than their smaller brethren. Perhaps least ugly of the set was the pick-up truck, having lines similar to the small 1935 Ford. The open roadster of the set had a tapered rear deck vaguely reminiscent of the boat-tailed Auburn Speedster, and is frequently referred to as such by collectors, though never by the maker in catalogues. The other two items released in the series were a sedan and coupe, both rather futuristic and unattractive. Early versions of these two had tin baseplates. A wrecker was added to the series in 1938.
Another entry in 1937 was a fire engine set having Graham-type wheels and tyres and a permanently mounted flreman-drlver. This rather nice set consisted of a hook-and-ladder carrying three interlocklng ladders, a hose car with water cannon and large front-mounted pump, and an "insurance patrol" with a simple open rear resembling a chemical wagon. Two years later this was modified to have a flat deck carrying a single short ladder which was held in place at the rear by a standing fireman. This same upright servant was fitted to the hose wagon by turning the swivelling water cannon forward and making a raised rear platform such that the figure stood with his T-shaped claw holding the rear of the gun. In 1938 boxed sets, a red 1935 Ford coupe was included as a chief's car (although the one pictured above has a Ford Sedan), but this was replaced from 1939 through 1941 by the open roadster occupied by the seated fireman-driver. This last little tidbit is hellishly hard to find today. The bodies were red and silver; the men and ladders were blue on earlier types and gold after 1939.
1937 was rounded out by the Greyhound Bus. The single colour version was numbered 1026, and the blue and silver version was 1045. The 1938 UK leaflet (see part 7 of this article) shows both models - 1026 was packed with the Jumbo series in one dozen assortments (presumably two each of six different items), and 1045 was packed in dozens on its own. Originally, it was fitted with a tin base-plate and had larger-than-Graham wheels and tyres, the metal hubs being hollow on the inside. Later, the base-plate was dropped and solid white rubber wheels with chromed hub discs were used. During the war, the casting was modified to have front fender skirts and external axle mounts and was fitted with wooden wheels. After the war, black rubber wheels were mounted by means of axle pins driven into a centre die-cast sleeve. This sequence was also followed by other larger models to survive the war, including the Torpedo series, and others to be covered next month.
(11) "Chop Chop" in Modellers' World magazine, Vol.1 no.2, January 1972.
(12) Modellers' World magazine, Vol.9 no.3, April 1980.