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Guest Post: Cold War Classics Made in West Germany: The beautiful 1:66 diecast of Schuco (by Graham Heeps)

It has been awhile since we have had a guest post here on Lamley, but I am always game, especially when the post relates to models I don’t collect.  That means we could have endless guest posts, so if you have an idea, send it over.

Graham Heeps is one of those collectors with a vast amount of knowledge to go with his vast collection.  I found this feature fascinating, and I hope you do too.

(Thanks Graham.)

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As a teenager in the early-60s, my father was introduced to a family friend from West Germany called Traugott, who worked for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg. By 1980, Dad had a maroon Volkswagen Derby (think Polo with a trunk) in the garage, having traded in a 1969 Beetle 1500 the previous year. He also had a car-mad five-year-old to entertain. He wrote to his old friend and asked whether he might be able to send something across; the result was a bumper care package of books, sales brochures and some exotic German toy cars.

Traugott sent a Schuco 1:66 Beetle in maroon (a 1302 LS rather than a 1500, but I didn’t care) and two 1:43s: a green Schuco Mk1 Scirocco and a red Schabak Mk1 Jetta, the latter similar to the one my parents would buy new in August 1981. I still have the first two models, slightly playworn. The poor Jetta was given to my then one-year-old brother and survives in my parents’ attic, missing some doors and a lot of paint…

So began my relationship with Schuco toys, which in those pre-globalization days were not widely available in the UK. A story in Model Collector magazine in 1993 reported that a large quantity of Schuco was imported into the UK in the 70s, but not distributed until the early-90s – more than a decade after production had ceased. The person responsible was apparently a canny ex-employee of the would-be distributor, who had stored them for years in his garage!

Some history

The Schuco name is one of the oldest in the toy industry, dating from 1912, and comes from an abbreviation of Schreyer und Co., Heinrich Schreyer being the businessman who teamed up with toymaker Heinrich Müller in Nuremberg, Germany to found the company. Schreyer himself left Schuco after World War I but the firm survived two World Wars to become well known for its tin-plate, clockwork and other toys, including the famous Micro-Racers and the Piccolo solid diecast series.

The 1:66-scale ‘300’ range succeeded Piccolo from 1969. It comprised everything from racing cars to police vehicles and Transit vans, with around 40 different castings produced in all if you include variations for emergency services and the like. The vast majority of the subjects modeled were from manufacturers who built cars in Germany, including BMW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, Porsche and Volkswagen-Audi. Normally they were sold in a hard, clear-plastic case that – much like old Majorette packaging – doesn’t age well, but some were distributed as manufacturer promotionals in cardboard boxes.

By 1974, a few years before other diecast producers like Meccano (Dinky) and Lesney (Matchbox) went into receivership, Schuco was in financial trouble. In the years that followed, molds for the toy ranges went variously to GAMA (Germany) and REI (Brazil). The latter continued to manufacture 1:66 diecasts for a time. Meanwhile the Schuco name was sold on and is currently flourishing, like Majorette, under Simba Dickie’s stewardship.

Time to collect

Fast forward to 1997 and, having finished my German degree, I was working in the reunified country for a kitchen company that, coincidentally, also ended up in receivership! Browsing in a riverside market in Hannover I found an immaculate red 1302 LS like my childhood toy, and a Schuco-shaped lightbulb went on.

I started to seek them out, in both 1:66 and 1:43 form. At toy fairs in the UK they were more expensive than the contemporary Matchbox and Corgi releases, but not prohibitively so, to begin with at least. In the 20 years since, values have climbed a little, but original Schucos remain relatively easy to obtain.

Over time I’ve bought them from eBay and model shops, too, and from fairs and markets in Germany. The Matra-Ford racing car came from a swapmeet inside the Olympic Stadium in Munich, while the REI-made yellow Manta and a blue Mercedes sedan from the Nuremberg Christmas market! As followers of my @diecast215 Instagram feed may remember, some of my most recent acquisitions were the Polizei Porsche 911S and Jägermeister BMW 3.0 CSL bought last year at the huge NEC fair in Birmingham, UK.

There are a few reasons why I like the Schucos so much. Part of it is that they remind me of that parcel from West Germany nearly 40 years ago. There’s the connection with a country and language that have been a big part of my life, plus some nostalgia for the Cold War era in which I grew up. And then there is the satisfyingly weighty models themselves, which depict everyday cars and vans from the 1970s in a realistic style and in everyday colors – the same things that mean that I will always be more of a Matchbox guy than a Hot Wheels one.

As with just about everything else I collect, I will continue to add to my Schuco collection when I see them at the right price. With many different versions, colors, promotionals and even the Brazilian models track down, I’ll never have them all, but that’s fine. Viel Spass beim Modellautosammeln, as they might say in Germany!

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My original Schuco 1:66 Beetle (front) and the mint example that kick-started my collection in the late-90s
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Solid metal bases make for small but satisfyingly heavy models
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My original 1:43 Scirocco (rear) with its 1:66 counterpart
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Two generations of Mercedes 200
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The Ford Taunus Coupe was sold as both a GT and a GXL
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Police and race versions of the Porsche 911S/Carrera casting. Completists can track down nine versions of the orange one with numbers 1-9 on the hood!
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REI-made Opel Manta. Quality was not as good as German-made models – note the crudely applied ‘vinyl roof’
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Baseplate changed for Brazilian production
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Three single-seaters, from left to right: Ferrari F2, Brabham-Ford F1 and Matra-Ford F1

 

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7 thoughts on “Guest Post: Cold War Classics Made in West Germany: The beautiful 1:66 diecast of Schuco (by Graham Heeps) Leave a comment

  1. I treasure my olive green first generation Ford Escort and red F2 Ferrari, still in their original plastic boxes with their liner cards and that thin sponge rubber sheet that keeps them from rolling around in their boxes. Delicate packaging…but beautiful and jewel-like.

    Schuco and other ‘exotic’ foreign brands were carried in the big downtown Chicago Marshall Field’s department store back when I was a little kid.

    Wish I’d have had more allowance back then. I would have bought more of these neat little cars!

    .

  2. Great write-up indeed. I collect the 1/66 cars and of course the newer stuff. The 1/66 cars have this look and feel I can’t quite describe that I don’t see in the normal 1/64 size cars.

  3. I also had a few Schuco that survived and wish the US would import this brand as there are a lot of good models being made by them.

  4. I have an Opel GT from this series. Very detailed. Another 1/66 diecast maker you may want to consider is Politoys Penny. Made in Italy around the same time period as Schuco and some real gems in there as well: Ferraris, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos, and even a Porsche 912.

  5. Fantastic write up, and some interesting history I didn’t know about. Schuco is a very close second to Penny as my favorite Vintage brand, both are equally well done and have equal amounts of vintage charm. I think I have about 15 or 20, but that’s a number I hope keeps growing.

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