March 26, 2020 – by Doug Breithaupt
In 1960, an Italian company called Politoys began producing toy cars. They started in plastic but moved to die-cast after a few years. By 1967, they decided to compete in the small-scale market. They also decided to change their name to Polistil in order to avoid confusion with a British company called Palitoys. In the same way that Corgi’s small-scale brand became Husky, Polistil gave the Penny name to their little street and race cars. Polistil focused their production on larger scales including 1:24 and 1:16. Their small-scale models were in 1:66 scale and often represented smaller versions of their larger lines.
The Penny series included a selection of Formula One racers. The wheels were big and the bodies a bit stubby, but they represented the popular teams of the day. I have several of these but will save the Penny series story for another time. In F1 crazy Italy, they were a success and Polistil expanded sales in Europe and elsewhere. By the early 1970’s, the Penny name was dropped and in 1976 a new F1 series appeared. The RJ series included nine models, RJ1-9 and represented the F1 teams for 1975. Four additional models were added in 1977 for the 1977 season and numbered RJ55, 56, 57, and 59. At least one 1975 casting, the Brabham BT 44, was re-painted to represent the BT 46 car from 1978. In 1980, eight more models were introduced which I do not have. For the 1983 F1 season, Polistil produced a new RN series and I have models numbered RN21-26. Polistil offered their F1 models in colorful boxes with photographs of the real race car, on blister cards and in sets with race transporters.
Over 20 years ago, I attended a local toy show where I came across a table with a variety of seldom-seen European models. I purchased many and asked who had collected them? I was told a local Porsche dealer had bought them during trips to Europe. After his death, his brother was in the process of selling off the collection. I asked if it would be possible to see the collection and purchase more models. It was arranged and I had the opportunity to select and buy over 100 pieces. Included in the collection were 13 boxed examples of the Polistil F1 racers from 1976/77 you see here. Later, I added six more loose Polistil F1 models from 1980. Those original 13 boxed models have become a prized part of my F1 collection. It is a pleasure to share them with you.
Beginning with the first RJ series F1 cars, you can see that Polistil attempted to provide an authentic look and racing livery for each model. Pre-dated limitations on tobacco advertising on toys, sponsor graphics include Marlboro, John Player and others. You will note two #1 cars, McLaren and Ferrari. The explanation is below. There is also a 14 model, a second Brabham BT 44 which I found loose some years age. Stick-on decals are used which were easily dislodged if these cars saw much playtime. Fortunately for me, this collection was kept boxed and is all intact. Let’s look at the individual models.
The box art shows the 1974 car #5 driven by Emerson Fittipaldi who became world champion and gave McLaren their first F1 championship. The model carries the #1 champion’s number of the 1975 season as it should. Sponsors are Texaco and Marlboro. Like all cars except Ferrari, BRM and one of the Brabham cars, the McLaren was powered by the Ford-Cosworth V8.
Once again, the 1974 Ferrari of Lauda is shown on the box art but his 1976 #1 is represented by the model. Lauda won the championship in 1975 and for the first three races drove the 312T which followed the 312-B3. What Polistil has done is to put the #1 from 1976 on the car from 1975. It seems the Italians could not resist an early celebration of Ferrari’s championship. AGIP and Goodyear are shown as sponsors. The Ferrari flat 12 powers this car.
The box art and the model match for the Lotus JPS 72E from 1975 and the #5 indicates this is Ronnie Peterson’s car. The John Player Special graphics are there, but difficult to see. Peterson finished the year in 13th place.
The box art shows the #4 car driven by Patrick Depailler, but the model is the #3 car driven by Jody Schecter who finished in 7th for the season. Elf is the only sponsor shown.
The #8 car shown on the box was driven by Carlos Pace but the #7 model belonged to Carlos Reutemann. Reutemann finished in 3rd place in the championship. No sponsor is shown on the model, although Martini colors are seen. The #2 car in red was found loose and added later. It has minor play-wear. It seems to represent the Alfa Romeo V12 Parmalat-sponsored car driven by John Watson in 1978. Of course, it is clearly a BT 44 with the tall air broom and marked as such on the base. It appears Polistil did not want to do a new Brabham casting and simply used the 1975 car with the 1978 colors.
Once again the box art and model do not have the same numbers. The UOP Shadow #16 was driven by Tom Pryce while the #17 was driven by Jean-Pierre Jarier who finished 18th in 1975. Pryce’s car was Ford-Cosworth powered but Jarier had a Matra V12. UOP Shadow was an American team as evidenced by the flag on the air intake.
The #14 numbers match on the box and model for Bob Evans’ car. BRM was sponsored by Motul. This was the only BRM car to run in 1975.
James Hunt drove the #24 Hesketh in 1975. He finished in 4th place. No sponsors are shown on the box art or matching model.
It is difficult to tell who the driver for the Lola T 370 might be as four different drivers used #23. The box art shows team owner Graham Hill as the driver but he only used it for one race. Tony Brise used it the most and gained the highest position for the season. The Embassy tobacco brand sponsored the car.
These four F1 cars appear to be from the 1977 season. James Hunt won for McLaren in 1976 and drove the #1 car in 1977. No #RJ58 model was released by Polistil.
The box art shows and the model is the 1977 Ferrari 312T2 that was driven by Niki Lauda and used after the first three races when the tall air boxes were banned. The colors are not quite right with the white portions of the paint scheme missing. This is the car driven by Niki Lauda when he had his horrible crash in the German GP.
This is a reverse of the previous Tyrrell with Peterson’s #3 car on the box and Depailler’s #4 car as the model. This is also the introduction of the controversial 6-wheeled F1 model. It had some success with a second place finish in one race that year. Goodyear was a sponsor and provided the small front tires.
Ligier had some success in 1977 and even won the Swedish GP. Jacques Lafitte finished at 10th in the championship. Gitanes provided more tobacco sponsorship for Ligier.
The cars for the 1983 F1 grid were represented by at Polistil in their RN series of which I have the six you see here. These six are the Tyrrell Benetton 011B driven by Michele Aldoreto, the TAG Williams Ford driven by Keke Rosberg, defending champion from 1982 and carries his #6 from 1982, the Ferrari 126C3 driven by René Arnoux, the Renault ELF RE30C driven by Alain Prost, the McLaren MP4/1C driven by Niki Lauda and the Brabham BMW BT52 driven by Nelson Piquet. I purchased these mint-on-card (MOC) some years after adding the boxed models.
While my collection includes 20 Polistil F1 cars from 1975 – 1983, there are still a number of RJ and RN models I am missing. There are eight more RJ series cars from around 1980 that I have seen in Dr. Edward Force’s excellent book, Classic Miniature Vehicles Made in Italy. There are also more RN series models that came with team transporters. I am still learning about other small-scale F1 models from Polistil and I’m sure some readers will be able to contribute more information in the comments. Values for Polistil’s F1 cars can range from $5-10 for loose cars that may have play-wear to considerably more for models MOC. Transporter sets may go for over $100 if still boxed.