July 5, 2020 – by Doug Breithaupt
When someone mentions Tootsietoy, most of us picture simple one-piece toy cars with basic wheels. In a previous story, I reviewed these basic cars beginning with the first small-scale die-cast car made by Tootsietoy in 1911. With the introduction of the Hard Body brand name in the late 1980’s, Tootsietoy changed that image and tried to compete with more complex models from Europe, America, and Asia. The Hard Body series featured vehicles in several scales but the focus here is on those in the 1:55-1:64 range. The Hard Body name seems intended to reinforce that these models were ‘tough’ die-cast metal.
Hard Body models were available for over ten years, from the late 1980’s to 2003. The castings include cars, trucks and commercial vehicles. My collection includes few commercial vehicles as I do not actively collect them and I do not have any of the Hard Body examples. The quality of the models is comparable to many small-scale die-cast toy cars of this era. All have plastic bases and the wheels are like those used by Welly or Yat Ming. Some of the models feature opening doors. The paint quality is quite good, although the some might consider the use of additional generic graphics to be unfortunate. The Chinese factory that produced these models is not known. The Tootsietoy Hard Body castings do not appear to have been re-issued under any other brand although some were offered in the late 1990’s as Subway Kids’ Pac premiums and I will discuss these later. The Hard Body models were available through a variety of retail locations and usually sold in blisters for around $1. About 20 years ago, I found some with different wheels being sold in simple plastic bags with a bar code sticker on the base at 3 for $1. They were still identified as Tootsietoy on the base. I have identified three distinct phases of production as represented by different base plate designs. Most castings came in a variety of colors. The early models begin at #101 with the number embossed on the base while the Tootsietoy name and China are stamped in white paint.
The second base has numbers that appear to start in the 150 range and have a T, no doubt for Tootsietoy, prefix. As there are two Porsche 911 options with the top up or down, the number shown in this example is followed by a 2.
After 1992, car make and model names began to appear on the base, no doubt due to more aggressive licensing demands from automakers. Tootsietoy and China are no longer printed but embossed in the base. The vehicles are no longer numbered.
My collection includes nine models from the first 100 series. I have two of the Porsche 928 variations. I have not been able to identify any castings beyond #112, but they may exist. I am missing three models that are noted in the list that follows.
The second series of cars is a bit of a mystery. I only have three of what I will call the T series models. The first two carry the same number T151-2 and are Porsche 911 Turbo variations. One has the top up and one has it down. You might think they should be T151-1 and T151-2 but both are the same number. The third model is a Chevrolet Corvette C4 and carries number T154. I’ve searched online for the missing numbers of 152 and 153 as well as 155-159, but found no matches. Was this simply a transition series between the earlier 100 series and the later licensed models?
The final series of Tootsietoy Hard Body models included an interesting variety of contemporary and classic cars. The 4th generation Cadillac Seville 1992-97 is of interest as it is unique to small-scale. It was offered in dark red and black, as well as several other colors. It is the only 4-door sedan produced in the Hard Body line. The ‘57 Corvette and Jaguar ‘E’ type castings were the two classics added to the line.
Tootsietoy offered an assortment of vehicles from different regions. German and American cars were well represented with Porsche and General Motors the obvious favorites. Not shown are a Chevrolet van, pickup and SUV that were produced. There were also some commercial trucks that I do not have. Tootsietoy offered a series of open wheel race cars in the Hard Body line, but I have not included them in this review.
A Ford Mustang, Dodge Daytona and Jeep CJ5 provided a bit more diverse selection of American cars. The Jeep has characteristics of models offered by Yat Ming and Welly. A second Dodge, this time an Omni 024, was produced but is not yet in my collection. A Ford Scorpio was offered but is also on my wanted list.
Ferrari was featured with two castings, a Testarossa and an F40 with opening doors. The classic Jaguar ‘E’ type provided a British car in the Hard Body line. Two Nissan models were produced. I have the 300ZX, but I am missing the Sylvia.
As noted earlier, none of the Hard Body castings seem to have been licensed to other toy car brands. They were, however, used by Subway for their Kids’ Pac meal premiums. In 1996, a Speedsters series of four cars were offered. In 1998, Hard Body models were again used by Subway. Neither Tootsietoy nor Strombacher Corp., owner of the Tootsietoy brand, are mentioned on the Subway packaging or models. A comparison of the bases for the Porsche 959 is shown.
Values for these Hard Body and Subway premium models are still quite reasonable at toy shows and thrift shops. Often they can be found in very good condition for $1 or less. Online sellers may set higher values, especially for packaged examples. While there does not seem to be a strong collector following for the Hard Body models at present, some, like the unique Cadillac Seville, are proving more difficult to find. As a chapter in the Tootsietoy story, these are likely to become more desirable in the future.