It’s a phrase often attributed to Lockheed chief Clarence “Kelly” Johnson: Keep it simple stupid. The phrase became ingrained in US military parlance in the 1960s as the “KISS principle”, and states that most systems work better if kept simple, therefore the main goal of design should be simplicity, avoiding unnecessary complication. It’s perhaps the formula that US company Marx stuck to when designing their range of diecasts.
Marx’s foray into small scale diecast began in the late 1960s and ended around the mid 1970s. Their “Mini Marx” cars were scaled at roughly around 1/66 and early models were made in a single piece of cast metal, with no interior, windows or chassis. Axles slotted through holes in the body shell and simple plastic wheels were affixed to the ends. They were truly bare bones diecast. Later versions featured paper inserts with the interior printed on and eventually some cars in the Marx range like the Jaguar E-Type had full interiors with a window piece and even a driver sat behind the wheel. Wheels changed as well in a bid to compete with Hot Wheels, and plastic wheels with low friction bearings featured in the “Blazers” series. And it’s the Blazers range this Porsche featured in.
The withdrawal of Porsche from Formula 1 in 1962 refocused the brand on sportscar racing, and the 904 arrived in 1964 replacing the legendary but ageing 718. After a muted debut at Sebring, 904s took 1st and 2nd place in the 1964 Targa Florio, and the silverware continued to flow with success at Le Mans, Spa, Nurburgring and the Paris 1000km. 904s were renowned for their almost unfaltering reliability, and in 1964 a customer car was driven to an event in Reims from the factory in Stuttgart and went on to win the event without need for any spare parts. Homologation rules required the need for road-going versions and 106 were built for those lucky enough to be able to afford the $7245 (around $65-70,000 now) price tag. Power came from a 4 cam flat-four producing 200bhp, though 6 and 8 cylinder versions appeared later.
The Marx 904 is ridiculously simple. Wheels and axles aside, there are only 2 pieces to the model.
The proportions are surprisingly accurate for a model of the era, and beyond some rather shallow panel lines, there’s barely any detail at all but that’s a rather refreshing thing. It’s also rather petite, which I think adds to the charm.
Due to play wear, gone are the silver centres of 3 of the 4 wheels and the paper insert of the interior, and a beautiful patina covers the body.
The low friction wheels roll beautifully still, and it’s a real pleasure to handle. And the costs of Marx cars are still easy enough to stomach. Due to their relative obscurity compared to Hot Wheels and the Lesney Matchbox cars of the same era, resale values have stayed low. I picked this up on Ebay for about £7 including postage. And there’s some lovely cars in the range including the aforementioned Jaguar E-Type, a VW Beetle and a Ferrari P4. A great and lesser known route into vintage diecast collecting.
(Find the Marx Porsche 904 on ebay)