As with many great British companies, the origins of Corgi lie overseas. In 1933 Philip Ullman, head of Tippco – a very successful German toy company – moved to Britain. Initially, he worked as a subcontractor to other toy-makers but in 1936 he decided to set up his own company, Mettoy, in Northampton.
In 1946 the company started to produce a range of large-scale diecast models, and in 1948 – as production boomed – built a 14-acre factory near Swansea in Wales, which remained a toy-making centre for the next 40 years.
Spurred on by Dinky’s success, Mettoy decided to create a range of diecast vehicles at their Swansea factory, with the corgi, a hardy Welsh dog, as an appropriate brand image. The resulting toys were of a very high standard.
In 1959 Corgi added spring suspension to the vehicles and began featuring opening doors and opening bonnets.
One of Corgi’s best and most famous toys was the James Bond Aston Martin (pictured at right).
Corgi used their existing Aston Martin (first produced in 1964) as the basis for the model and tried to pack in as many features and devices as possible to emulate those in the DB5 used by James Bond in the 1964 film, Goldfinger (1964).
Among the main features were front machine guns, a rear bullet-proof shield and an operating ejector seat. The car was launched in November 1965 and was acclaimed as “toy of the year” by the National Association of Toy Retailers.
It became one of the most popular toys ever made, with nearly three million sold in the original run.
Among the most popular series produced by Corgi was a range of rally cars current between 1964 and 1970. Enthusiasm for rallies in Britain had begun with successes in actual races, particularly Paddy Hopkirk’s triumphant win in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964 in a Mini Cooper.
The range was regularly updated and Corgi chronicled all the major rallies until the Hillman Hunter World Cup rally car of 1970.
Between 1968 and 1970, the decline in standard at Corgi was far less noticeable than at Dinky, as they were still buoyed up by the success of their film and TV-related models (such as James Bond cars and The Avengers gift set).
In 1970 Corgi introduced their ‘Whizzwheels’ range to compete with Mattel’s Hot Wheels series.
Although there was a general decline in quality, Corgi enjoyed a late flowering between 1970 and 1972, producing a range of highly collectable models such as the Noddy car, the Popeye Paddle Wagon and the ever-popular Magic Roundabout series of vehicles and figures.
In 1983, Mettoy – the Corgi holding company – went into receivership, continuing as a management buy-out. They were taken over by Mattel in 1992 and production moved to China.
In more recent years, the company happily re-emerged and began writing another chapter in the history of British toymaking.