by Johan van Zyl
In 1952 Meccano Ltd at Binns Road, Liverpool, England, introduced the die-cast Dinky Toys jeep 25Y. The catalogue listed it as a "Universal Jeep" for the price of 3/1 (three shillings and one penny). It got this name from the full-size jeep after which it was modelled. "Universal Jeep" was the handle used in advertising by the motor manufacturing firm of Willys-Overland for its 1/4-ton Civilian Jeep utility vehicles, including the CJ-3A and CJ-3B, through much of the 1950's and 1960's.
An advertisement from Meccano Magazine, February 1954 (80K JPEG) shows the 25Y Universal Jeep along with other Dinky Toys of the period, mostly based on British vehicles. The 25Y (now at 3/3) is one of the more expensive items shown, presumably because of the greater number of detail parts (windscreen, steering wheel and spare wheel) which went into its production.
Before the production of the 25Y could kick in, there was the wooden prototype -- a unique piece of Dinky Toys history, and certainly one of the rarest toy jeeps in existence.
This green wooden mock-up is recognised as being the prototype of the Dinky 25Y, yet it is clearly dissimilar to the die-cast production model. The prototype seems to be based on a tall-bonneted jeep, whereas the die-cast model is a representation of a low-bonneted one.
Now the CJ-3B is a jeep with a tall bonnet, produced later than the low-hood CJ-3A. So it seems the Dinky jeep 25Y was supposed to have been a model of the newer product, but due to circumstances it was the older jeep that eventually came to be rendered in die-cast form. (See Dinky Toys CJ-3B Prototype on The CJ3B Page.) It is justifiable to now look closely at the CJ-3A in order to learn more about the 25Y and its siblings.
For the casual observer, the CJ-3A differs from the Willys MB (and Ford GPW) military jeep only by its new taller, one-piece windscreen and the fact that the spare wheel is placed on the side and not at the rear. But there are subtler differences. In the CJ-3A the driver's seat is situated further back in comparison to the army jeep. This led to a shortening of the rear deck. It is gratifying to see these differences between the CJ-3A and the MB also closely carried through in the Dinky 25Y. It proves that quite a lot of honest modelling inputs went into the planning and crafting of the die. It is appreciated by most collectors today.
The 25Y with its strong high windscreen in black (which might seem inappropriately large to those accustomed to the army jeep) was initially manufactured in 1952-53 in England in the colours red or green, but subsequently also came out in light blue and light yellow. The colour variations red and green seem to be more commonly found.
In the earliest catalogues this model was also referred to as the 27Y, it being part of an agriculture series by that number. If readers find this strange, bear in mind that the early CJ's were produced for the agricultural sector. There has been speculation as to why this model was introduced when Meccano already had a Land Rover and the earlier army jeep. A definite explanation seems not to be forthcoming.
The 25Y came with either smooth rubber tires or the newer treaded ones, with tread pattern suprisingly similar to the military non-directional type the full-size Jeep was equipped with. The model came in Type 3 trade boxes of four, made of grey card. Trade boxes made of yellow card may exist.
In 1954 the Dinky Toys numbering system was changed by Meccano to reflect modern methods of record-keeping, and the 25Y became the 405. Again, the most common colors were red and green, but it was also produced in blue and yellow. The variations are: green with lighter green hubs as well as the rare combination, green with maroon hubs. The red jeep comes with red hubs. There is an indication that it was produced in red with blue hubs as well.
The obvious way of distinguishing between the 25Y and the 405 is by means of the catalogue number. Only the 25Y has its number appearing under the rear axle. The 405 has no number.
Cast metal wheels gave way to plastic ones sometime during the 405's production run, which ended in 1967. In 1966 the only colour available was orange with red plastic hubs.
There was a special issue of the Universal Jeep casting, produced in military green in 1956-58 in England. This represented a U.S. Army jeep, and was sold in North America only, under the number 669.
The young boys and girls who bought or otherwise received these jeeps and played with them during the late fifties, probably never gave a thought as to the realism of their "army jeep". However, there did in fact exist a full-size military version of the CJ-3A, in use during the early 1950's. It was called the M38 (50K JPEG), and although based on the CJ-3A, it was modified for military use. The most obvious sign of modification is the spare wheel, which was returned to its original billet at the rear. The Dinky jeep 669 has the spare wheel on the side, so in that respect it still imitates the CJ-3A and not the M38.
Possibly, Meccano did not consider it economically feasible to alter the die to make the military version look exactly right. The 669 also has the "invasion star" on its hood, which is the star in a circle used during WWII. This would suggest that the 669 was really just replacing the Dinky 672 Willys MB, rather than being intended to represent the newer M38, which had a plain star with no circle.
Apparently there are three variations of this export version of the Dinky jeep: marked as 25Y on the base, marked as 669, and with no number. The 669 came in a box of four, and afterwards was sold in its own individual yellow box. There were two different types of yellow boxes. The standard one has pictures of the model on two opposite sides, with the reference number on an oval with black background; the other one has the reference number on an oval with red background.
The Universal Jeep dies were eventually sold to S. Kumar & Co., who manufactured this model in the early 1970's in India under the name "Nicky Toys". The Nicky Toys version came out in red, orange, light blue or khaki, and used the Dinky Toys baseplate for a while. The major difference seems to be the filled in area between the radiator and the bumper. It would be interesting to discover whether all Nicky Toys Universal Jeeps were made with that filled-in area.
Enthusiasts would say this one is not a Dinky even though it might have the Dinky baseplate (30K JPEG). Personally, I would be happy to include this jeep in my collection simply because it is a casting from the Meccano die.
Some Dinky Toys are quite rare due to the circumstances under which they were produced. This is especially true of the South African Dinkies, including the 405 Universal Jeep. The story of these variations has been told by various authors, including Clive Unsworth and Graham Bridges, and I gratefully acknowledge and condense their material below.
What happened was that a batch of probably as little as a thousand 405's, unpainted and unassembled, was shipped to South Africa together with batches of other, non-jeep models, where they were spray-painted and otherwise made ready for the market by the Cape Town importing distributor Arthur E. Harris (Pty) Ltd. There is uncertainty as to the quantities involved, but the argument is that if 2 000 of each model in each colour were produced by Harris, more models would have surfaced and been in the hands of collectors by now.
This happened around 1962 as prime minister Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd was leading the newly formed Republic of South Africa through a time of isolation and virtual expulsion from the Commonwealth, due to the government's refusal to drop its apartheid policy. South Africa was the largest of the export markets, and Meccano would have been hit by severe drops in sales due to heavy import duties if a workable solution could not be found through which to continue supplying Dinkies to South Africa. Somehow the South African firm and Meccano contacted one another and discussed the problem. A solution was soon forthcoming in the form of kits for later assembly (unfinished goods therefore) in order to avoid the heavy duties.
Harris received the imported products and assembled and painted them. In the main a totally different colour selection was used -- off-white for the Universal Jeep instead of the familiar green or red. However, there also exists a green South African version with red hubs, which seems to be more common than the white. Ron Gersbank, a native South African, remembers these Dinky Toys being on sale in 1962 and 1963. The window of opportunity clearly did not last for very long.
Collectors would understandably be concerned about the correct identification of the South African Dinkies, including the Universal Jeep. The rivets holding the baseplate in position are different to those used in England (30K JPEG) which have a pronounced domed head. The South African assembled toys usually have rivets with upright shoulders and a distinct dimple in the centre. Also, only the South African range had glossy base plates.
Individual yellow boxes for the South African assembled jeeps were printed in both English and Afrikaans. One of the flaps read "Assembled in the Republic of South Africa for MECCANO LTD", and repeated in Afrikaans. The interior of some of the boxes are blue. Boxes for the South African Universal Jeep are probably rarer than the toys themselves.
My own white South African-assembled Universal Jeep was purchased new in Bloemfontein, capital city of the Free State, South Africa, sometime after 1962. The buyer was a young boy at the time, and he must have played very sparingly with this jeep, judging by its present good condition. I came into possession of it in February 2006. Many of them are today affected by varying degrees of rust because the warehouse was located in oceanside Cape Town, well-known for its high humidity. Fortunately for me there are no signs of rust on my jeep's baseplate, as Bloemfontein lies in a non-humid region.
Although its box was lost a long time ago, I am understandably happy to have this "rare beastie" in my Dinky jeep collection, and it will serve in no insignificant way to brighten up conversations with fellow collectors and friends.
I must sign off with an anecdote involving my two small grandsons, aged three and seven. When I on occasion arrive at their home with a toy for them to play with, as well as a new Dinky jeep acquisition of my own to show to their father, they quickly see from my behaviour that some "toys" are not meant for kids. Having already experienced this a number of times, they get this pained look on their faces and say to one another: "Can't touch that -- collection!"
Thanks to Johan for his research, Chris Wade for the wood prototype photo, and Michel Cousineau of Dinky Club for the Nicky Toys photo. The white 405 photo is courtesy of Classic Toys Vol. 1 No. 5 and Jan Werner of Dinky Club. Also thanks to Gary Keating for the CJ-3A, and Weebee Webbing for the M38. -- Derek Redmond
See more on Dinky Toys Jeeps on The CJ3B Page.
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