Marcus Nicholls takes a look at a famous Italian die-cast maker
BBurago is, or perhaps was, an enormously famous producer of die-cast metal model cars, turning them out by the thousands from their Burago di Molgora factory in Italy from 1976 to 2005. Originally entitled ‘Martoys’ from 1974 to 1976, the company was founded by Mario, Ugo and Martino Besana (who had previously started Mebetoys, later sold to Mattel). In 1976 the company’s name was changed to ‘BBurago’, specifically with a double B to reflect the town and the Besana family name. This unusual twist helped to make the company memorable, as did product lines that included everything from lorries to Lamborghinis.
From a personal viewpoint, the car that most stuck in my mind was the 1:18 1934 Bugatti Type 59, a model that my father cherished and even embellished with some hand-painted details to make accurate some small flaws. The model made use of die-cast metal – usually zinc – main chassis and body parts, with injection moulding for the wheels, seats, engine and other items. The details were of a ‘good’ level rather than cutting-edge, but it looked stunning in its racing blue livery and was certainly a contributing factor in my subsequent addiction to all things scale-model related.
Not all of BBurago’s output was in the now hugely popular scale of 1:18; in the earlier years the firm released cars in 1:48, 1:21, 1:22, 1:16 and even in 1:12. Several model ranges were created in 1:24, the universal scale for model car kits alongside 1:43. These included grandly titled lines such ‘Grand Prix’, ‘Super’, ‘Bijoux’ and ‘ VIP’. The Super series included many sports cars plus vehicles in police liveries, with no fewer than 45 different models in that line-up. The Grand Prix range comprised 10 Formula 1 and Indycars.
Models in the larger scales often featured opening doors, bonnets and boots and had detailed engines, working steering, spare tyres, windscreen wipers and instrument panels. Some cars even had workable suspension and removable wheels. In earlier designs, BBurago made use of plastics for doors and bonnets and these parts sometimes didn’t fit particularly well with the metal structures; after a few openings and closings, they could distort and not sit correctly in place. They were best opened/closed just once then placed in the display cabinet for observation only. In 2005 BBurago declared bankruptcy and was purchased by rival manufacturer Maisto in 2006, but the famous name lives on and has been part of the Maisto brand since 2007.