Miniatures news, September 1978

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It is at last possible to sort out these toy Citroens which are of Such interest to historians and collectors, thanks to an article in that excellent bi-lingual publication, Le Double Citroen, published quarterly by Citroen’s Public Relations Department. NO. 51 of this publication carried a long illustrated article on this subject.

It is well known that Andre Citroen sought to publicise his first car by selling rather good tinplate replicas of it, on the assumption that this would encourage a child to say as its very first words: “Mama, Papa and Citroen”… Citroen’s toy department first produced this 16”-long replica of the Model B2 10 h.p. Citroen tourer in 1923. It had no motor, but a clockwork-powered version was introduced in the same year, 15,000 apparently being made.

This success encouraged Citroen to make similar models, or toys, and faithful miniatures of the 7.5 h.p. (or 5 c.v.) two-seater came out, as well as further B2 tourers. These had clockwork power, left-hand working steering, detachable disc tin-plate wheels with a spare, a brake, an openable celluloid windscreen, etc. I recall that they were sold from Citroen showrooms, including the London headquarters in Piccadilly, for 10s. 6d. and 15s. respectively, and that they were very good, if simple copies of the real cars. They were available in the colours of the real Citroens, light yellow, wine-red, and blue, and the radiator of the first of these toys was later given a printed paper facsimile of a honeycomb, and wider wheels, although I seem to remember that the 7.5 h.p. model I owned as a toy had a realistic honeycomb formed of wire-mesh. It had a very realistic Citroen radiator shell, an equally accurate pointed tail, with a luggage grille above, eyed for straps, and its aluminium dash and corrugated running-boards completed an excellent reproduction of the real 5 c.v. “Citroen Presse”. Additional versions of this kind were of 3 taxi and a van, the latter usually lettered “Les Jeittets Citroen”.

All these were mass-produced, starting with the 7.5-h.p. toy. During 1924, the year in which Citroen made their famous Trans-Africa journey, the toy department brought out an accurate and very detailed replica of the special half-track Citroens so used, with a high-grade clockwork motor driving leather caterpillar tracks, according to the aforesaid article a fact which is not, I think, generally known. The popularity of these tin-plate Citroens is shown by the fact that nearly 65,000 were sold its 1925.

The theme was expanded in 1927 and 1928 to embrace a full range of the new B14 series Citroens, tourer, saloon, coupe, and a rare taxi-version of the last-named. I have in my possession a B14 coupe model, which has steering from a four-spoke wheel and an opening driver’s (n/s) door, with correct external hinges and tiny working handles. The dumb-irons for the front 1/2-elliptic springs were now simulated, as were dummy front springs. I have also the remains of a B14 milk-float, as seen in rural France, but this may be a tourer someone has cut about, although I think not, as its rear door looks authentic. What I did not know previously was that a B14 chassis, of non-detachable parts, bearing a number-plate reading “Bebe 14”, was also among the range of Citroen models.

In 1925 the bigger Citroen toys had arrived, in which a child could ride. The first was a pedaldriven 1/4-scale 5 c.v. two-seater. A chassis with wooden side-members and base was used, with aluminium spokes. The body was of steel strips and the mudguards were of wood, we are told. This simple pedal-car for the off-spring of wealthy Frenchmen was followed, in 1928, by a more elaborate, electrically-driven children’s car, of much the same construction as the pedal-car but with pneumatic tyres, geared steering, enamelled body-finish, and a rear-mounted motor with differential, giving a speed of some six m.p.h.

Returning to the 1/10th-scale toys, from 1929 to 1930 these were of the current C6 full-size Citroens. They had acquired rubber tyres in place of tin-plate roll-over wheels, electric headlamps, and even sliding mica windows. A full colour range was offered. These toys were supplemented by a range of commercial vehicles, and I am interested to learn that these embraced three different fire-engines, a tipper-truck, a timber-wagon, a farm utility (which is perhaps what I have referred to above), a tanker, a breakdown van, and a tractor with trailer. Miniature figures and loads had also entered the scene. I suppose, too, that some of us will have overlooked this wide variety of full-size Citroen commercial vehicles available in this era. Another factor, model-wise this time, which may not be generally known, is that Citroen also made smaller miniatures, to 1/24th and 1/43rdscale. That they were on the right track was shown by sales of 576,000 of these a year, and 288,000 clockwork toys in the same period.

I remember the C6 chassis, which could be built up from components that included a very realistic engine with belt-driven fan, gearbox, universally-jointed prop shaft, back axle with enclosed gears, road springs; chromium-plated radiator shell, steering, etc., and which had wings and running boards but no bodywork; What I did not know, until I read the article, Was that at the time when the Citroen “Rosalie” was capturing long-distance records at Montlhery, models of this type were made in i/sth-scale, in 1933 and 1934, as saloon, coupe and convertible. They were also made, apparently, in the same size as the earlier clockwork toys and also in 1/15th-scale and by now plastics were replacing sonic of the metal parts.

The traction-avant Citroen in 1934, was available in model form by 1936, with four doors that opened, foam-rubber upholstery, and universally-jointed drive-shafts to the front wheels. All these activities in Citroen miniatures went on until the war stopped play in 1940. It included 7″-long FWD models in the aforesaid variants, strong like the real pressed-steel Citroens, garages and service-stations with openable doors, solid and cut-out figures and scenes, of the Trans-Sahara run, and even children’s comic books.

Citroen toys were marked “Andre Citroen” and it appears that they may have instituted a copyright, for when Jep began to make similar model cars, such as the splendid 20″-long Hispano-Suiza and Rolls-Royce vintage tourers and their series of 13 1/2″-long tin-plate clockwork cars (with an electric spot-lamp), the latter comprised Renault, Delage and Panhard-Levassor saloons but no Citroens… All these are extreniely well illustrated in “The Art of the Tin Toy” by David Pressland (New Cavendish Books, 1977). Also, whereas Jep were commercial toy makers, and the 21 1/2″-long P2 Alfa Romeo clockwork pacing-car model made by CIJ is believed to have been financed by the Excelsior shock-absorber manufacturer, and perhaps by a fuel company, even by Alfa Romeo themselves, Citroen remains the only, manufacturer to have concentrated so avdly, delightfully and successfully on the publicity value of the motor-car miniature.

Leaving these now almost unobtainable heirlooms (although I am fortunate to have one of those Hispano Suizas) for miniatures you can buy today, Meccano have new miniatures available in their Dinky Toy range, consisting of a Triumph TR7 in the TV “Avenger’s” livery) for which Dinky have exclusive die-cast modelling rights (No. 112, price £1.35), a Plymouth yellow-cab, the classicAmerican. taxi (No. 278, price £1.49), and fully-manned (even to the police-dog) Volvo Police-car (No. 243 price £1.99). How much smaller the non-workmg models of today are is gauged by the respective overall letsgths of these new Dinky Toys; 98, 135 and 141mm. -W.B.

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