By Maz Woolley
All text and photographs by, and copyright of, the Author.
Robin Godwin recently wrote about the Budgie #8 Volkswagen Sedan made by Autocraft using the original moulds, for more on that click here. My article looks at another model from a former Modern Products mould made by Autocraft: #12 Volkswagen Microbus.
The history of these castings in interesting. Morris and Stone were a Stoke Newington based toy distributor for many small firms in the post-war period who made toys but were not large enough to market and distribute them themselves. One of their competitors was Moko who distributed Lesney products including the then new Matchbox range. Morris and Stone mutated into Morestone and they set up in partnership with Rodney Smith who had left Lesney despite helping found it. After making a Noddy car and some Dinky size vehicles, such as the Wolseley Police Car as well as one of the earliest TV related models in the UK – Supercar – from the shot-lived Gerry Anderson TV programme of the same name, they then focused on the Esso Series which was sold in a small box which could be made petrol pump like and was aimed at Lesney Matchbox buyers. These castings were made for them by Modern Products.
The firm was bought by S. Guiterman and Co. and the company name changed to “Budgie” and the same toys went on being sold under this new brand until Guiterman went into liquidation in 1966 and many of the dies were lost at that time in a factory fire. Modern Products went on making its own toys and eventually took over the Budgie assets in 1966 and went on making them until Hot Wheels made them old fashioned and unsaleable.
A company called Seerol had the larger ex-Budgie Taxi, London Bus, and Rolls Royce made by contractors in South Wales for tourist shops in London into the 1980s.
In 1988 Dave Gilbert‘s Autocraft company purchased the Budgie Company including what remained of both ‘Morestone’ and ‘Modern Products’. This included old dies, tooling, machines, various part finished dies, and quantities of assorted castings. They have over the last 30 years adapted several of the original 1950s dies for use on modern die-casting equipment – the original hand operated machines are no longer legal. The restored dies for both Volkswagen’s currently on sale can be seen here.
The Volkswagen Microbus was the 12th model in the original Esso Series being renamed as a Budgie later. The original model was sold in light brown, light blue or metallic blue. Autocraft sell it in a much wider range of colours and I have settled for a utilitarian grey which looks a colour it could have been made in originally even if it wasn’t.
The model is said like many Budgies to be close to 1:76 scale and I am sure it was used on many railway layouts in the days before Oxford and their competitors started to make properly modelled and finished 1:76 scale models.
The reproduction has its lights highlighted but not the VW Badge which was painted on many of the original models. The lights themselves are a curious half moon shape rather than the full dome of the real vehicle.
To the rear there is very little detail indeed as if the maker of the master hadn’t got a real vehicle to look at and was guessing from photographs!
All in all nowhere near as good a model as the Volkswagen Beetle but still a pleasant and inexpensive return to childhood. Autocrafts’ Budgie site can be found here for those who wish to learn more.
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