by Alberto Spano (Trans. and Ed. Karl Schnelle)
NOTE: This article originally appeared on an Italian web site dedicated to 1960’s model cars, www.aessemodels.it.
Dugu were not the first collector’s models, but they weren’t too far behind. RAMI and the famous Models of Yesteryear were both started in 1956. Dugu was founded a few years later in 1961 by Bartholomeo Chiodo in Varallo Sesia, Italy; he started production of vintage car models in 1:43 scale in 1962. “Dugu” in the local dialect is the owl, which was the nickname of the inhabitants of the older district of Varello Sesia where the company started! (People in the newer section of town are called “falcheits”, hawks!) Thus, the brand logo represents a stylized owl on the baseplates and boxes.
The founder’s intentions were certainly not to produce children’s toy cars. Looking at the first models, it is clear that the intended recipient of those objects was the collector, usually an adult with a passion for cars of the past. Dugu’s first model, the #1 1911-18 Fiat Tipo 4 (top up) is shown below.
Interestingly, Dugu in the beginning were in direct competition with those of Rio, another well-known Italian producer. Rio was founded not too far away in Cernobbio, also in 1962. In fact the production of Dugu were commissioned to the Tatterletti brothers (to their company Stampoplastica) in Cernobbio, Their agreement brought the Dugu models to market initially, but they also starting making their own RIO models. Probably because Rio did not yet have its own sales and marketing network, Dugu boxes were used initially, with the item number followed by an “r ” or with a Rio sticker on the Dugu box. The agreement lasted only a short time, until their own sales network was established.
ISSUES FOR COLLECTORS
The Dugu and Rio models are quite similar, which comes as no surprise. Rio were a little ‘less finished’ and Dugu seem to have more little attached parts. Dugu are thus more fragile, with many glued parts. They have to be admired from a distance, without touching them. Both manufacturers have initially suffered from metal fatigue that crumbles the diecast zamak bodies over time.. With the use of zamak alloys made with electrolytic copper (and therefore devoid of traces of lead), the situation normalized, and the models became much more stable. (Copper required for the alloy was not pure enough and contained lead residues. However, copper produced with the electrolytic process solved the problem. With this new process, copper deposits on the electrode exceeding 99.9% purity.)
In the images shown, metal fatigue inevitably affects the hood and body of an early green FIAT type “4” of 1911 (#1 of Dugu) and finally crumble the body of a red Fiat 501 Torpedo (#4 Rio).
If you store these models together with those still healthy, some collectors believe they are contagious and infection will occur. Isolating the models that have this defect by placing them in a permanent quarantine may help. Restoration involves grouting the cracks and subsequent painting.
When they came out, Dugu models cost a third more than Rio, about 2,000 lire each. This might be why Rio managed to survive until just a few years ago, when it was bought by M4, Dugu closed its doors in 1973 soon after moving to Quarona Sesia, just 7 km to the south.
To try to extend the life of the company, production of an ‘economy’ series was started called the “Museum” series, or Serie Museo, which really was not too much lower in quality and finish than the original series. The new series were all based on vintage cars from the “Museo Carlo Biscaretti of Ruffia” in Turin, 130 km to the southwest. Extensive use of the cars and the precious documentation center at the museum enabled the creation of these beautiful models. Today, after a restoration, it is called the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile.
Indeed, some models of the Museo series are very beautiful (for example, the Topolino, the Cisitalia, the Fiat 519S, and the Lancia Theta) and could all hold a candle to the Miniautotoys series. The Museo series were also numbered starting from 1, which makes collecting them all a bit confusing. The first one is shown below, the 1893 Benz Victoria.
By 1974, Dugu has become SISPLA (still in Quarona), with an identical catalog and production, and then closed its doors soon after. perhaps in 1975. What remained was taken over by Old Cars, but they failed to continue producing vintage vehicles, preferring to devote themselves to commercial vehicles and promotionals.
THE FIRST SPECIAL EDITION?
Above is shown an advertisement from Dugu that appeared in Topolino, the Italian Mickey Mouse magazine, in the sixties. The model of the Bernardi tricycle (the covered version) had been produced in a limited edition of 2000 pieces, available only to members of the “Dugu HIFI” Club. Today, the Bernardi tricycle is rare, even in the open version.
The original article appeared online in 2015 in Italian. The author kindly gave his permission for these English translations. Part II will cover boxes and all examples of the original Serie MiniautoToys, and Part III will cover the Serie Museo. Finally, Part IV will cover Sispla, catalogs, and other topics.
In Model Auto Review 32, from Summer 1988, Chris Sweetman had a two-page article on Dugu. Then, Horst Macalka had a short Catalog Corner on then in MAR 38, Summer 1989. Mike Richardson had a great article in Model Collector, August 1996, pp 18-21. if you can find a copy. And another famous collector, Paulo Rampini, has his 2015 Dugu book as a pdf on his website. Also, HobbyDB will have photos of all the models as well as catalogs.
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