By Robin Godwin
All photographs by, and copyright of, the Author.
In North America, we call it “jello,” a gelatin dessert (Jell-O is actually a brand/trademark name, and jello, like “hoover” to you Brits, (for virtually any vacuum, or as a verb… to hoover the kitchen… ) has become a generic term). I believe jello is called jelly in the UK, and of course jelly means something else across the pond.
When we North Americans want a thinly sliced fried potato snack, we eat some chips, whereas it’s crisps in the UK. I’m guessing that jello and chips or jelly and crisps were staples of every nine-year olds’ diet in the 1960s. It is a bonus when one can nurture one’s interest in automobiles when eating these delicacies. So it was in 1960 (plus or minus a year) when General Foods (GF) Ltd. of Canada introduced the “Famous Car Picture Wheels.” These plastic wheels were available in every Jell-O product and, a short while later, in 10-cent bags of Hostess Potato Chips (also a GF brand). They started with Jell-O boxes, but likely the company executives determined it would take too long to acquire the full collection of 200 wheels – a challenge even for a jello-loving nine-year old, so the wheels were added to the chips. Reference to the collection, however, is strictly to Jell-O.
Each plastic wheel has a numbered, full-colour cardboard picture insert of a specific automobile. While the coins were free in the food items, the poker-chip style carousel designed to hold the full collection of 200 wheels, along with a descriptive booklet or “Fact Book”, were mail order purchases from GF in Cobourg, Ontario. The carousel features eight columns of 25 wheels each, to divide the collection into eight eras, with each era being colour coded. The first era covers 1769 to 1899, with subsequent columns/eras covering only a decade, except for the last, which only covers 1960 and 1961, the issue period of the series. Many significant cars are covered, with an emphasis on North American production, naturally. Curiously, there is no VW Beetle, despite being imported into Canada from 1952, but the much less common Karmann Ghia did get its own wheel.
The artwork on the wheels and in the fact book are “evocative of the era,” similar to early Dinky Toy catalogues. Unfortunately, the artist is not mentioned, but it could be Don Watt, who was credited with the illustrations on the similar second General Foods issue of “Famous Aircraft of the World” . The fact book was compiled by J. Ralph Turner, then president of the Antique and Classic Car Club of Canada, and was also available in French, Canada’s other official language.
I am certain that this was a Canada only promotion, and several points support this conclusion. I worked in Washington, DC for five years in the early 2000s and attended many big US toy shows and never saw these coins, yet they are regularly seen at Canadian toy shows; series documentation is in both of Canada’s official languages; General Foods Canada is the issuing agency; and there is even a unique Canadian produced Ford Frontenac wheel (the Frontenac was never sold outside Canada). This is a fascinating piece of automotive history that had great appeal to a generation of kids hooked on diecast cars, Jell-O and chips. Anybody who wants to see more of these wheels can do a Google search for Jell-O famous cars, and then click on Images for Jell-O famous cars.
The carousel was a special mail order item. It held all 200 wheels. These are hard to find these days in mint condition, with white “handles/retainers” often missing
The booklet that came with the carousel – 76 pages of detailed car facts, along with monochrome line drawings that were the same as the colour versions in the wheels
First wheel for each era. Superb artwork. Note colour coded plastic.
Some of the more obscure cars (well, for Canada in 1960, that is). #181 is the Canada only Ford Frontenac. Highlighted here for Dave Turner!
Light blue wheel on bottom is from the later Famous Aircraft series (note propeller), and includes the Hostess potato chip logo. The Famous Cars (top) only mentions Jell-O
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