By Robin Godwin
Photographs of the models taken by the Author are shown captioned below the text.
When, or perhaps if, collectors think of Playart (Hong Kong) models, they usually think of “junk” models or, at best, simply inaccurate toys for kids designed to compete with Hot Wheels. While re-reading some old print Model Auto Reviews, I came across a two-part Playart article (MAR 99 and 100) by Don Elliott. In fact, Don referred to Playart as the “the uncrowned king of junk models” but I think this is a bit harsh – you could always determine what the subject was in the main 1:64(ish) range, so that implies some accuracy. He was a self-proclaimed “junk collector” but also wrote many articles on serious models like Ferraris. Don reviewed many of the cars in the various series, but did not cover in full detail the one Playart series that, in my opinion, easily lifted the manufacturer out of the junk category. Even though they were made and sold as toys in the 1970s and 1980s, the Playart tank series of six models was head and shoulders above some similar Asian competition at the time, such as Zylmex (Zee Toys, Hong Kong) and Mandarin (Singapore – Mandico tanks) and likely the equal of established small-scale contemporary Japanese military ranges from Tomy and Diapet. There were more than just the six tanks in the full range of Playart military models, including what looks like a reasonable M-113 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) with running gear similar to the tanks, but that one seems to be a rare beast. There are some “soft-skinned” (unarmoured) vehicles, such as a Jeep, Schwimmwagen, Troop Truck and more, which appeared after the tanks, but these fall back into the junk category with their go-fast wheels.
So I will talk only about the six tanks (because I don’t have the APC), and start by listing the common features which include; all-metal construction except for wheels and most axles (more on this later), antennae and some ancillary bits in plastic; working endless tracks in vinyl (unique to each vehicle except the two German tanks, the Panther and Tiger 1, which use the same track, but didn’t in real life), with rolling wheels, rudimentary suspension, traversing turrets, and elevating gun barrels. See the photograph below for the list of the models as printed on the back of one of the boxes.
Regarding the axles, all except the Sherman have three metal axles with push on plastic rollers. The metal axles are used to add strength to the drive (sprocket) wheels and idler wheels (at the other end, but undriven) and a centre set. All the other axles are one piece axle/wheel mouldings entirely in plastic. The Sherman has no middle axle in metal due to its unique suspension layout. This arrangement ensures that heavy loading (as in child play) is borne by metal axles, ensuring a longer life for the toy.
A note here is that I will make no real effort at accurately discerning scale, since there is no manufacturer indication of scale and the models appear to be made to fit the box. There are, however, some comparison photos after the text showing the Playart tanks with other makers models with specified scales (and which I generally trust to be accurate) which will give a rough estimate.
I mentioned that these were a cut above both the regular Playart efforts and contemporary products from some competitors. Purists will take issue with the finer details, but as toys, the Playart models feature very accurate running gear and overall features. The right number of road wheels and return rollers is present. But, there are some distortions in my opinion: the M41 Walker Bulldog was wide, but Playart have it too wide; the Chieftain sits too low (this seems to be a common error with many manufacturers’ Chieftain models), and the Centurion is missing a very obvious gap between roadwheels number two and three. Again, all excusable in what were cheap toys for the time. The photographs below will show both accuracies and inaccuracies of the models.
A caution if looking to buy these online. The plastic used for the wheels is not as strong as it should be, and the tracks are tight fitting. Often the wheels/shafts that are press fit on to the metal axles at either end of the drive train will crack, and simply fall off the axles. Also, although not common, I have a model with some “wheel melt” (much more common on early Solido models with rubber tires on plastic wheels) although it seems to only manifest on the drive and idler wheels, which suffer the greatest tension from the vinyl tracks. Check with the vendor before you buy. The boxes are all the same size, and very flimsy. These are heavy models so boxes take a bit of a beating. The glued main box seam almost always comes unglued. That said, the tanks are securely held to a cardboard insert via a plastic “key” that fits and turns 90 degrees into a “keyhole” in the base of the model. The model can’t move fore or aft, but can move up and down on inside the box, which can deform the fitted antennae. Later issues of the models (well, at least one that I have) have a clear formed plastic insert piece that keeps the model in place so it doesn’t move at all. On these, the “keyhole” is missing on the base.
Model #7800 Walker Bulldog (M41)
All marking and numbers are nasty vinyl stick-ons and not nice neat transfers. Some manufacturing expediency – the road wheels on this model are common with those on both the Centurion and Chieftain, but not the drive/idlers
Each model has cast identity on base. Note the “keyhole” for fastening to cardboard box insert. Note three metal axles as described in the text. The rest are all plastic
Playart Walker Bulldog, right, with Combat Tomica M41 Bulldog left. These may be slightly different versions, but exaggerated width on Playart is very evident. The Tomica series was to 1:87 scale, as stated by the manufacturer, so Playart may be 1:72ish
Playart Bulldog, right, with Diapet Type 74 MBT (Main Battle Tank) listed by manufacturer as 1:75 scale.
Model #7801 Sherman Tank.
Accurate suspension and running gear
Sherman base. This model came in what I assume to be later packaging with formed plastic insert to hold the model, so no “keyhole”. Note only two metal axles on this model, fore and aft
Playart, left, and Dragon model right. I accept the Dragon as being close to exact 1:72nd scale, so Playart a bit larger. Both models are accurate, just slightly different versions.
Same two models from above.
Playart #7802 Centurion MK3.
You can just see a bit of the wheel melt on the drive and idler wheels
Playart Centurion, left, with what would have been a Hong Kong competitor, Zylmex. The Zylmex came with plastic gun, antenna and tow cable, but chassis has too few road wheels
Playart #7803 Panther Tank.
Hole at front of cupola should have a plastic machine gun, but mine is missing
Playart # 7803 in “Model Power” branded box. These Playart models were initially distributed/sold in Woolworth stores in the US (apparently after the deal with Husky models (by Corgi) ended). After Woolworths, Model Power, mostly a railroad hobby name, took over distribution. No mention of Playart or which tank was inside anywhere on the box, but the model still had Playart cast on the base
An earlier Woolworth box as indicated on back. Front of box was clearly marked Playart.
Playart #7804 Tiger 1 Tank
Perhaps the most modelled tank of all
Base of the Tiger 1 Tank. Clumsiness and positioning of the “keyhole” may contradict my earlier claim that the key/keyhole fastening mechanism came first with the shaped plastic insert coming later – hard to tell
Dragon Tiger 1, left. Playart, right, has survived the test of time reasonably well, given that the Dragon is a 1:72 scale collector’s model. Dragon wheel configuration represents most common arrangement on the real vehicle but I did see a photo online of the Playart configuration
Same models from above showing Playart pretty close to 1:72 scale.
Playart #7805 Chieftain Tank.
Sits a bit too low in my opinion
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