The Brown Box Mystery!

Highway Travel, Lakeside Press, USA, 1965



[photo source: Marcel Colijn]


Over the last 8 years, I have been finding these common 1:43 cars in plain brown boxes in different places around the USA.  They are all from various manufacturers.  All I know about this series is what is printed on the enclosed pamphlets; the Lakeside Press was planning to publish a new series of Highway maps of the US, so perhaps they used these European model cars as a form of advertisement or incentive? Copyright 1965.  The back of the brochures all had similar text, as seen in the photo below.


[photo source: Marcel Colijn]

All models came in the identical brown box with soft foam packing. Did they have permission to use these models? What other castings were in the series? Lakeside was part of R R Donnelley & Sons of Chicago, famous for printing the Sears catalog, the Yellow Pages, etc.

brown box Tekno Jag 2 Highway

I have found seven so far in the series, all by mainstream European 1/43 diecast makers, all for sale in or just before 1965.  Did Donnelley buy these from a US distributors and re-package, or directly from the manufacturers?   How many were distributed and why?

I found three of them online back in 2008 and have been looking for more ever since.  In 2011, I found the DUGU Fiat broken in half but reparable. Also, this one did not come with a brochure for itself, but for numbers 6 and 7!   Next, I went digging around the internet and found a  google book,  Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series: 1965: July-December,  that lists a 32-page booklet and 8 items under “the changing world of highway travel”, all with a copyright date of July 1965.  I would love to find a copy of that booklet.

brown box Solido l'age d'or MOY Highway

So now the evidence points to eight cars being planned, one for each decade.

Most Recent Finds

Finally in 2015, a fellow collector in the Chicago-land area pointed me to three of the series being for sale.  I quickly contacted the seller and had three more in hand – two new ones and one duplicate.  However, these had no brochures with them or any label on the brown box.   There was a story behind them though!   The seller got them as a boy in 1970 from his uncle. The uncle worked for R R Donnelley as a truck driver to delivery air cargo from the printing presses to O’Hare airport at night. Like most of their employees back then, he received many employee gifts – Christmas hams, thee three toy cars, etc. The nephew never played with them and does not know anything more about them.  So did these brown box models go to employees only, or also to customers, or were they for sale to the public next to their booklets and maps?  Many questions remain unanswered…

The following table lists all the known models and when they were introduced in their original packaging by their manufacturers.

# Decade Model Model Introduced
1 pre-1900 RAMI #19 1898 Hautier electric taxi 1964
2 1900 RAMI #16 1907 Ford Model T 1963
2? 1900 DUGU #4 1907 Fiat GP (w 6,7 brochure) 1964
3 1910 Models of Yesteryear #11 1912 Packard Landaulet 1964
4 1920 SOLIDO #132 1928 Mercedes SS, top up 1964
5 1930 RIO #13 1932 Fiat Balilla, blue 1965
6 1940 pictures a WW-II Jeep
7 1950 pictures a ’61 Thunderbird but refers to being introduced in ’54
8? 1960 TEKNO #926 1961 Jaguar E type, open top, gray 1964

All the models listed in the table above are described below.


The Models

  1. The RAMI Hautier is the first in the series and was one of the first brown box models I found. It’s not too easy to find the normal issue but does not seem to be very collectible as they aren’t too pricey.  The photo below shows the corner of the box with a small sticker: The Lakeside Press symbol (a native American with a brown/cream graphic behind it). The green brochure cover shows the Hautier and a ‘mystery’ Jaguar E Type.

Highway Travel 1898 Hautier brown

RAMI were made in France from 1956 to 72.  They were documented in Model Auto Review 5,6 and 7 many years ago.  This example has opening front doors and was a very early electric taxi!

2. The second model is also by RAMI, a FORD Model T.   The white wheels, this time, really contrast with the black body.  This Model T has strange cut-outs instead of front doors.

Highway Travel Model T brown

The corner of the box is shown again with an inside page of the brochure.  All the brochures showed a drawing of the model with some words about that decade related to the actual car.  No mention of the model itself though.

An alternate #2 is the broken DUGU Fiat that I found in the brown box but without a brochure.   Perhaps this was planned as the second one but never realized? I assume that it could have been considered for #2 because it is 1907 Fiat and thus fits that decade. DUGU were made in Italy from 1962-73 (Rampini, 1992).

DUGU F-2 Highway Traveler brown

3.  The Matchbox Models of Yesteryear comes next, no more RAMIs.  The Packard is one of the first issues, with metal steering wheel and 4-point spare wheel holder.  An inside page of the brochure is pictured at the top.


[photo source: Marcel Colijn]

Mine came in a plain brown box with no small sticker or brochure.

4.  From Solido of France comes the 1920’s models, the Mercedes SS.  Like the Yesteryear, this is a very early version with metal bumpers and a license plate sticker.

Highway Travel Mercedes SS brownHighway Travel Mercedes SS 2 brown

Solido produced these starting in 1964 in their l’Age d’Or series. It is also pictured above in the text with the Packard.

5. Again, another manufacturer produced the next model, Rio of Italy.  The Fiat Balilla is in a  nice shade of blue and represents the 1930’s.

Highway Travel Fiat Balilla brown

6.  Both 6 and 7 are still mysteries but luckily I have their brochures. Perhaps they were never produced and only planned?  I have no idea, but this sixth one seems to be  a WW-II era Jeep.  In or just before 1965, who made a diecast 1/43 Jeep?

I asked the ‘vintage automobile models’ and ‘The Vintage Diecast Cars Club’ groups on Facebook and they suggested many good examples: Sam-Toys and Politoys in plastic, Champion (France), Lone Star, and Dinky of course.  My best guess might be the French Dinky #816 1956 Army Jeep (Hotchkiss-Willys M201) which came out in 1962.  Or the slightly older Danish Tekno #814 1952 Army Jeep (Willys M38A1) came out in 1958 (Clausager, 1990).  Both of these are post-war Jeeps which does not fit the decade.  Perhaps a brown box version was not ever released?

7.  The other mystery is the 1950s decade with a brochure picturing a 1961 Ford Thunderbird but refers to being introduced in ’54.  Solido made the #128 1961 FORD Thunderbird which came out in 1963,  That’s the closest I can come to estimating what might have been!

8.  This one came in a plain brown box with no brochure, so I wonder if it was ever released?   It’s a typical Tekno Jaguar E Type in grey. It fits the 1960s decade so must be #8!  The brochures I have show it on the cover with the Hautier, so perhaps these are the first and last planned models in the series.

brown box Tekno Jag

The Jag was packed like all the other models, in foam cut to fit the models.

brown box Tekno Jag Highway

This brings us to the end of the brown boxes.  When and if I learn more, I will let you know.  And please contact us on Facebook if you have any of the answers!

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