Looking back at this list, it’s interesting what stuck with me. They’re all vehicles! I guess I just find vehicles appealing. Some vehicles toys are well documented, so I won’t bore you with a repetition of the hotwheels wiki. What i want to consider today are what you might call modern “Penny Toys” are the kind of thing you’d find in a gumball machine, or on the table at the end of a party, discarded. They’re of a sort of hard to find now: not tied (legally anyway) to a franchise or character. But there’s something alluring about the mystery of trying to track down who made them, so let’s do it.
Bruder Mini: Space
Bruder is a toy company that still exists, making die cast vehicles. They no longer support their line of “mini” plastic vehicles, though they mention it in their history. There was a space line in silver, white, and blue, and more realistic vehicles in bright colors.
I don’t know if the zany colored ones came out before or after the more common blue/white/silver ones.
Bruder Mini: Trains
Though long lost, I definitely had an an engine and a couple of passenger cars. Managed to find a lot of them on Ebay. They’re still adorable. They’re a neat combination of bright colors, crisp detail, and functionality. Not perfect fit and finish by any means, but at this price point, who’s complaining?
Not everyone was content to use public domain designs like flying saucers.
The easy part of figuring these out is figuring out where the design comes from-they’re mostly vehicles from thunderbirds (ignore the Star Wars one for now.)
You can see that the mold has been altered-it used to say Hong Kong but that’s been scratched out and China has been added.
I initially had a tough time finding any attestation of these neat little plastic ships online. I know that at one point Accouterments sold them in a big tub (probably a gross each) but I can’t find that product photo any longer. I know I discovered this during the google era, because the models on the left are ones I purchased online.
I sent an email to Archie-McPhee, who got back to me with a link to this archived page:
They were called ‘alien and spaceship invasion.’ No luck on the star wars ship. I do wonder if it came from the same factory, but I have very little to go on for it. It uses a different type of plastic, but I swear the overall sensibility is similar enough. It came in a grocery store blister pack with a cooler looking spaceship with the same ‘moulded top screwed into acrylic bottom’ design, and a short knock off lightsaber type thing.
These plasticard punchouts came in randomized packs. The ink has held up surprisingly well. Influences are sometimes clear-a couple look like they’re from Cowboy Bebop, and I think I see a Droid Fighter. Classic shmups seem to have influenced these heavily as well.
We had a lot of fun building these back in the day. I managed to get my hands on some un-punched ones, remind me to scan them so you can make your own copies out of plasticard. If that’s important to you for some reason.
This product line eventually evolved into much larger more detailed models, and apparently a tabletop game.
Shackman & Co Five Piece Train Set
It was surprisingly easy to find these considering I had only a single one and no accompanying documentation. I think I just searched for “small plastic train 90s” and the like.
These seemed to have a random assortment of colors. They’re four parts: two sides, top, and chassis. Very neat little pieces. All identical. They shipped in a Christmas ornament which itself looked like a train. Something about the soft shape and tiny size made them super appealing to my kid self. Always wondered if there was a whole line of these, but it’s just the one mold.
Pretty close to N scale though.