Diecast, slot-cars or both?
by Doug Breithaupt
images by Doug Breithaupt and David Cook
6102 - '62 Ferrari 250GTO
6111 - Ferrari Dino 206SP
6112 - Porsche 904
6104 - Ford J-Car
6120 - DeTomaso Mangusta
6115 - '68 Chevrolet Camaro
|In 1968 I was 11 years old and I had a modest collection of 1:64 scale cars.
They were almost all Matchbox and I liked the realism of these models. I
remember seeing the first new Hot Wheels and then Topper's Johnny Lightning
models followed. I remember one other toy car brand from 1968, one that
is largely forgotten today, Aurora's Cigarbox.|
Any company attempting to introduce a new line of small-scale toy cars in 1968 was asking for trouble. Aurora, known best for their successful slot car models and sets, and plastic kit models, did just that. With Mattel's Hot Wheels overshadowing every other toy car in 1968, Aurora's Cigarbox models did not make much of a splash. Still, I did buy several. The metallic-colored bodies are easy to remember but I can't remember which models I had. This is curious because I do remember which Hot Wheel, Matchbox and Johnny Lightning cars were in my collection.
The Cigarbox story actually started before Hot Wheels were offered but not by much. The name was an obvious attempt to be 'Matchbox-like' while later 'Speedline' was added to compete with the Hot Wheels name. Aurora already had castings for their successful slot cars models. It was a natural move to produce a new non-slot, metal base and offer many of the same models as toy cars. The Cigarbox models actually came in a miniature cigar box-like package. Some of the Cigarbox models have a screwed-on base that could allow for body swapping with the slot-cars, if the base matched. Other Cigarbox models have a fixed base. All Cigarbox models have plastic bodies and metal bases.
The first Cigarbox models were produced with standard colors for plastic bodies. They also had solid axles, aluminum wheels and plastic tires in a handsome arrangement. The Camaro shown here has these early wheels. This all changed when Hot Wheels stormed the market. The next Cigarbox models came with metallic colors, wire axles and speed wheels. Some of the wheels had silver spokes and rims painted on them while others were all black. some cars have a mix of both as with the Porsche 904 pictured here. Some models, like the Camaro in my collection have the early wheels but the new metallic colors.
While it is un-clear how long Cigarbox models were produced by Aurora, they were certainly short-lived, perhaps through 1970. They are not common finds today and prices differ greatly depending on condition. Condition is a major problem for Cigarbox models. Kids who bought them played with them in the same way they used the Hot Wheels and Matchbox models. Unfortunately, the plastic bodies were far more fragile and most of the survivors today show scars of hard play. The thin, plastic 'A' pillars are especially delicate and are often broken as with my Porsche and Camaro examples. The plastic bodies also faded easily in regular sunlight as with my Mangusta. Perhaps the delicate nature of the Cigarbox models was a major contribution to their failure. Toy cars that broke easily are not appreciated by kids. Of course, that makes them even rarer today. Cigarbox tend to be collected more by slot car fans than by diecast fans and are valued much like the plastic-bodied Mini-Lindy cars of the same period.
The best thing about the Cigarbox models was the variety. No other manufacturer did a '63 Riviera, Porsche 904 or many of the other models offered. Cigarbox models represent some of the best cars of the 1960's and only now are we finally seeing new versions of many of these exciting automobiles. My list of Cigarbox models is not complete and any help or corrections would be appreciated (e-mail). Here is what I have found so far.