To me, a high quality toy is one of the highest forms of expressive art. What could be more powerful a motivation to an artist than to create something that makes a child happy? If you combine that general sentiment with enthusiasm for vintage automobiles, it meant I was a natural collector of transport toys. I’ve been collecting for probably 25 years, and my focus is on both diecast models and slot cars, focusing as much as possible on items from the great era of post WWII Western toymaking. One of my favorite brands is Solido of France, began by Ferdinand de Vazeilles in Ivry, a suburb of Paris, in 1932. The first product made by the new company was for Gergovia, a French spark plug manufacturer. It was a promotional model of a spark plug that was carried about by salesmen to give out as a sample at trade shows.
In 1935, Solido began to manufacture several lines of cast metal toy cars that were operated by a key-wound mechanical motor. All chassis were identical for the three model lines, and different body styles corresponding to real cars were attached to these chassis. One, seen here, was called a “Cabriolet” and I think it was meant to represent a Delahaye. These prewar models are quite hard to find, and like this example, often suffer from “diecast pop” or “metal fatigue”, this results from impurities in the zinc alloy used for casting the model. It was common to see this in models made before WWII (but became rare after the War) as manufacturing techniques had not yet been perfected in that era. Over time, this metal fatigue causes fractures to develop in the metal body and in the worst case scenario they can disintegrate into pieces.
After WWII, there was a great increase in demand for toys, in correspondence with the postwar baby boom. The English manufacturers Dinky and Corgi were early leaders in this department, and Solido found themselves playing catchup in the mid 1950s. To better compete in the high demand market of diecast toys that existed in the EU at that time, Solido released the “100 Series” of diecast models in the established 1/43rd scale (this corresponds to “O” gauge to those familiar with train collecting) that set new standards in quality and fidelity to the real cars they represented.
Following Corgi, the models had functioning suspension, clear plastic windows (features lacking on most models of the day such as those from Dinky) and sometimes also driver figures. One feature was particularly innovative…on their Lancia Flaminia, Solido was the first toy car manufacturer in the world to put opening doors on a car in 1/43rd scale . They patented the design, but it was quickly copied worldwide, a fact lamented by Jean de Vazeilles, son of Solido’s founder in a book on Solido models in 1983 when he stated: “In 1961 a new evolution in the 100 series with the Lancia Flaminia was opening doors, whose very simple system was patented. After this model, all miniatures here and the factories of the world used our system. So millions of models behave, not necessarily with our license, this Solido innovation. Despite the violations of patent, we had at least the satisfaction that everyone can have when they are followed en masse.”
In the included pictures you can see just some of the models produced by Solido over the period 1957-1980 which is the era over which I prefer to collect, and I think represents the peak of the quality of the models produced by the company. A fantastic variety of European sportscars, race cars, and some American cars such as the Oldsmobile Toronado (with interior lighting) and Ford Mustang found their way into the Solido lineup during those years. They also made some outstandingly detailed military models, tanks in particular. One of which was a battery powered wireguide Patton tank, shown here, produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A companion piece was a German Tiger tank, with the same battery powered wireguide system. Both are quite hard to find today.
Solido still exists as a company, but the factory in France is long gone, and the models are now made in China and lack the charm and character of the vintage products, a sentiment easily understood to most regular Petrolicious readers. It is my hope that this piece might stimulate some of you to start collecting Solido models (and other historic European-made brands of the 1950s to the early 1980s), in order for our children and grandchildren to be able to appreciate this piece of history of toymaking in the West, a time that is gone…..and certainly never to return.
For further reference:
“Solido: Catalogue d’un univers” by Bertrand Azema (1983)
“Solido Toys: Variation and Price Guide” by Dr. Edward Force (1993)