By on December 29, 2011

Christmas resulted in a lot of toys under a lot of trees. That’s good. If they are Chinese, I will buy them a generation from now.  If you keep them in their original box, I will pay you more. I am a fanatic collector of Chinese tin toys. I will show you around in my collection. Today, part 1.

The Chinese tin toy industry started in the early 1970′s and continued until the early 1990′s. When China started making tin toys, they mostly copied Japanese tin toys, just like the Japanese tin toy industry had started with copying British and German tin toys. Later on however, Chinese factories designed their very own toys, mostly based on early Chinese cars, trucks and all kind of weaponry. In this first part, you will meet seven Chinese tin toy cars. Back to the first picture again

This beauty is based on the Hongqi CA770. I have a couple of these sedans (as toys.) One crowns the header of my blog, dedicated to Chinese cars. They look the same at first sight, but the wheels are very different. The version on this picture was a few yuan cheaper to make. Chinese factories made many variations of one model, with different wheels, different colors, different interiors and even different drive-trains! This makes everybody happy: The factory could max out its expensive mould. And the collector won’t rest before he has all variations and the series complete.

This is the real Hongqi CA770.

Tin toy manufacturing was concentrated in two cities: Shanghai and Beijing. Shanghai had at least five factories, Beijing had only one. The factories didn’t have names. They had numbers. This was typical for the communist era, when bourgeois names all but disappeared, Mao even had a plan to replace people’s names with numbers. That fortunately never happened, but the rest of the Chinese society soon sounded like the map of Manhattan.

Instead of “let me out at sixty-third and third,” you had the ‘Beijing number-1 department store’, the ‘Shenzhen number-5 middle school’, the ‘Jilin number-3 shoe factory’ and so it went on and on. Many of these names still exist today. The tin toy factories in Shanghai were called ‘Shanghai toy factory no-1′ up until ‘Shanghai toy factory no-5′.

It is almost impossible to know in which factory a certain tin toy was made. There are no markings, no logo’s, no years, no brand-names. The only thing that helps is again — a number. All China-made tin toys were numbered with combinations like: MF-777, ME-666, MS-555 and some more. Unfortunately, these numbers are not exactly connected to factories, but to the sort of toy. MF are mostly cars and trucks, ME military vehicles and MS all kind of figures and dolls.

Based on the Shanghai SH760A.

This is an extremely rare toy, highly valued by Chinese collectors, much rarer than the Hongqi on the first picture, mostly because much fewer were made. Exactly how many were made nobody knows for sure. This is the same for any of the China-made tin toys, and it keeps collecting interesting. Unlike the Hongqi-toy, the Shanghai-toy was never exported abroad. The Hongqi appears on eBay now and then, but the Shanghai never does. The only country in the world where you can find it is China. In seven years I managed to find five, mostly on local second-hand markets. The car on picture is the best I have…

 The perfectly restored SH760A by the Shanghai Auto Museum.

Normaly, the toys were painted in dual-tone, while the real cars were not. I guess this was an idea from the toy factories to make the cars more attractive for young buyers.

 BASED on the Dongfeng Golden Dragon CA71

This is an extremely rare tin toy. It is based on the Dongfeng Golden Dragon CA71 sedan. It is rare because this variant has a wind-up motor. There was also a ‘standard’ variant which looked exactly the same but came without the wind-up system. The standard variant was powered by a friction-system instead. The standard toy is very common and easy to get, it was exported as well and can be found relatively easily on eBay. This wind-up variant cannot. Even in China, it is very hard to get. I just have this lonely blue one, it was also available in green. I am still looking for that one…

 The real Golden Dragon

The real Dongfeng Golden Dragon CA71 sedan, known as China’s very first passenger car, based on the French Simca Vedette. Not many were made and as far as we know there is only one in existence today. Anyway and how, that is something for another story.

Based on the Shanghai SH760 ‘Phoenix’

Another Shanghai, this one based on the Shanghai SH760 ‘Phoenix’. It has a wired remote control. It can go forward, backward and make corners to the front-right and front-left. For some reasons, it cannot make corners to the back. Remote controlled Chinese tin toys are rare, but not extremely so. In the late ’70′s and early ’80′s, many were made. This toy itself is very rare, in all these years collecting I’ve only found this one example, it had somehow ended up in Russia where someone listed it on eBay. The same car was also available in grey.

The real SH760.

Whenever I tell people about my collection, their first question is: “How many you have?” About 400. Second question is: “What are they worth?” In general, Chinese tin toys are still worth less than Japanese, but more than South-Korean, Hongkongnese and Taiwanese.

Prices go up because more and more Chinese people start collecting tin toys, prices will likely continue to rise by some 10% a year. How much a toy is worth exactly depends as usually on condition, rarity and whether the box is available. Box makes a huge difference, tin toys with box are worth some 50% more.

Now some example’s: the Hongqi on the first picture, with box, is worth about 150 US dollars. The first red-white Shanghai, without box, is worth about 100 US dollars. The remote controlled Shanghai, with box, is worth north of 200 dollars.

Based on the Shanghai SH760A

This is one of the biggest Chinese tin toys ever made. It is some 35 centimeters long and is based on the pick-up truck based on the Shanghai SH760A. ‘Based’ is written with a very big B, because the toymaker took some liberties. The toy has round head-lights while the SH760A did have square lights. It has suicide doors which the SH760A didn’t have. Even worse, no pick-up truck will ever have suicide doors. The doors are there because this pick-up tin toy is based on a sedan-tin toy which I also have in my collection. The toy factory didn’t bother to remove the rear doors when they made the pick-up truck.

 The real Shanghai SH760A pick-up truck. A wonderful machine.

 Propaganda car

This is a very funny one, and with only 15 centimeters one of the smallest Chinese tin toys I have. It is based again on the Shanghai SH760A and it is, according to the text on the box, a ‘propaganda car’. See the speaker on the roof. When you push the car, the speaker will turn around in a circle. On both sides are beautiful drawings of panda’s eating bamboo. The roof-part is made of very hard plastic, this was common with smaller tin toy cars.

 Propaganda bus

Propaganda cars did indeed exist, mostly in the ’60′s and ’70′s and mostly in the countryside. They drove from village to village, blaring ‘Mao Thought‘ out of the speakers. They were mostly based on trucks and buses though, not on Shanghai sedans. On the picture is a propaganda-bus (see speakers on the roof), early 1960′s.

 Police Benz

This last car in today’s story is not based on any real vehicle, as far as I know. It is a brilliantly designed Benz-like police car with an imposing grille, bumper and headlights. It is one of my personal favorites and it is a very rare tin toy again. This is the only one I ever saw. I bought it at a small crap-market somewhere in Beijing. The Chinese tin toy industry made many more fantasy-based cars and other vehicles, I will show more in a later story.

Well, that’s it for today. Thank you for reading.

Dutchman Tycho de Feyter runs Carnewschina, a blog about cars in China, from Beijing, China. He also collects die-cast models of Chinese cars.

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6 Comments on “My Vintage Chinese Tin Toy Collection. Part One...”

  • avatar

    Wow, that’s a bunch of Chinese car I never know about! You learn interesting things here in TTAC.

  • avatar

    Love these, and you have a nice collection, but no “Mystery Action” Photoing On Car? Mine still works too:

  • avatar

    As a youngster I owned the requisite hundreds of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, but I passed them on to a younger cousin, along with my metal Tonka trucks. The collection still in my possession comprises several dozen 1:18 scale die cast models, mostly Maisto Special Editions. Many have never been removed from their boxes and many are no longer being made. Then again, a few were abused – I even took a hacksaw to an LS400…why, I have no idea! I’ve always liked 1:18 scale, the models are more substantial and the size allows for a lot more detail. One day I may sell some or all on eBay or something, as they’ve done little else but sit in boxes in my parents’ garage since I moved out.

  • avatar

    “… the toys were painted in dual-tone, while the real cars were not. I guess this was an idea from the toy factories to make the cars more attractive for young buyers.”

    When the roof and pillars comprise a part separate from the body (unlike most real cars), it is exceedingly easy to paint the roof any color one wants (no need for masking or worry about overspray – one can even use up left over smaller lots of paint on the roof parts.)

  • avatar

    I have a larger 1:18th(ish) scale diecast of the Golden Dragon. Pretty cool car for what it was.

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