MINI BIG RIGS – THOSE MIGHTY FUN HO! MIDGETS

10 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 10, 2020

Readers of a certain age will share fond memories of the Fun Ho! range of cast models. Locally produced and hugely popular for decades, we revisit some of the company‘s ‘kings of the sandpit‘.

Once upon a time in the 1960s – and it does seem like a fairy tale in the deregulated economy of 2020 – New Zealand had tight import restrictions that saw customers queuing outside shops advertising the arrival of an infrequent shipment of Matchbox Toys from Britain. New Zealand toymaker Fun Ho! realised there was a gap to fill in the domestic market and plugged it from 1964 with the Midget range of zinc models, in a similar scale to Matchbox 1-75. Streamlux, an Australian company, had discontinued production of miniature vehicles by 1962, and the firm sold its dies to Underwood Engineering, whose castings from these moulds produced the original Fun Ho! Midgets. Despite lacking the perspex windows, detailed plastic interiors, silver-painted trim, and in most cases, the moving parts of the imports from Britain, the Midgets took off.


Photo: Three absolute troopers in the fight for maternal sanity in the 70s. The Bedford TK artic, The Ford D Series artic, and the Bedford TK milk tanker entertained for hours and hours. (I had no issues with the CAT D8 on the step-deck Ford D Series because I made up a wide-load sign – Ed.)

Models produced from the Streamlux dies were: Massey Ferguson tractor, Holden EK saloon, Austin truck, Austin Mobil tanker, Volkswagen Combi or Kombi Bus, Mercedes-Benz racer, BOAC Commer bus, Austin tip truck, and a Volkswagen sedan. Interestingly, the Massey Ferguson tractor was actually a Massey-Harris, and the Holden EK an FE saloon. The early chrome and copper-plated finishes began being replaced by brightly coloured paint around 1967/68, and from the Ford Falcon saloon in 1965, the moulds were New Zealandmade. An exception was the Austin articulated truck, which was a half and half, with the cab a Streamlux die and the trailer unit one by Fun Ho! General Motors‘ Bedford trucks had several models in the Midget series with TK cabs. These first appeared in the catalogue during 1966 as the articulated truck. Some artics left the factory with only two wheels fitted to the trailer end, instead of their usual dual set. Other variations include trays or decks without markings. A rigid tray Bedford truck followed the Bedford articulated petrol tanker into the catalogue. The tanker came in Mobil livery until it was succeeded by Caltex variations in about 1967. A marketing arrangement that ran between about 1964 and 1967 saw the Midgets sold in Mobil packaging, a connection that lasted at least until the introduction of the Bedford articulated milk tanker. From 1977 the articulated tanker casting in army finish was listed in the catalogue with the other Bedfords.



Photos: Two Fun Ho! toys from the original Streamlux casts. 1 – Austin tip truck and, 2 – Austin Mobil tanker.


Photo: The International King Size Tip Truck of 1973. (You had to have a King Size or you were nobody – Ed.)

Before Fun Ho! produced the Ford D series trucks, a White heavy-duty tip truck had one of the shortest catalogue lives of just five years, from 1966 to 1971. The tray was held in place by two shallow ball and socket joints that caused several problems during the assembly. Examples of this model with the tray attached are rare because it was known to break off with play. Ford had an established presence in the Midget range by 1970 when it added four Ford D series trucks to the range, a Ford truck, Ford sand dumper, Ford dump truck, and Ford articulated truck. Their vibrantly coloured paint finishes appealed to youngsters, and they sold well in the increasingly deregulated market of the 1970s, which now included Corgi Juniors and Majorette as more competition for the Midgets. Army finishes for the articulated truck, known as army transporter, and the dump truck, went into the shops during 1977. Some collectors found the low-loader of the Ford articulated truck did not easily transport the Caterpillar bulldozer. A model that definitely wouldn‘t have fitted is the Aveling road roller. The Fordson Major tractor was the only Midget tractor made at the time, and like its predecessor the Massey Ferguson, after a bit of hard play the driver would be headless and the tow bar broken off.


Photo: It was inevitable that ‘Ole mate on the Fordson ended up driving around like a headless chook.

The Caterpillar D8 tractor, Caterpillar front end loader, and Caterpillar bulldozer introduced in 1969, pointed the way that Fun Ho! planned to have a greater future emphasis on construction and action models. Fewer new castings entered the catalogue during the 1970s, the last being the grader in 1978. The breakdown truck, with a cab based on an American Dodge, was one of three new additions from 1971, and 1972‘s sole release was the tractor shovel, a.k.a. front end loader. A gap of four years between this model and the civilian finish Jeep in 1976 indicates just how the greater variety of imports affected Fun Ho! sales. Customers wanted the sophisticated toys from overseas with features not found in the Fun Ho! Midgets or the larger, even more basic Cast Aluminium range. Yet the Jeep sold sufficiently well for Fun Ho! to bring out the armoured Jeep in 1977. It was the first of the military movers in the Midget series. The plastic gun could elevate to 45° and rotate in a full circle. A righthand drive for a toy with US army decals brought a touch of the absurd, but youngsters playing with the toy probably were only interested in firing the gun.



Photos: Beddy TK truck and the Ford D Series tipper – and it was a 6-wheeler!

As competition for the Matchbox Super Kings and Speed Kings, Fun Ho! manufactured four International trucks in a small range of King Size models. They began in 1973 with the International articulated truck, followed by the dump truck three years later. Both the army articulated and the army dump truck were added to the catalogue in 1978 and were still listed when production of the original Fun Ho! toys ceased in 1982. The factory could no longer compete with the influx of often cheaper imported toys. The Volkswagen Combi, sometimes referred to as the Kombi, remained in production for 18 years, from 1964 to 1982, the entire time the original Midgets were produced. With glazing – blue tinted plastic windows fitted – the Combi formed part of the Midget Repro range produced by the Fun Ho! National Toy Museum in 1996. Those Repro models were made from stocks of castings stored after the factory closure. For more information about Fun Ho! toys visit: www.funho.com.

FUN HO! MADE IN NEW ZEALAND

Original Fun Ho! toys were made in Wellington from around 1935 to 1945, then New Plymouth from 1945 to 1949, and finally at Inglewood from 1949 to 1982. Their distinctive trademark with the exclamation mark was designed by E. Mervyn Taylor in 1939. No lead toys were made at New Plymouth or Inglewood, although cast aluminium toy manufacture continued from both sites. All Midget series models came out of Inglewood. The first home for the Fun Ho! National Toy Museum was at the former factory in Mamaku Street, Inglewood, from 1990 to 1999, before relocating under new ownership to 25 Rata Street, Inglewood.