Collecting Articles and Features

How Superior Detailing and Scale Models Led to the Success of the Spot-On Range

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Spot-On was a range of die-cast toys produced by British toy factory Tri-ang from 1959 to 1967 (Tri-ang was a division of Lines Brothers, which had been established as a toy maker in 1935). The Spot-On range was created in response to the success of rival toy company’s Dinky and Corgi.  Dinky had had great success in the early 1950s with its die-cast range and in 1956 Corgi entered the market. The Spot-On trade mark was registered to Triang based in Merton Surrey, this was in December 1958 and in the following year ‘Spot On Models Ltd was incorporated on the 12th February 1958. The Spot-On range was made at the Lines Bros factory in Northern Ireland.

A Boxed Tri-ang Spot-On Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith No 103. This example sold for £170 at Richard Winterton Auctions, August 2018.

When the folks at Spot-On Models set out to create a new line of die-cast models that would be different to the Dinky and Corgi ranges, and they wanted to ensure that their cars and vehicles would be as realistic and detailed as possible. They began by carefully selecting 1:42 scale as the basis for their new range, taking into account factors like size and weight. The Spot-On range were heavier than the Corgi and Dinky ranges. This meant that all of the tiny parts and components on the models could be accurately scaled and rendered, while still allowing some wiggle room for creativity and flexibility.

From the outset in 1959 Spot-On models featured interiors and they were the first company to introduce electric lights in August 1961. On top of that, they infused the range with inspiring themes from real-world automotive history, ranging from classic racers to iconic supercars. In the end, it was this combination of practicality and creativity that led to the creation of a truly exceptional line of model vehicles.

A Tri-ang Spot-On 131 Goggomobil Super fawn body cream interior
A Tri-ang Spot-On 131 Goggomobil Super, fawn body, cream interior, ‘CMO 118’ numberplates, W3 type wheels, in original box. Sold for £270 at Special Auction Services, January 2022.

The Spot-On range was an immediate success with both children and adults. Its high quality meant that it appealed to collectors, but its cheapness ensured that it remained accessible for ordinary families. In addition, Tri-ang’s clever marketing strategies helped to ensure that the Spot-On range stood out from the crowd. For example, in 1963 Tri-ang launched a series of television advertisements featuring the character Mr Spot, who demonstrated the various features of its toys such as steering and suspension. This was highly unusual at that time, and helped to cement the Spot-On brand in consumers’ minds. The Tommy Spot character was introduced in a number of gift sets adding more appeal to younger chidren.

To fully emphasize the fixed 1:42 scale, both large and little cars were chosen for inclusion in the range. The Silver Wraith was initially offered as a Rolls Royce, before being replaced by the even bigger Phantom V, which included functioning headlights and passengers from the Royal Family. Smaller vehicles included the Isetta bubble car, the rare Meadows Frisky, the Fiat 500 and the Goggomobil. The Mini Cooper, which had been added in March of 1960, was joined by other uncommon vehicles such as the Aston Martin DB Mark III, Jensen 541, Daimler Dart SP250, and Bristol 406.

The Spot-On Meadow Frisky showing the same model in several colours

Early Spot-On models stated “Made in the United Kingdom” on the base, but later models, changed to “Made in Northern Ireland”. The first packaging for Spot-On die-cast vehicles was a box in light blue with draughting compass ‘dividers’ and ‘graph paper’-like grid printed on it, as well as the standard yellow and black lettering. The appearance of the designs suggested that they were not only toys, but also finely engineered components. The second series of boxes was similar, however the ‘dividers’ were considerably reduced and an image of the automobile (which was not featured on the first boxes) was added. The final boxes in the late 1960s were black and blue with cellophane windows, which are thought to be some of the first window boxes available.

The Spot-On range has long been popular with collectors and the prices for rarer models and colours have been rising consistently. The ranges were crated in more limited numbers than many Dinky and Corgi ranges and the colour range of models was much wider. The larger size and brittle nature of some pieces has meant that fine and near mint examples are much sort after. Spot-On also created a number of gifts sets and presentation sets which remain some of the rarest editions.

A vintage Spot-On Tri-ang No 3 Presentation set with six cars cars and accessories
A vintage Spot-On Tri-ang No 3 Presentation set with six cars cars and accessories. Sold for £1,200 at London Auction, November 2017.

Mecanno, which included the highly successful Dinky range, was acquired by Lines Bros in 1964, and this might have hastened the demise of the nascent Spot On model range. The last year of production for the original Spot-On models in the United Kingdom occurred in 1967.

A look at the Spot-On Tommy Spot Gift Sets


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