My previous article on Lone Star covered the Impy and Flyers ranges, first introduced in 1966. Lone Star had also made several earlier ranges of diecast vehicles, including the 'Road-Masters' series of modern and veteran cars from 1956. The 'Roadmasters' name (this time without the hyphen) was used again in the 1960s for an attractive range of mostly American cars, which are examined in this article.
The range started around 1960, when Lone Star had an arrangement with Tootsietoy of Chicago, USA, which involved Lone Star making four 1:50 scale models of American cars for inclusion in the Tootsietoy Classic Series. The remainder of the Classic Series consisted of six veteran and vintage vehicles which were made by Tootsietoy themselves and were described by Mike Richardson in Model Collector Vol.9 no.3 (March 1995). The four British made cars were all 1960 model year vehicles - a Chevrolet Corvair, Rambler Station Wagon, Cadillac 62 Sedan and Ford Sunliner Convertible. They had plastic windows, spring suspension, and the Ford had a diecast metal interior and a separate plastic steering wheel. The wheels and the separate front and rear bumper/grille castings were all diecast metal, and were given a silver-coloured plated finish. Black rubber tyres were fitted. Baseplates were painted black and included MADE IN ENGLAND in a circle and TOOTSIETOY CLASSIC SERIES together with the model name and engine details and SCALE 1/50.
The plated parts make the models quite attractive, and as good as most Corgi or Dinky toys of the time, although Corgi in particular were moving forward rapidly with new features. The choice of 1:50 scale was interesting, and is well-suited to modelling the big American cars of the era, which come out a a good size of just over four inches. The models fit well with Dinky's 1950s American cars, which were generally 1:48 scale.
The arrangement with Tootsietoy seems to have lasted only a couple of years, but there may have been other aspects to the deal. Some of the larger Lone Star toys ('Roadmaster Majors') are very similar to large Tootsietoys, but not from the same dies, for example the Tractor (introduced in 1964) is a close copy of the Tootsietoy Ford Tractor of 1956. Maybe the design for the tractor was used with Tootsietoy’s permission, or perhaps Lone Star became familiar with the Tootsietoy line and simply copied the American toy. Lone Star employee Roy Green (quoted in Geoffrey Ambridge's book*) said ‘I… remember the flood of toys brought back from America, their designs being promptly replicated for new prototypes.’ Another connection is that Tootsietoy made scaled-down versions of the Cadillac, Rambler and Ford Convertible in their HO Series (1:87 scale), while some of the Lone Star 'Tuf-Tots' (early 1970s) look like scaled-down Tootsietoys. There was obviously exchange of information between the two firms; might Lone Star have made some dies for Tootsietoy as well as finished models?
Left - The four Tootsietoy Classics made by Lone Star were sold in shrink-wrapped bubble packs, priced at $1 each.
Right - Model T Ford, one of the veterans in the Tootsietoy Classic Series.
Left - Comparison of the baseplates of two examples of the Ford Sunliner, one with TOOTSIETOY CLASSIC SERIES cast and the other with LONE STAR ROADMASTERS. This was achieved by having a changeable insert in the die. On the Lone Star version, the word "Convertible" was mis-spelled as "Convertable". Also note the diecast interior on the Tootsietoy version (unpainted underneath) and red plastic interior on the Lone Star.
Lone Star Roadmasters
The first four models were marked LONE STAR ROADMASTERS for sale in markets other than the USA. In the UK the models were sold exclusively by F.W.Woolworth's stores, so they did not appear in the Lone Star trade catalogues. This makes it quite difficult to determine the dates of issue. The advert at the left (click to enlarge) is one of the few clues to the sequence of events, and mentions the first four models, priced at 2s 9d for the Corvair and 3s for the others. This appeared in the Eagle comic on 25 March 1961, repeated on 15 April (thanks to Mark Woodford for this information). There is a later version of the advert in which the prices had increased to 3s for the Corvair and 3s 6d for the others. It refers to the Cadillac as a 1961 model, when in fact it is the 1960 car.
Around 1962 the range was increased to eight models. The new items were a 1960 Chevrolet El Camino Pick-Up, a 1961 Dodge Dart Phoenix, a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II, and an Ambulance version of the Rambler Station Wagon, which had a plastic aerial and roof beacon and a red cross transfer on the roof. The new models had plastic wheels and bumper/grille mouldings, but still with a plated finish. The four earlier models also had these components converted to plastic, and on the Ford Sunliner the seats were produced in vacuum-formed plastic in place of metal.
The Ambulance may have been a special issue for German-speaking markets, as it was accompanied by two other variants for the other emergency services - one in white with POLIZEI printed on the bonnet and one in red with FEUERWEHR printed. All three versions are very difficult to find, and most examples seem to come from continental Europe.
The first type of boxes for the Lone Star Roadmasters were individual grey boxes with red end flaps and a colour illustration of the model on the front. I have seen the first four models plus the Chevrolet Pick-Up and Dodge Dart in these boxes. I am not sure what box was used for the early Rambler Ambulance and its variations - perhaps they were only bubble-packed.
For the Rolls-Royce, the first type of box was in red and yellow with a picture of the car on the front. ROLLS-ROYCE SILVER CLOUD II was printed on the front faces above the illustration, and on the end flaps. This box style was later used for other models in the range (and indeed for the Rolls-Royce itself) with the appropriate name on the end flaps but not on the front. These boxes do not carry the words MADE AND PRINTED IN ENGLAND, which are on the sides of the original Rolls-Royce box. The photo second from left shows six different models in the "Rolls-Royce" boxes, contained in an outer cardboard carton bearing the name "Sargoods". According to James Robertshaw (https://lonestardcmt.co.uk/), these six models were painted and assembled in New Zealand. "Sargoods" was the New Zealand importer Sargood, Son & Ewen Ltd., and the boxes have a very small logo on one of the inside flaps for "United Empire", which was the New Zealand company United Empire Box Co.Ltd., showing that the packaging was locally produced. Some of the New Zealand models have the baseplates in a distinctive gunmetal colour, however they do still have MADE IN ENGLAND cast underneath. A quantity of old-stock Sargoods sets were discovered in the early 1990s and sold at British toy fairs, which accounts for the New Zealand sets and individual models that pass through UK auction houses from time to time.
The Roadmasters were also available in shrink-wrapped bubble packs, possibly throughout their production. The first type of backing card is shown at the far left, containing a Rambler Station Wagon with plated parts. In the centre is a Rolls-Royce with interior, from the post-1964 range, and the card has had oblong shapes punched out to remove the word 'plated', as the model no longer had plated hubs and bumpers. On the right is the final version of the card, with large orange arrows replacing much of the text. The models are a Rolls-Royce, Chevrolet Pick-Up and Dodge Dart.
By 1964, the Roadmasters were starting to look dated in comparison with new Corgi and Dinky toys with operating features. Lone Star therefore attempted to update the range by fitting all models with a vacuum-formed interior moulding. At the same time the retail price was cut to 2s 11d and production costs were reduced in several ways. The silver plated features were deleted, and instead the bumper/grille mouldings were painted silver. Unfortunately this paint seems to rub off easily, revealing the white plastic underneath. Late versions of some models had these mouldings in self-coloured silver plastic.
New silver plastic wheels with white plastic tyres were fitted. These were very much inferior to the plated wheels. Some late versions had black tyres.
Those models which had had two-tone paint were now prodcuced in a single colour only, and baseplates were grey on most models. The Corvair was given a silver base because the base formed part of the front and rear bumpers.
The Rolls-Royce was updated to represent a Silver Cloud III with twin headlights. However the baseplate continued to say Silver Cloud II.
New models were introduced to make the existing castings go further. The Dodge Dart was produced as a police car with a blue roof light, and the Chevrolet Corvair was produced in a Fire Chief version, also with roof light. The Rambler Ambulance lost the aerial previously fitted to the bonnet.
Special versions for continental markets included the Dodge Dart 'Polizei' and Corvair 'Feuerwehr' for West Germany, which replaced the earlier German versions of the Rambler. There was also a 'Brandweer' Corvair for the Netherlands. Others may exist - please e-mail me if you know of any more.
The Lone Star advert shown at the left is from The Toy Trader for January 1964, and proves that these changes to the Roadmasters occured in that year.
The 1964 range of models were at first packed in a plastic display box which was stapled to a carboard plinth. The models in the series were listed underneath, but curiously the Chevrolet Corvair was omitted from the list, so that only nine models were shown. Later a more conventional yellow window box was used, which had red printing and the model name rubber-stamped on the end. The first ten models were listed on the rear of the box, i.e. including the Corvair but excluding the military models and the Citroen.
Military variations and the Citroen DS19The two military models were the Rambler and Corvair in matt green paint, as a military ambulance and staff car respectively (both without roof lights). The military models had their baseplates painted the same colour as the body. These were introduced in 1966, and were included in Lone Star's 'Modern Army' series and packed in 'Modern Army' boxes. As such, they appeared on the Modern Army page of the UK trade catalogue in 1966 and 1967. In 1968 the Modern Army series was dropped from the catalogue, but the two cars continued as part of the Roadmasters series, with different catalogue numbers. I am not sure whether they were also included in the Roadmasters series for Woolworths and for export sales in 1966 and 1967. I do have an 'Export Supplement' catalogue which includes the 'Roadmaster Scale Model Cars', and illustrates 13 different models, including the military items and the Citroen. This is undated, and most likely is from 1968, but it could also be 1966 or 1967 if the military items were available in both the Modern Army and Roadmasters series at the same time.
The Export Supplement shows the Citroen DS19 as a 'New Model' and 'Latest Addition'. This was a surprising introduction, and was one last effort to update the Roadmasters with the release of a new model. The Citroen was nicely done, without the awkward separate mouldings for grille and bumpers, but still with the unattractive wheels. It is probably the hardest individual model to find, and if the supplement was from 1968, that fits with the model having a short run of only a couple of years.
In 1969, Lone Star released a separate 'Scale Models' trade catalogue to include all their diecast vehicles, i.e. the Flyers, Commercials, Tuf-Tots, Roadmaster Lorries and the Roadmaster 1:50 scale cars. Possibly the Woolworths contract had come to an end, and they were now selling the Roadmasters to UK trade buyers, or perhaps they were still only in the catalogue for export. Whatever the position, Lone Star reverted to one catalogue for all their products in 1970, and the Roadmaster cars had gone forever, no doubt too old-fashioned to compete in the world of low-friction wheels and gravity racing sets.
The Lone Star model of the FX4 Taxi was not part of the Roadmasters range, but it was also to 1:50 scale and used the same silver plastic wheels with black plastic tyres. I have one on display with my Roadmasters, even though it was not introduced till 1981. It continued to be catalogued till 1990, by which time Lone Star's production had been moved away from the UK and the Hatfield factories were closed. There is also a Far Eastern copy of the Taxi which was available in London souvenir shops.
* Reference: The Bumper Book of Lone Star Diecast Models and Toys 1948-88 by Geoffrey Ambridge, published by the author, 2002.