Imagine you wanted to start your own diecast toy company. Well, that’s easy enough. And then imagine what would happen if you found out that you actually were not terribly good at it. That - sort of - is the story of Singapore’s only ever diecast brand, Mandarin.
There is not a lot of information out there about this company. The cars look like they were made in the early 1970s, and take their inspiration from Playart and Tomica. Though these are not mere copies - they are all originals. And it shows.
In all fairness, Playart produced a few howlers too - but Mandarin really specialized in awkward. This is the product list from the back of a blister card:
- #101 Chevrolet Stingray
- #102 Oldsmobile Toronado
- #103 Buick Riviera
- #104 Ford Thunderbird
- #105 Ferrari 250LM
- #106 Volvo 1800 S
- #107 Mercedes-Benz 230 SL
- #108 Chevrolet Camaro
- #109 Toyota Celica 1600 GT
- #110 Toyota Corona Mark II
- #111 Skyline 2000 GT
- #112 Mitsubishi Colt Galant
- #113 Toyopet Crown
- #114 Nissan Fair Lady
- #115 Toyota 2000GT
- #116 Honda 1300 Coupe 9
Of these, I have never seen the Oldsmobile, the Thunderbird or the Toyota Crown. And in all my years of collecting, I have only ever seen one photo of a 240Z Fairlady and a Buick Riviera each. The number of survivors must be very low - even though it appears these were exported here and to the :US as well under the name “Dynamic Gear”. I guess collectors didn’t take much notice.
We can distinguish two types. Earlier ones with “chrome” hubs and usually quite plain paint jobs. And the later ones in much brighter colors and with these fancy “Fuchs” wheels. The Hot Wheels influence again. Overall, the models are on the large side - perhaps 1/55 - 1/50. And they are quite inconsistent in size within the series as well.
As to their model making skills - the pictures speak for themselves. Here’s one more from my collection - does anyone want to have a guess what this car is meant to be?
Apart from cars, Mandarin also made Tanks - and a whole bunch of small diecast planes. The planes are much easier to find these days. For whatever reason, the collectors seem to have snapped up far more of these - though they were quite crude as well. A selection of these was also sold in the US under the Kidco banner.
And there is another odd one there - a rather nice casting of the T2 VW Bus:
At first I wondered how they managed to get this one so right - until I realized that it was a copy of the Majorette casting! But then - why didn’t they just copy other models as well? I have no answer for that one. And then there were some London buses too - which look a bit like the Matchbox model, but have a few differences on closer inspection.
And there were a few models of cars of cartoon characters, like Donald Duck and Yogi Bear. And then - mysteriously there are some copies of “Models of Yesterday” cars as well that appeared under the Mandarin name. But these are made in Hong Kong. Was that before of after the Singapore models? Once again, more questions than answers.
All in all, this appears to be one of the stranger chapters in the history of diecast and it seems unlikely that we will ever learn the full story there.