By Martin Rayner
The Zee Toy Company produced various ranges of approximately 1:64 scale die-cast toy cars from the end of the 1960s through to the mid 1990s and there follows a brief history of both the D series models and P series models including a list of known variations available throughout the lifetime of these ranges.
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The very earliest Zee-produced 1:64 scale die-cast metal vehicles were fairly crude representations of the most popular Formula 1 cars of the era (no.s D1 to D8). They came with two piece chromed plastic insert racing wheels (style 1) and were issued in the UK in Texaco Scorchers box packaging at the end of the 1960s (available through the Texaco petrol station chain). They had die-cast metal bodies, were manufactured in Hong Kong and had Zylmex branded metal base plates with plastic interiors and screens. Whilst these first 8 models were originally issued separately from the standard Zylmex branded line, they did re-appear in later Dart Wheels / Dyna Wheels series through the 1970s and possibly on into the 1980s. At the time of their original issue, they were also available in a number of other packaging styles around the world including Flitzer Express box packaging (presumably for the German market) and in unbranded Racing Car box packaging (possibly for the US market?). Some models found in the Racing Car box packaging, whilst still having the Zylmex name cast onto the base plate and the original colour schemes intact, were fitted with a new cast metal wheel with treaded rubber tyre which tended to vary slightly in size and design over its lifetime (style 2). Later issues also appeared with alternative colour schemes, with or without the Zylmex name on the base plate and with different design Zylmex wheels (style 8 see below). It is unclear whether all of these later variations were actually issued as Zylmex models and it is possible that the castings may have been sold off at some point to other manufacturers. However, for the sake of the completist collector, all known variants of these castings are included in the variation listing below.
Following on from the release of the D1 to D8 racing car models, the emphasis of the Zylmex range quickly altered in the early part of the 1970s to include mainly fantasy and custom vehicles to compete with Mattels popular Hot Wheels redlines of the era. This next wave of models (no.s D9 to D26) were issued with either the Zee brand name (D9 to D14) or with the Zylmex name (D15 to D26) on their metal base plates, with the series name of Dart Wheels normally referred to on the packaging of which there were a number of different styles depending on country of sale. Originally these models were mainly issued with a removable style wheel (style 3) very closely resembling both the look and design of the first issue Hot Wheels redline wheel. However, these wheels were quickly altered in design to a two piece chromed plastic insert style hub (style 5) which lasted through to the late 1970s on some models. This change of design may have been due to safety concerns as the original hubs were easy to remove but it is also possible that due to their close resemblance to the Hot Wheels redline wheel, Mattel may have taken exception to the blatant attempt by Zylmex at cashing in on their success and threatened legal action. Ironically, if this were the case then although the withdrawn wheels were similar in appearance to the redline wheels, the Zylmex cars had no hope of competing on the track with their Hot Wheels counterparts due to the cheaper and inferior straight axle arrangement. Mattel are likely to have been more concerned about the identical hub gauge hence the fact that the wheels were directly interchangeable with redline wheels. There were also copies of some of the contemporary Hot Wheels / Gran Toros models included in the Zylmex range such as the D22 Dragster (a copy of the Gran Toros TRantula) and the D24 Bubble (a copy of the Hot Wheels / Gran Toros Silhouette) but interestingly, there appeared to be no attempt made by Mattel to halt the production of these models although Zylmex were careful not to use either Mattel-designed customs or Hot Wheels patented casting names for the vehicles which were copied, and probably therefore avoided breaching Mattels patents.
Over the next few years the line was expanded through to D40 and included 8 new Formula 1 models (D27 to D34) and 6 popular European cars (D35 to D40). The 8 Formula 1 models were fitted with a new type of 2 piece wheel (style 4) which utilised the style 5 chromed plastic wheel insert within a larger diameter 2 piece racing wheel to better suit the scale of the F1 cars. The other models (D35 to D40) were initially fitted with standard type 5 wheels and although there had previously been one or two real vehicles represented in the line, these 6 models marked a notable change of direction from the previous heavily represented fantasy/racing vehicles into the rapidly expanding market of more realistic and collectible models. Around about this time in early 70s America, an oil crisis and general economic slow down resulted in a slump in sales of many non-essential items including toy cars of all makes. The US based manufacturers suffered the most from this slump and cost cutting programs resulted in a lack of investment in new castings and cut backs on colours and parts. However, Zee seems to have ridden the storm of this economic slump better than some of their rivals. This may have been due to a lesser reliance on the US market than other manufacturers but it is more likely that the bottom end cost emphasis of their product within the market range kept their products attractive to parents attempting to keep children happy through tough times. This early 70s era saw the introduction of a series of existing models from the D9 to D40 range being fitted with wild, oversized wheels known as Crazy or Krazy wheels depending on which side of the Atlantic you were on. The first run of Crazy Wheels models used an oversized two piece wheel with chrome hub and black plastic tyre (style CW1) which changed toward the end of the run in the mid 70s to a one piece black plastic wheel with chrome foiled centre (style CW2). These models used the same base plate and body casting (with some minor modifications on some models) as their standard wheel counterparts, complete with the original series number although they were given a B suffix (i.e. D24B) in both trade catalogues and in the listings of available models on the rear of the blister cards and boxes of the day. During this time a number of the original D9 to D40 models with standard sized wheels were also re-issued with new colour schemes with a few earlier models being phased out. The Dart Wheels name was retained for these models for the European market but sometime during the early to mid 1970s the Dart Wheels name was dropped for the US market and the Windracers name adopted for a short time a name that was to later be used for the new P range models. Also at this time a new type of one piece black plastic wheel with 5 spoke chrome foiled hub (style 6) was introduced, possibly as a money saving measure or due to safety issues resulting from the previous two-piece arrangement. This wheel was to become arguably the most wide ranging wheel type used during the lifetime of the Zylmex line and was fitted to models across the entire range from the mid 1970s through to the mid 1980s.
The mid 1970s brought about a further change of emphasis within the Zylmex toy car range toward more realistic and collectible models, with the amount of available vehicles increasing considerably in number. The original D series had been marketed under various names and guises in different countries over its lifetime as discussed above, but with the introduction of the next wave of D series cars came a worldwide update in packaging style and the introduction of the name Dyna Wheels for the US market with either the Dart Wheels or Dyna Mights name being used for the European market. This next range of new models in the D series was numbered D41 to D72 and mostly included an interesting mixture of popular worldwide cars of the early to mid 1970s era with the notable exception of 6 different commercials all based on a Toyota flatbed truck. These new models, whilst retaining the die-cast body style of earlier issues, were initially all issued with plastic base plates giving them a lighter feel than the previous metal based models. They were slightly less crude in appearance than earlier models but appeared to have reduced slightly in overall scale. Mixed into this range were some of the earlier D models re-issued in more realistic colours and decoration in keeping with the appearance of the new models. It is unclear how many of the expanded D series range models were issued initially, as catalogues and range lists of the era are unclear and often contradictory. For example, a US issue catalogue from the mid 70s shows the D range expanded up to D45 with all models including the new D41-45 castings fitted with the older style 5 wheels, whilst European Dart Wheels box and blister packaging from the late 70s indicates the range expanding up to either D58, D68 or D72. However, model design appears to indicate that model numbers D41-52 preceded later models as these first 12 models have chromed plastic base plates whereas later models have black plastic moulded bases. Also, model numbers D69-72 have the Zee brand name as opposed to the Zylmex name indicating that they may have been issued later still.
Fairly soon after the expansion of the D series, the first range of P series models appeared under the name Windracers in the US and under the name Dyna Mights for the European market. For the European market it is possible that the first P series models may have actually preceded the issue of the later D series models as they were first introduced alongside, and in very similar style box packaging to the earlier pre-D41 D series models, with the post-D40 D series models being issued in different style blister card or box packaging. These first P series models were distinctly different from the D series models of the time. To start with they were far superior in both their build quality and detail. In addition, the initial range of models reverted to a die-cast metal body and base combination giving them a heavier more expensive feel. Furthermore a new and more advanced sprung suspension assembly was fitted on these models. This was mainly in conjunction with the style 6 wheel although a few of the larger bus and camper models (produced at a smaller scale to retain a similar overall model size) had a new one piece, 6 spoke chrome foiled hub wheel (style 12) fitted to suit their smaller appearance and some of the new racing car and construction vehicles required a larger diameter one piece plastic, chrome foiled hub wheel (style 8) which was also introduced at this time. This combination of sprung axle and one piece wheels gave the models a much improved free-rolling speed which was well suited to the popular track sets of the time produced by other manufacturers. Again, as with the expanded D series range, It is unclear how many models were included in the initial wave although it is known for sure that models P301 through to P330 were available in the original European Dyna Mights box packaging of the mid to late 1970s era. These first P series models were produced, in the main, in single colour finishes without decals and had by far the most realistic feel of any Zylmex models of this scale to date. There were a number of popular Japanese, US and European cars of the day represented in the range, with the Japanese car models in particular now becoming quite collectible. Also included were a number of construction and service vehicles numbered consecutively P307 through to P318.
By the end of the 1970s all of the D series models numbered D53 through to D72 were now available. Also by this time the P series range had been expanded to include a number of additional popular cars and vans of the time numbered P330 through to P358. The P series was further split down for the US market into specific types of vehicle such as construction vehicles, off-road vehicles, vans, emergency service vehicles and cars with each mini-series being given separate range names such as Mini Macks, Rough Riders, Super Vans and Highway Patrol as well as the standard Windracers. However, amongst all of this confusion there was, in the main, a consistency of issue number between either the D series or the P series and this therefore remains the most logical way of cataloguing the models that were issued. During this time and on into the early 1980s a number of the earlier D series models were phased out although some of the most popular early models were retained and re-issued in new colour and decal combinations and combined into the current line. In addition, the early P series models were also given new, brighter finishes complete with colourful stickers and decals, later to be replaced by tampos. A further one piece black plastic wheel with chrome foiled hub was also introduced to cope with the new diversity of vehicles (style 7) and some models were able to be found with 2 or 3 different wheel styles.
From the mid to late 1980s the D and P series continued to be added to mainly with the introduction of additional popular sports cars and eventually expanded as far as numbers D134 and P399 respectively. Strangely, some of the late D series models such as the D120 McClaren M-8A Can-Am and the D123 Chevy Ambulance were actually old P series castings with re-numbered base plates. Also worth noting is that no model numbers D73, D74 or D126 through to D133 appear to have ever been issued. The mid 1980s saw the phasing out of the Dart Wheels packaging in the European market for the D series models and the subsequent use of the name Dyna Wheels for a time. The numerous mini-series consisting of various P series models were also phased out and a number of P and D series models were then combined and issued under the Pacesetters name with models being issued under a new 5-digit number code system (although castings retained their original D or P number and so this remains the best means of cataloguing models). In the late 1980s the manufacturing plant was shifted to China and the Zylmex brand name altered to Zyll or Z on some models. Also at this time a number of additional one piece black plastic wheels with chrome foiled hubs were introduced (styles 9, 10, 11 - style 11 closely resembled a Matchbox wheel of the time) with earlier issue wheels being phased out. During the last years of the Zylmex era at the beginning of the 1990s, the distinction between the D series and P series ranges started to disappear altogether with models from both ranges being combined into various mini-series incorporating the Dyna prefix such as Dyna Classics. Packaging types and series names varied with country of issue and a lot of the earlier castings were phased out altogether. The final new P series castings numbered P3201 through to P3216 were issued and a final Zylmex era black plastic one piece wheel type (13) with 8 spoke chrome foiled hub was introduced. The last Zylmex-issued vehicles in the European market appeared in Dyna Wheels window box packaging in the mid to late 1990s and consisted of mainly high numbered D series models plus a few earlier castings, all utilising the style 10 wheels.
Although the mid to late 1990s saw the final use of the Zylmex/Zee/Zyll brand names, it wasnt quite the end of the story. A substantial number of the D series dies have in fact remained in use and still turn up within various low budget gift sets and multi-packs for specific retail outlets. Currently in the UK you can still pick up quite a large number of new variations of these models in the Motormax die-cast toy car series and under the Chad Valley name in Woolworths stores some even in the same colour and tampo combinations as the final Zylmex-era issues. In addition, the occasional model turns up in various other stores own brand lines such as the Kid Construction line in Asdas, the Super Cars line in Sainsburys and the Early Learning Centres own brand line and there is no reason to doubt that these models are available under similar circumstances in other stores both in the UK and elsewhere. The current castings are almost identical to the originals with the exception of the Zylmex/Zee/Zyll brand name being blanked out on the bases. They normally use the original Zylmex style 10 wheels and even retain their original D series catalogue number. The castings often appear along side and together with other different branded castings with occasional mixing of wheel and tampo designs with the other-branded models.
Apart from the castings which were re-numbered into the D series at the end of the Zylmex era, the P series dies seem to have largely disappeared at the same time as the demise of the Zylmex brand name. However, a couple of the P series Fire Engine models have been found with blank plastic bases (presumably re-issued in the same way as the current D series models) and one model the London Bus (P334) has been found with the Zylmex/Zyll name over-cast with a Juniors logo on the base (presumably from the post Zylmex/Zee/Zyll era) but with the old P series catalogue number still intact. The Juniors logo is different to, and should not to be confused with the Corgi Juniors brand. Nevertheless, it was possibly used as an attempt to cash in on a well known brand name especially as the model is fitted with one piece wheel with 8 spoked chrome foiled hubs (style 14), almost identical in design to one of the late issue Corgi Juniors wheels. With new models like these from the old D and P series still turning up all the time it is likely that most of the old Zylmex dies were therefore sold off to the highest bidder back in the late 1990s and are probably now spread far and wide across various minor manufacturers and brands, both in the UK and elsewhere.
Whilst I have briefly covered the history of the D and P series models, it should be noted that a number of other die-cast cars and vehicles have also been available under the Zylmex/Zee name from the late 1960s onwards. I will not attempt to cover any of these ranges in detail at this time as I am unsure of their history but they do include military road vehicles, motorbikes, planes, helicopters, friction powered cars, larger scale saloons and racing cars, and tanks to name but a few. In addition, a number of rogue models which do not conform to the standard D and P prefix numbering system have made their way into the D and P ranges over the years and these models have been included in the Miscellaneous section of the variation listings below, along with the Grippers series of vehicles with a 40## series number and pull back motor, some of which share the same castings as late D series models and which can be found with either grey 8 spoke wheels with rubber tyres (style pb1) or with multi-spoke wheels (very similar to style 7) with rubber tyres on the rear wheels only (style pb2). The first of the rogue models is the model number T439 53 Chevy Sedan which was adapted from the M.A.S.H. military range (a separate line of vehicles from the popular Film and TV series also manufactured by Zee) and first included in the Windracers series of the early 1980s. In addition, a couple of models were issued with a 300# number usually on late issue Pacesetters cards and mixed with late P series models. Furthermore, a London Taxi (similar to, but not the same as the Corgi Junior London Taxi) numbered K510 was also available with the same Juniors logo as found on a late version of the P334 London Bus and with a new style one piece 6 slotted chrome foiled hub wheel with tread pattern (style 15). This taxi appears to have been part of a line of vehicles of as yet unknown quantity and brand with a K prefix which is also known to include a red Double Decker Bus numbered K310 (a different casting from the P334 London Bus). The history and origin of these models is unknown at this time but they have been included due to their brand name link with the late issue P334 London Bus. Finally, also included is an F1 racing car range very similar is style and design to the original Zylmex Texaco Scorchers D1-8 range, but with R prefix numbers on their base plates. Again, these models have no reference on the base plate to either Zee or Zylmex and are simply stamped G.T. & made in Hong Kong. However, they are of such a similar design and build quality for it to be reasonably assumed that they may have been both manufactured and sold along side the branded Zylmex models. They come with 2 slightly different wheel variations, both very similar to style 2. The first variant (style 2b) is always associated with models which have a narrow axle support and has a shallower and slightly more detailed hub than style 2 with a very similar tyre design and the second variant (style 2c) which is always associated with models which have a wide axle support has the same style hub as style 2b but in a slightly smaller diameter with a wider tyre with a different tread pattern to style 2 and 2b.
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