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25,814 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Diecast miniatures by Universal Group or (Products) was started in 196(4)9 (?) by David C W Yeh. He was a former employee of the Louis Marx Company.

In the 1970s, the Universal brand was primarily known as "Champ of the Road" and included "Authentic Miniature" and "It's a Real Thing" descriptive tags. Many different range of diecast was offered in difference versions of the "Champ of the Road" line ups. They were available as singles and in sets. It is thought that Cragstan was an early distributor of Universal made castings. They also made a 'Ben Franklin promotional delivery truck that was distributed by City Products. Imperial marketed Universal's "Hiway Streakers". They also made a semi tractor/trailer rig for K-Mart. The packaging was labeled with the Kmart brand logo.

In 1978, Universal purchased LJN and created Kidco to independently markert castings made by Universal seperately from the other companies that were already using their manufactured castings.

Two base designations of HK and HKD are noted to be Universal made castings. Why these letters are used is not understood. The HKD letter may be an anacronym of 'Hong Kong Diecast'. The 'HK' is thought to be a logo designation and is classified by Kimmo et al as an importer based in Hong Kong. The logo is only found in two series of (4) castings each - "Military" and "Emergency". The 'HKD' letteing is thought to be a model indentification system. One example noted is the modification of the Universal made LJN "Road Star" Mercedes-Benz presented as from the 'Hogan's Hero' television show. Here it is made with a Rolls Royce grill and found in the Elmar "Metal Mites" brand blister card offering. Universal is thought to be the maker as well.

In the late 1970s (?), Fleetwood was known for diecast tie ins to television shows. One that they issued was a TJ Hooker play set made by Universal that included a copter, van and police cruiser.

In the late 1970s to the early 1980s, AMSI marketed their "Muscle Wheels" series range which was partially made up of castings made by Universal. The back of their blister card followed the Universal Kidco format. The (4) castings used in their "Old-Time Classics" series had an "LB" (Champions) base identifier on their metal base plates. but are thought to be Universal made castings with the first (3) listed here based on former (?) offerings. Known castings are - a Bugatti, Morgan, Packard, and a Rolls Royce convertible.

In the 1980s, Gordy began using Universal made castings in their "Diecast Mini-Mite" branded series. This series used the same card back format that Kidco used on theirs. Universal probably also supplied the commercial vehicles found in the Gordy "Diecast Metal" series which included a 'Bazooka' and 'Tootsie Roll' labeled vehicles. WUL, also based in Hong Kong is another distribution company that issued Universal castings also called "Speed Wheels" and "Action Military" to American Jamesway stores.

Larami offered their "Old Timer Car" as a (4) car set of 'Richie Rich', comic book themed castings. The 1950s Roller convertible was a Larami (?) made casting with the other (3) being copies (?) of the Tomica offerings. Bugatti, Packard convertible and Morgan Plus 8 that were made by Universal (?). These castings had 'LB' designations on their metal bases. LB is thought to reference LB Champions. Their "King of the Road" series is also thought to be Univeral made castings. Their "Soda to Go" series used the Yat Ming beverage delivery truck. This truck was also issued by Universal as the Howard Johnson's delivery truck.

Lucky Lam offered their "Speed Runner" brand of diecasts as made by Universal.

Speedrive; who later became Realtoy, is noted to be (1) of (4) companies that made the same castings (?) as those offered by Soma, Universal and Welly.

In 1981, Newman Importing's "Solid Wheels" series included Universal made castings.

In the early 1980s, Agglo marketed Universal's "Attack Force" military diecast models. East West Distributing Co began issueing their "Speed Wheels" series for Walgreens Pharmacies this year first and started out using Universal made castings. NATGO, aka Nat Gottleib Inc of New York offered Universal made castings in their "Movin' On" brand series. Roses' Department Stores offered Universal's "Super Wheels" series. Ross Crawford Sales Inc, another American based distributor also offered the Universal made "Super Wheels" series.

In the early 1980s, Myco Int'l, a distributor base in Carnegie, Pennsylvania issued "Road Aces" as free wheeling Hong Kong made castings with the circled 'W' logo on their bases.

From 1982 to 1992, Universal Group also owned Matchbox.

Identification of loose castings is most often made by finding an encircled 'U' on the base plate or the actual Universal logo. (?) However; some Universal castings only have 'Made in Hong Kong" on their bases. Universal also made castings for Dinky Toys, Imperial Toys, Kidco and LJN that have those company identification information on their baseplates. Wheeler is another company that Universal Group also made castings for. Those have an encircled 'W' on their bases.

Interpur is a Hong Kong based company known to have offered a (24) car assortement from Universal's "Road Machines" vehicle line. They were offered for indiviudal casting purchase in a 'solid' card board box (not a windeow box evidently?) with a flap that showed only simple line art. Some of these were also marketed by Faie.

Jak-Pac marketed their "Metal JPX" series brand as a range of free wheeling castings with the circled 'U' mark for Universal made on their bases.

Ja-Ru marketed Universal made castings as "Super Wheels Trucks" and "Super Cabs". And with HW as "Wildwheels".

Nucor is another Hong Kong based distributor noted to use circled 'U' made diecasts in their unspecified offerings.

Dinky Toys also had a portion of their lineup of construction vehicles built by Universal Group. These were castings known to have been previously built by Mercury of Italy, Mercury USA and Gibbs.

Under the Univeral Group brands the following series are known.

The "Tiny Trucks" series used the same truck model with different functions identified as either M1006 or with Ford and 'Made in Hong Kong' on the base. These were sold at Montgomery Wards and K-Mart stores.

The "Tiny Tanks" were done in 1:87 scale and included (4) models.

The " Stunt Squad" series are known by their series name on their bases and the copy right date of 1977. Kidco later issued these same castings as their "Bumber Blasters". Both of these series seperated into two parts when they hit something with their noses.

The "Big Rigs" series consisted of (4) tractor cab casting models.

The disposition of these Universal molds (?) are not known with any certainty, after the purchase of Matchbox, from the Lesney Corporation (?). Some of them are believed to have been purchased by UDC, Uniborn and/or Unimax. Whether these are new companies, the same companies or spin off brands from Universal is still not accurately known. Notice; though, that a UDC brand reference is shown below, to their "Roadster" series. Which along with the other brands shown there that on their card backs that Universal made castings were being used.

Some Kidco castings were transferred to the Matchbox lineup. While others were retained under the Kidco brand name.

In the early 1980s, many different series of castings are known as Universal made castings by the listing of them as so on the cardbacks of numerous different diecast brands, some of those are -

JJ Newberrys YDC "Fat Wheels"
EFS "Super Wheels" and
Harris "Fastwheels"

In the early 1980s, Elmar offered Universal's "Trailer Truck" and "Metal Micro" single carded cars.

Another series available in the 1980s, called "Super Wheels" was offered by Sze. This castings usually had no base infomation. Nor did the packaging information have a distributor label. But, some castings though did have the "HW" prefixed base and some were known Universal models.

In the mid 1980s, A-OK marketed Universal diecast in blister cards as "Speed Wheels" in Canada. Their American based sister company marketed "Military Speed Wheels" at the same time.

In the late 1980s, Universal may have been one of the other unknown brands who are noted to have provided castings under Soma's "Super Wheel" brand label.

Another distributor with no date reference given was TG&Y Stores. Based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma they issued a 1:100 scale 'metal truck cab with detachable plastic trailer with 5 axles and ten fast wheels" (?) The "It's a Real Thing" slogan suggests it is a Universal made casting.

Zellers Limited of Montreal, Quebec is also another non date specified distibutor of Universal made castings. There brand offering was called "Mini Roadster".

As of 2006, many of these castings have been picked up by various Hong Hong brands and/or altered slightly by various other Chinese factories.

Known Series (Castings)

Stunt Squad - Ford Mustang

Unspecified relationships with IMEX(?) is also noted. Another unspecified relationship is also noted for Marx, which may only be a reference to their ownership history with Dunbee-Combex (?); and Straco are also noted, but not explained. Another unspecified relationship is given for Toy Island

Primary resources:
Encyclopedia of Small-Scale Diecast Motor Vehicle Manufacturers - Sahakangas, Foster & Weber (2006)
https://www.planetdiecast.com/index.php?option=com_kunena&func=view&catid=138&id=54762&Itemid=2455 = "Bad Guys", "Diecast Metal Tanks", Matchbox-"Commando Series", "Military Action" and "Victory Force"

674 Posts
Universal also made castings for Dinky Toys,
That would be because Universal owned the rights to the Dinky name at the time. (It is in the Dinky footnote I posted with the Maker's list) If I recall, Universal got the rights to Dinky first, didn't bother so much with the large scale tools, the tools went off in several directions, but Universal held onto the trade name and trade dress. I had bookmarked (seller asking way too much) a set of Universal models, most I recognized as being used by Kidco with different paint/tampo treatments, packaged and sold as Dinky. Shortly after, Universal purchased Matchbox, and soon after a short series of now somewhat scarce Matchbox variants unique to this packaging, showed up on the same blister cards that had held the Kidco models. Standard Mbx size blistercards in red with the Dinky name emblazoned boldly across the top. Also about this time some of the larger scale Matchbox models began to show up packaged and marketed as Dinky. It didn't last very long, by 1990 that all disappeared, but it was a curious exercise in cross branding product and trade dress.

Dinky had their lineup of construction vehicles built by Universal Group. These are castings known to have been previously built by Mercury of Italy, Mercury USA and Gibbs.
A little clarification, the construction models that began with Mercury - Italy were sold as "Mini Dinky," during the time the Lines Brothers held the rights to Dinky. The Mini Dinky models were made in Hong Kong, I don't know if the large scale stuff was or not. The only Mini Dinks that were not made in HK were the two open wheel racers contracted from Best Box (?, pretty sure, became EFSI). None of the cars resurfaced, but the construction equipment was picked up by Universal most likely when they picked up the rights to the Dinky trade name, I would guess - although that has never been made clear. The construction models were sold as Kidco at least at some point, under the "Champ of the Road" and "Big Job" trade dress. Likely they were sold under other Universal brands/trade dress as well, but I can confirm that much. By this time (1980) the tools were about 20 years old.

Some Kidco castings were transferred to the Matchbox lineup. While others were retained under the Kidco brand name.
I don't recall ever seeing any Kidco models in Mbx packaging. As mentioned earlier, both Kidco and Mbx models turned up in blisters with Dinky trade dress, but I am hard pressed to think of any Kidco models to show up as Matchbox.

Now, there *were* 4 Kenner models from the Fast Ones line up that were modified and entered the Matchbox range under Universal, so I wonder if whoever wrote this might have meant Kenner, not Kidco?

I had the privilege a few years back to speak with a former Kidco employee, and purchased a few items from him and got a bit of company history. If I understand the timeline, I think Kidco as a company was closed out prior to the Matchbox acquisition, and now that I think about it I wonder if it was because Universal got the rights to the Dinky trade name? Only Mr Yeh and his executives would be able to answer that directly, but the timing certainly suggests something along that line.

As of 2006, many of these castings have been picked up by various Hong Hong brands and altered slightly by various China factories.
Tangentially related, but Kimmo has suggested in the past that the business climate in China at that time and for a good while after, possibly even lingering today, encouraged companies to "share" across each other. Kimmo suggests that may help explain why so many very similar, even copies and worn out repurposed tools, show up as so many "generic" no-name models under a vast array of trade names that are particularly difficult to trace.


25,814 Posts
Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
I understand from others that @juantoo3 has self-determined he doesnt fit here at HobbyTalk and is actively pursueing another place called Diecastaways to repost 'his diecast' information currently in repose at Swiftys. More powere to you then. But, do note that the door to participate here at HobbyTalk is not and has not ever been closed to you. :cheers2:

Most of the above though does need to be moved to their relevant thread historys and will be addressed later on. :thumbsup:

25,814 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
This morning though I was able to make it through the dozens of brand assocations included for Universal. It think they surpased Summer in unlinked references, but not included ones.

Like Summer, I think Universal also needs another run through for a better date organization, as many of their references did not have a date year or even a decade reference included with their encyclopedia listings.

I was also able to find the information that peeked my interest in diecasts other than Hot Wheels and Matchox though! That is over in the Realtoy thread.

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