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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Universal Group or (Products) was started in 196(4)9 (?) by David C W Yeh, depending on the source you reference. Yeh was a former employee of 8 years with the Louis Marx Company were he was able to make many business connections with companies both in Hong Kong and America during his time there.

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 ranges of diecast were offered over time in different versions of the original "Champ of the Road" line ups. They were available as single carded items and in sets.

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. Two other base designations of HK and HKD are noted to have been used on Universal made castings. Why these letters were used is not clearily understood.

The 'HK' designation is thought to maybe have been a logo designation and is classified by Kimmo; et al, in The Diecast Encyclopedia, as an importer brand name that was based in Hong Kong. This logo is only found on two series of (4) castings each - "Military" and "Emergency".

The HKD lettering may have also been used as an anacronym for 'Hong Kong Diecast'. It is also thought to maybe have been a model identification system, too! One example given is the modification of the Universal made LJN "Road Star" Mercedes-Benz casting previously presented as being from the 'Hogan's Heros' television show series. In the later case under Universal it was made with a Rolls Royce grill instead and found in the Elmar "Metal Mites" branded blister card offerings. Universal is thought to also be the maker of this revised casting as well.

Universal also made castings for Dinky Toys, Imperial Toys, and LJN. These castings have those company names as identification information on their base plates.

They probably also made castings for Faie.

Wheeler is another company that Universal Group also made castings for. Those have a circled 'W' on their bases.

As above, Dinky Toys had a portion of their lineup of construction vehicles built by Universal Group. These are the now diecast collectors world famously known castings originally made by Mercury of Italy, followed by Mercury USA and then by Gibbs.

It is thought that Cragstan was an early distributor of Universal made castings.

Universal also made a 'Ben Franklin' stores promotional delivery truck that was distributed by City Products.

One of the series Imperial marketed but was made by Universal was their "Hiway Streakers". They also made a tractor trailer big rig set for K-Mart and distributed by Imperial with packaging for this set labeled with the Kmart brand logo.

In 1975, Straco used Universal commercial vehicle diecasts in their line up called 'Speedeeee.... Trucks'.


Some of the other series names used under the Universal Group brand include (but is not limited to) the following -

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

Another series of (4) military vehicles was known as "Combat Unit".

The "Dream Machine" line was issued in picture window boxes and were 1:50 scale in size. These were all diecast models of the 1950's.

Their " Stunt Squad" series are known by their series name being included on their bases and a copy right date of 1977. Kidco later issued these same castings as their "Bumper Blasters". Both of these series separated into two parts when they hit something with their noses. A Mustang is amoung one of the known model castings issued.

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

Their "Tiny Trucks" series used the same truck model with different load types and 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. Some of these "Tiny Trucks" can be found with the Wheeler name on their base plates.


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

Also in the late 1970s up to the early 1980s; AMSI marketed their "Muscle Wheels" brand series line up range which was partially composed of castings made by Universal. The back of their blister card followed the format Universal used for their own Kidco series line. The (4) castings used in their "Old-Time Classics" series had an "LB" (Champions) base identifier on their metal base plates. And are also still thought to be Universal made castings that are based on former Tomica offerings. The identified castings are - a Bugatti, Morgan, Packard, and a Rolls Royce convertible. The first three of these - the Bugatti, Morgan and Packard were the ones included in the AMSI set thought to be former Tomica models.

In 1978, Universal purchased LJN and then created Kidco to independently market castings they made - separately from the other companies that were already using their manufactured castings under their own brand labels. (It is not absolutely clear by The Diecast Encyclopedia references if Universal had made castings for LJN before they purchased them or after the purchase. Note that Kidco was a new Universal brand that used the series name "Tough Wheels".)

An association with Unaco as a distributor of Kidco brand diecasts is now known to be in place in 1978.


In the early 1980s, many different other brand series of castings listed on their card backs as having used Universal made castings. Some of those were -

Agglo marketed Universal made castings in their "Attack Force" military diecast models.

The East West Distributing Co began issuing their "Speed Wheels" series for Walgreens Pharmacies. In their first year of availability they used Universal made castings.

Elmar offered Universal made castings in their "Trailer Truck" and "Metal Micro" single carded cars.

Gordy began using Universal made castings in their "Diecast Mini-Mite" branded series. This series also used the same card back information format that Kidco used on their products. Universal probably also supplied the commercial vehicle models found in Gordy's "Diecast Metal" series. This series included a 'Bazooka' and 'Tootsie Roll' brand labeled vehicle.

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. The other (3) models are noted to be 'copies' (?) of former Tomica offerings. These casting were a Bugatti, Packard convertible, and Morgan Plus 8 that are noted to be made by Universal (?). These castings though had 'LB' designations on their metal bases. LB is thought to be a reference to LB Champions.

LB Champions "King of the Road" series is also thought to have been Universal made castings. Their "Soda to Go" series used a Yat Ming beverage delivery truck. This truck was also issued by Universal - as their 'Howard Johnson's' delivery truck.

Lucky Lam International Ltd (Hong Kong) offered their "Speed Runner" brand of diecasts as made by Universal.

Myco Int'l, was a distributor base in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. They issued their "Road Aces" series as free wheeling Hong Kong made castings with the circled 'W' logo on their bases. The circled 'W' is indicative of Wheeler. The castings from this series line up were also issued by both AMSI and Gordy .

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 Universal made castings in their "Super Wheels" series with the circled 'U' logo on their base plates.

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

WUL, also based in Hong Kong, is another distribution company that issued Universal made castings. They were also called "Speed Wheels" and "Action Military". Both were marketed the American based Jamesway discount stores.

YDC distributed their "Fast Wheels" series that were sold b JJ Newberrys stores based in York, Pennsylvania.


In 1981,the Newman Importing marketed their "Solid Wheels" series that included Universal made castings. Another series name attributed to Newman Importing was "Muscle Wheels"


From 1982 to 1992, Universal Group also owned the Matchbox diecast brand following Lesneys bankruptcy. After the purchase of Matchbox by Universal, the authors of the The Diecast Encyclopedia, make note that the disposition of those previously used Universal casting molds and tooling are not known with any certainty. (The implication being that Universal divested themselves (?) of some (or most) (?) of their previous models to focus on Matchbox products(?))

Is is known that some of the molds are believed to have been purchased (acquired) by UDC, Uniborn and/or Unimax. Whether these are new companies, existing subsidiary companies with new names for Universal or independent spin off brands from Universal is still not accurately (clearily) known. Notice though, that a UDC brand reference is shown below, for Universals "Roadster" series. Which along with the other brands referenced there - on the card backs used for them - indicate Universal made castings were used by UDC as well.

Some Kidco castings with special features were transferred into the Matchbox lineup. While others were retained under the Kidco brand name.


Other unspecified companies that also began issuing previously made Universal (again unspecified) castings. Some of those are now noted as only being Made in China on the base plate and have been slightly altered in most cases.


Interpur is noted to be a Hong Kong based company, known to have offered a (24) car assortment of Universal's "Road Machines" vehicle line. They were offered for indiviudal casting purchase from a 'solid' card board box display with simple line art printed on the box flap. Some of these same models 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".

Nucor is another Hong Kong based distributor noted to have used a circled 'U' on their base plates also made diecasts in their unspecified offerings.


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.

Harris used Univeral made castings in their "Fastwheels" series.


In the late 1980s,

EFS* marketed their "Super Wheels" series in the late 1980s. Casting used the circled U logo from Universal on their base plates.


Other distributors with no date reference given was -

T G &Y Stores, were based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They issued a 1:100 scale metal truck cab with detachable plastic trailer. The combination used 5 axles and ten fast wheels'. The "It's a Real Thing" slogan suggests it was a Universal made casting.

Universal may have been one of the other unspecified brands who are noted to have provided castings to Soma for their "Super Wheel" brand label.

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


As of 2006, many of these castings had been picked up by various other Hong Hong based brands. Often times these molds were altered slightly by those companies at their own or other Chinese based factories for reissue by them under their own brand names and series.


An unspecified relationships with Toy Island is also noted, but not explained. Another unspecified relationship is noted for Marx; which, appears to have only been a reference to Mr Yeh having worked there for 8 years before starting his Universal Group company.


*The diecast encyclopedia references 'WT' prefixed #ed castings as being made by Tintoys. But, the EFS listing also attributes them to having being made by Universal and Welly. While the Universal reference does have an association to EFS' "Super Wheels"; it does not have the corresponding 'WT' prefix casting reference. Welly also has a brand asscoiation listing to EFS, but no reference to the 'WT' # prefix system either. Note here that the reference for a Universal made casting is for the circled U logo only. Both the Tintoys and WT reference also ask you to see EFS as well.



Primary resources:

Encyclopedia of Small-Scale Diecast Motor Vehicle Manufacturers - Sahakangas, Foster & Weber (2006)
universal hong kong = "Bad Guys" and "Military Action" are two other series names used by unnamed distributors and Universal in regards to the military diecasts.
Kidco | hobbyDB
 

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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.
 

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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:

Since then, a new site called the Diecast Garage has appeared and Swiftys now shows a redirect to that site's url.

Some of the above comments still though do need to be moved to their relevant thread historys and will be addressed later on when the Universal History post revisions are completed. 👍
 

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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.

:cheers2:
 

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Discussion Starter #7
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.
The above is is not contextually accurate. In the information presented by the authors references from The Diecast Encyclopedia, Universal did not own the rights to the Dinky name until 1987. When Matchbox (who was at the time owned by Univesal) bought the Dinky name from Kenner Parker. Who had bought the Dinky name from Meccano-Tri-Ang in 1981 after they went bankupt. It was during the ownership history of Dinky by Kenner Parker when Universal made castings for Kenner Parker to issue as Dinky branded castings. This is what my original truncated quote is referencing - not the time period from 1987 to 1990.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
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....
Here again the above is contextually inaccurate. By the time frame stipulated and by the information presented in The Diecast Encyclopedia - the Lines Brother owned Dinky from 1964 to 1981. During this time frame the 4 construction vehicles were being made by and owned by Mercury USA and Gibbs through the 1970s. It wasnt until around 1985 that Universal made their construction castings with the mold and toolings they owned for the Kenner-Parker Dinky brand, there own Kidco brand and another related British distribution company. Dinky never actually owned the construction vehicle molds.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
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.....
Perhaps it would be best to take up the - doubted - as quoted information which comes from The Diecast Encyclopedia and the collective experiences of its authors and their personal research on the subject directly with them.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
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.
Not sure this should be considered a tangent in the discussion since the authors of The Diecast Encyclopedia spent nearly 1.5" of the allocated column space for this entry out of the 7" of total column space given to the history discussion on what may have happened to Universal's casting tools and molds. They also speak often trying to discourage the use of "generic" to describe these castings that are not recognizable as 1:1 brand models - in that they are still unique designs attributable to a brand/factory designer.
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
It has taken more than a few passes to better organize the Universal timeline and information. More dates and references with other companies were found once the other brand associations were reviewed and linked. There is still much to determine though as the first image of the back of the boxed scraper posted above by @juantoo3 identifies an as yet unnamed Kidco association with Unaco from 1978 that has not yet been made before.
 
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