If you had toy cars as a kid, you may not have known his name, but Marcel van Cleemput had an impact on your life. He was the chief designer for Corgi Toys from 1956 until 1983. While Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars provided hours of entertainment, it was the attention to detail that made Corgi cars a favorite.
Marcel van Cleemput was involved in almost every die-cast toy the company produced for nearly three decades. You can learn a lot more about him, and what he meant to Corgi, in an outstanding obituary in the Telegraph. I never knew his name, but his work opened a world of cars that I never knew existed.
When I was a kid, my parents had a place in Wells, Maine, the next town over from the summer resort town of Ogunquit. In the center of town, there was a little toy store that occupied a corner piece of real estate right off of Route 1. It was a time in the 1970s when small, independent toy stores could import lines from all over the world. That little shop had toys from everywhere, but what fascinated me the most was the Corgi cars.
It was there that I purchased my second James Bond DB5, complete with ejector seat, turning license plate, retractable guns, and extending razor-edged knockoffs. I needed a second one because I literally wore the first one out.
I also had the incredible Corgi Batmobile. That model featured triple rocket tubes, a chain-slasher blade in the nose, and a Turbine Jet exhaust that rhythmically pulsated with the turning of the wheels.
The thing I remember about both of those cars was the scale – huge for the day – and the weight. A tossed Batmobile could easily cause a concussion. It was a well-constructed car that stood up to years of abuse, when toys were toys, rather than “collector’s editions.”
The thing you never missed with Corgi models was the idea that they were obviously from somewhere else. When you got a Corgi set of road construction equipment, for example, you got signs than didn’t say “SLOW” or “CONSTRUCTION AHEAD.” They were pictographs unlike anything we saw in the United States. It familiarized me with those road signs, just the way the Tintin books showed a kid from the suburbs of Boston who never crossed the Atlantic until the age of 40 what the rest of the world looked like.
Thank you for the outstanding work, Mr. van Cleemput. Just thinking about the hours I spent with your cars is like stepping into a time machine.
Image Source: The Telegraph