If you were a child in the 60s, 70s or early 80s and I asked you to recall some of your favourite toys, I bet you’d find it hard to stop a flood of colourful memories – often from simple but clever product design – no batteries required!
We probably don’t realise just how much our favourite toys influenced us as kids and in later life, but they played a huge part in how we defined ourselves, how we made friends and how we saw the world.
Heaven was a Toy shop
I’m sure we all carry warm childhood memories of Birthdays and especially Christmas times, and what wonderful times they were. The One occasion you might ask for something – and by magic you would get it. The anticipation and excitement that surrounded those special times for a youngster was immense. And easy to see why, when an Action-man or a box of toy cars would be all you’d need to complete your world.
But what about the creative minds, the product designers and engineers that made it all possible, producing some of the most iconic toys that would capture the imagination of more than a generation. Could we ever imagine how the value of those memories would translate into the collectible values we see today?
As a development engineer involved with product design and 3D visualisation, I have many influences that fuel my creative passion. But none that touched my life in a personal way as the man I’d like to share with you today.
Marcel Van Cleemput is perhaps not well known by many, but mention Corgi Toys and the picture soon changes.
Born in Croix France 1926, to hard working and relatively poor parents, Marcel recalls only a small amount from those early years. However, at the age of nine, with little more than a growing collection of stamps, cigarette cards and marbles, was to embark on a new life in England. A family move governed by his fathers’ job working for a French owned textile mill.
Crediting his early interest in mechanical engineering to his father, who worked to maintain complex knitting looms, in his own words says “I did very well at school”. Marcel scored 100% in maths 99% in art, 97% in workshop drawing and 93% in wood work. Nothing short of remarkable.
Enrolling at Huddersfield technical college in 1940 as a junior and later, when moving from Marston to Loughborough, would join the Loughborough school of Engineering. Before settling in Daventry, Northamptonshire, where he would find work and meet his wife Molly.
Marcel took his first full time job with Express Lifts as a draftsman, and was soon promoted to the special design section. A team of four designers tasked with improving the performance of door operating mechanisms and safety systems.
But it was moving to a small die-casting firm named Mettoy, producer of toy cars rivalling the more established Dinky and newcomer Matchbox, when the magic started to happen. As business grew Mettoy became known as Corgi Toys, and Marcels’ role changed within the company to Chief Designer.
The Corgi years
Corgi was a global player reproducing some of the most iconic cars of the day from TV and the big screen. If you didn’t own a Batmobile or a James bond Aston Martin or Lotus Esprit, I bet you had a friend that did?
Marcel was involved with every model the company produced from 1954 until its demise in 1983.
From product design to mould tool and production
Here are a few images of the Corgi factory in it’s hey day of the drawing office and assembly lines. A brief history lesson for the younger generation who might be quick to notice there’s not a single computer in sight. Yes, it was possible!
I’m incredibly fortunate to have met and known Marcel and to have shared conversations about those early days of design and invention that you rarely get to discover.
I’ll never forget, as a 7 year old, racing my white Lotus Esprit around the house, and in my wildest dreams could not imagine years later would be drinking tea at the home of the man that drafted the initial prototype, on a scrap of paper – pinned to his steering wheel, driving back from the studio.
A far cry from the Product development and 3D printing methods we use to shape the creation process today – as you will see from the images below of that historic sketch penned by Marcel, alongside our modern day 3D approach to pre-production design and press-release material.
Marcel sadly passed away aged 86 in 2013. Leaving us all his wonderful legacy. Known as ‘Mr. Corgi’ he was an inspiration to many, myself included, and in a personal letter he drafted to me in 2011 shares his thoughts and words of wisdom as one designer to another. What a privilege!
Perhaps you are involved with Product design or 3D visualisation (or both) and would like to share who inspired you on your journey, either past or present? Or would just like to share your Corgi inspired memories instead?
Feel free to send me your message or leave a comment below.
Corgi vs. Dinky – who was your favourite?
Read how Corgi went head to head with Dinky in the 1960’s, a little extra reminder for all you collectors out there. (opens in new tab)
Pass it on
Feel free to share if you know someone else who would appreciate a trip down memory lane!