Mike Pigott takes a look at a fairly unoriginal range of diecast miniature fire engines made by budget manufacturer Summer.
During the 1970s, a number of far-Eastern toy companies entered the diecast market to compete with the extremely popular Matchbox and Hot Wheels ranges. Some of the best known of these were Universal Toys, Zylmex, Playart, Yat Ming, Tintoys and Welly. While some of these companies made reasonably competent models, others were of extremely dubious quality and finish. Some were notorious for copying the leading manufacturers, and churned out inferior copies of toys produced by the likes of Matchbox, Corgi, Dinky and Tomica.
One Hong Kong-based company that was notorious for shoddy quality and ripping-off other manufacturers was Summer Toys. Summer was a low-end toy manufacturer that first appeared in the mid-1970s, when ‘Made In Hong Hong’ was still a byword for cheap, poor-quality toys. The Summer name was not marked on the toys or the packaging, although they could be identified by a trademark on the bottom of the blister cards and on the base of the models. The logo appears to be a leaping horse in front of three trees. The bases are also marked with the initials ‘SM’ which stands for Summer Metal Products Manufacturing Ltd.
In the late ‘70s Summer introduced a range of four ‘Die Cast Fire Engines’. On the packaging they were described as being ‘four inch’ (10 cm) in length, which was about an inch (2.5 cm) longer than standard miniature diecast vehicles. They were packaged in blister cards with a painted line-drawing showing all four models around a strange-looking fireman. The four models in the series were listed on the back of the card. No manufacturer information was given, although the Summer logo was in the bottom corner of the card. The four items were numbered from S8113 to S8116.
All models were painted gloss red and were fitted with glazing and interiors. They had black plastic bases and lots of separate plastic parts, including several chromed pieces, although these could be poorly fitting. They rode on cheap-looking speed-wheels, but on the whole they were fairly solidly made and quite heavy for their size. As mentioned, they were all scaled-down copies of models in other ranges, but with some minor modifications. Three of the fire engines were based on Japanese vehicles, while one was British.
E.R.F FIRE TENDED
No, that’s not a typo… this model was marked as ‘E.R.F. Fire Tended’ on both the base and the packaging! Obviously a misprint, the model was a copy of the large-scale E.R.F. Fire Tender made by Dinky Toys between 1976 and 1980. Cheshire-based E.R.F. Trucks produced fire engines in-house during the 1970s, and these proved popular choices for British toy manufacturers, with models made by Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox.
The Summer model was about half the size of the Dinky Toy. Although an obvious copy, there were some clear differences. The grille and open side panels, which were part of the Dinky body casting, were part of the chrome plastic interior. The Dinky’s metal roof panels were much less prominent on the Summer, which had a small chromed plastic panel on the roof with a central bell. The glazing is yellow and includes the dome lights, which were not typical of the blue lamps used in Britain or the red ones used in Hong Kong. Like the Dinky original, the vehicle was fitted with a wheeled escape ladder, although in plastic. The ladder was in orange plastic with grey wheels, and was a two-section extending piece that was quite detailed for its small scale. The scale is given as 1/90.
AERIAL LADDER FIRE TRUCK
The second model in the series was based on a Hino Aerial Ladder truck from the early 1970s. Hino is the heavy truck division of Toyota, and is named for the region of Tokyo in which the company is based. It is an unusual three-axle truck with twin-steer front wheels. Like the previous model, the Hino Ladder Truck was copied from another manufacturer; in this case Tomica of Japan. It was part of the large-scale, high quality Tomica Dandy range. The Tomica model was a very big model in 1/43 scale; the Summer one was less than half this size at 1/96.
Unsurprisingly, the Summer was much less detailed than the larger Tomica. However, it had a working ladder that could raise, rotate and extend. The turntable was in black plastic and lacked much of the detail of the real thing. The ladder was in orange plastic, and was a three-section type that was accurately detailed and worked well. The grille and base – including the fake hydraulic jacks – were in chrome plastic, while there was a separate black sub-chassis, which held the axles in place. A coiled black suction hose was mounted on each side. The glazing and dome lights were of clear amber plastic, while the interior was black.
CHEMICAL FIRE ENGINE
The third model in the series is another Japanese vehicle; this time a heavily armoured chemical fire engine on a Fuso chassis. Fuso is the truck division of Mitsubishi. This type of fire engine was similar to an airport crash tender, but was used at petroleum refineries and chemical factories where there was potential for explosions. It was an angular truck with a turret on top of the cab, covered rear wheels and dual front axles
This time, Summer copied a different Japanese manufacturer, Shinsei. Shinsei was well-known for a range of realistic trucks and construction vehicles in its ‘Mini Power’ series. The Shinsei models were in 1/78 scale, and there were actually two versions of the Fuso Chemical Fire Engine. One had a second rotating turret mounted behind the cab, while the other had an unmanned Snorkel-type extending arm. The Summer version had neither, just a chrome hatch where the rear turret should have been. The base, grille and rear doors were also in chrome plastic, as was the rotating turret over the cab. The interior was black and the glazing was amber. Presumably to make up for lack of the rear turret or snorkel unit, Summer added some other parts in their place. A pair of black plastic suction hoses was mounted on the top, and there were short plastic ladders mounted on each side. This was pretty inept, as chemical fire engines – which are used to spray foam – do not carry ladders or suction hoses! Scale was listed as 1/98.
TXD23F FIRE ENGINE
The final model in the range was also copied from a Tomica Dandy. The strange name seems to be another error; it was actually an Isuzu and ‘TXD23F’ was the model designation. It was a small fire pumper with doorless sides, which was quite a common style in parts of Japan. Of all the Summer fire engines, this was most similar to the original. It had chrome base and grille; the interior was also plated which didn’t look too realistic. The dashboard and steering wheel were very well detailed. The glazing was a small part comprising only the front windscreen and dome light. Mounted on each side was a very short ladder (the same as on the chemical fire engine, but in white) and a coiled suction pump, while there were hose reels on the top. One strange feature that was not on the original Tomica model was a grey plastic, non-removable, fireman figure stuck on the back of the vehicle. This was to a larger scale than the others in the series, being 1/62.
Summer Toys are not considered particularly desirable, but at the same time they are not easy to find. These could make an interesting, and unusual, addition to any fire engine collection.
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Diecast Collector magazine.
Text and model photos © Michael Pigott 2019.