Japanese Tinplate Cadillac Toys (1951-1964)


After the end of World War 2, Japanese toy makers found their inspiration on the advertising pages of Life magazine and other publications left over by G.I.'s.
The pre-war stamped-steel manufacturing concerns that were converted during the conflict into ammunition manufacturing, mostly of artillery cartridges, reverted to making what they did best, windup toys. While most postwar Japanese toys are bland and cheaply made, some companies such as Alps, Asahi, Bandai, Ichiko, Marusan and Yonezawa issued truly beautiful toys that have today become objects d'art, wanted by collectors all over the world. American luxury automobiles especially were the subject of their art. Cadillac cars were special because they were at the time, the finest automobiles built in the world.



From a 1/43 scale, 4" Eldorado (bottom right) to a 22" Pinin Farina designed, GM massaged 1960 4-door pillar-less sedan (center), Cadillac toys come in all sizes...


This 11" Alps/Iwaya 1952 Eldorado convertible has a working differential, a friction motor and working steering. It exists in 5 distinctive colors. After the General Motors legal types sternly pointed out to the company that they had no license to produce this toy, Alps changed the name of the car to "Convertible", with new "W" badges reflecting the change.
This splendid toy was very successful in the marketplace, but it still quite difficult to find one today in good condition as Alps produced the toy for only 3 years, and they are quite scarce today. The box is very attractive and was constructed of strong cardboard with a glued fascia. The "W" model boxes no longer bear the Cadillac name.





This "Convertible" version wears the "W" emblem on its hood and trunk, and "DeLuxe" markings on its sides. The box art has also been altered, the cadillac name no longer appearing.




Many smaller Cadillac tinplate toys were issued by Japan's most prolific toymaker, the house of Bandai. Issued under the brand "Frankonia", this 8" 1962 Sedan DeVille has interchangeable license plates from all the US states and Canada, so that children could switch the plates to their home state. Original boxes are prized by collectors.



This 18" Yonezawa 1960 Pinin-Farina designed pillarless sedan is simply stunning. Its windows are of molded blue-tint plastic, making the toy rather fragile in the hands of kids. It also exists in a rarre maroon color that is very desirable but hard to find in good condition.


A recent acquisition in the collection, this maroon mint model with its original box is in fabulous original condition. The box art is copied from General Motors material, and the toy is licensed. Yonezawa supplied GM with a quantity of these toys as payment for licensing royalties.  



One of the largest of  the Cadillac toys was this 20" long 1962 4-door pillarless sedan by the Ichiko company. This giant toy still retains its die-cut celluloid windows but has an injected plastic steering wheel. The era of plastic toys is looming, the end of the great tin toys soon over.

Ichiko also used this color combination on a rather scarce 1959 Buick toy.


Another large Cadillac toy by SSS of Japan, this 18" monster is as big as it gets! CLICK HERE for more detailed pictures...



Another pretty model is this 1961 version by Yonezawa. This 14" toy is friction powered. A huge 22" version of this toy was also issued by that company and appears to be easier to find than the smaller version.



  The enormous 22" Yonezawa 1961 Cadillac Fleetwood was produced in metallic red and metallic blue, unfortunately not the best colors, One can see here the simpler detailing that preceded the death of the great tin toys. The 1/32 scale Schuco Ford, barely visible at the bottom right, give an idea of the size of this monster. This was the second largest tin car ever produced in Japan, as there were two 27" later models by Ichiko that are outside of the era of interest of the collection.


(Historical background, courtesy of Marusan USA)

One of the toy companies from Japan whose products have endured over time is Marusan Co. Ltd. We know them by the mark of SAN in a circle. The Japanese word “Maru” means circle, thus the mark of SAN in a circle. But the word “San” also means three, which refers to the 3 founders of this company in 1947. The roots of this company began in 1923, when Naokichi Ishida founded Ishida Manufacturing, based in the Tawarachou, region of Asakusa, Tokyo. Their primary business was selling optical toys like toy binoculars, and telescopes. The Asakusa area of Tokyo was home to many toy companies. In 1947 Naokichi Ishida’s sons, Haruyasu Ishida and his younger brother Minoru Ishida, and kinsman Yasuo Arai founded MARUSAN in the toy industry. Their business also was mainly selling tin toys and optical toys. In 1950, the company was formally incorporated as MARUSAN SHOTEN LTD. “Shoten” means company or shop. At the time of incorporation, Haruyasu Ishida was President; Minoru Ishida was listed as Managing Director and Yasuo Arai was a Director. Initially, their business was a wholesale sales business, but they eventually began to design and market their own toys. Some of the items on the 1951 sales list for Marusan included the following: Friction - Small Mercury car Windups- Tricycle with celluloid doll, rabbit, motorcycle, penguin, helicopter, tank, windmill, fire engine, drum boy, jet airplane, bird clock and an elephant with monkey and umbrella. A very popular toy was the windup Lucky sewing machine with a celluloid girl behind the machine. Toy exports from Japan grew rapidly during the 1950s and the toy manufacturers sought to produce specific toys as requested by the US importers. In 1953, they introduced the now famous and successful, elaborate tin toy “Cadillac” based on a 1951 model. This car and the variations of this car are highly prized by collectors today. One of the top toy craftsmen of the time was Matsuzou Kosuge. Mr. Kosuge’s factory was sub-contracted to produce the Cadillac and many subsequent toys. The box for the Cadillac mentions the Kosuge factory and his mark is found on the base of the car along with the mark of Marusan.

No Japanese toy cars were more popular than these 1951 Cadillac 4-door sedans issued by Marusan in 1953. The tinplate body has a separate, plated and painted roof. Except for the bumperettes, all added chrome plated parts including side trim, door handles, multi-piece grille and emblems are made of stamped steel, an incredible technical achievement for such a small company. The friction powered gray car also existed in red, gold, white and black colors and was immensely popular. The yellow and green version is electric powered with working front and rear lights and is much rarer as its price was nearly 3 times as much as the basic version. A cable remote-control version version exists.
The tooling for these beauties was made by Matsuzou Kosuge, a master craftsman responsible for the pre-war KS (Kuramochi) toy cars. Kosuge was a toy designer and tool maker in the 1930's and also worked for the CK company. This splendid 12" toy has no less than 54 separate stampings, all assembled by young Japanese women into this gorgeous toy. It sold in huge numbers.





Women assembling dozens of Cadillacs for Marusan at the Kosuge factory, shown here in 1953. The cars are then packaged in the boxes that can be seen in the background. The many parts were assembled by metal tabs fitting inside slots stamped on the main body and chassis, the friction machanism haveing already been assembled by other women in their own homes, then delivered to the Kosuge works. The metal tabs were then bent or twisted so as to retain the parts together. This was tedious and backbreaking work, 10 hours a day, for very little pay, but what choice did these women had after their masters took them into the folly of a war they could never win?


Above. employees of the Marusan factory pose for a group picture on front of the rather shabby building that same year.

Pictures courtesy of Marusan USA.

Please click here for an Illustrated history of the Marusan Company



The stately sedan has terrific detail for a 2-dollar toy, its price in US department stores. Marusan was one of the few toymakers to use real chrome for plating the multiple stampings such as door handles, bumpers and lights bezels. Most other toymakers used less expensive  nickel plating. The Cadillac crest is first printed then pressed, assembled by tabs like every part of the toy onto the painted steel body. In fact, very much like the full-size model it copied...


Marusan also produced several "deluxe" versions of the 1951 "Series 62" Cadillac toy featuring an electric motor as well as electric head and taillights. This splendid example is in near-mint and working condition. Other versions had a remote control by cable.




Just discovered is this friction powered model produced in the same color scheme as that of the self-propelled electric powered model. At this time it appears that this might be a factory one-off, as none other appears to have ever surfaced in the past 60 years.


This does not have electric headlights so the body does not have the large holes to clear the light bulbs, hence it was not the body of an electric powered toy slapped over a friction powered chassis, but was clearly intended as a friction model.

Another little mystery on our hands...






In 1956, the German toy company Gama made a copy of the Marusan model but as a 1954 model with redesigned glasshouse, grille and bumpers, slightly different chassis base and new colors. As for the Marusan model, it was issued in various configurations that included friction and battery power, some with remote control by cable and steering wheel. The toy was very successful and eventually Gama sold the dies and tooling to the French company Joustra, that in turn sold the model, minus the Gama side badges, until 1965.


Unlike Marusan, Gama also produced the toy as a convertible, some fitted with an electric motor replacing the friction drive system. The battery is then fitted in the trunk instead of under the chassis as in the Marusan version. A paper mache driver, in this case the famous "little lady from Pasadena" sits at the controls.

Would you not want to buy a used car from her?



  In 2001 Marusan announced the release of a Limited Issue, highly detailed tin toy Cadillac car made in the style of the 1950s classics. The Cadillac model, a 1957 Eldorado Brougham 4-door pilar-less sedan was released in 3 authentic colors, all of which sold out quickly.


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