The need to support one’s troops on the battlefield has long been understood and recognized by military commanders. “Heavy Weapons” have meant different things at different times throughout history, but the land-based, towed cannon was, for a long time, the ultimate expression of this doctrine. Artillery had come of age and proven its destructive potential in WWI, and by the end of WWII, the pressures of wartime development had, once again, pushed the capabilities of conventional tube artillery further.
In Britain, at least, artillery had been called the “King of the Battlefield”, with the Infantry its “Queen”. However, by the end of the Second World War, both of these “royals” had a new rival. It seemed that there was a “knave” in the battlefield’s court, and it was called “rocketry”. Rockets were something fairly new to warfare, but had already shown their great capabilities. The most famous piece of rocket artillery in the War was arguably the Russian Katayusha, or “Stalin’s Organ”. However, while a hail of screaming rockets was indeed a destructive and frightening proposition for an army to face, military planners had been given a greater case of the willies by a much larger, more powerful rocket.
Germany’s V2 rocket showed that you could lob a big warhead a long way. You could do it with mobile launch systems, too, although the “mobility” of a V2 was laughable by today’s standards. Once this capability was combined with that of the newly developed nuclear weapon, many felt that conventional tube artillery would be relegated to the scrap pile. Of course, we know that’s not how it played out, but at the time, the thoughts of further “conventional” wars were eclipsed by preparations for all-out nuclear Armageddon.
The problem with the V2, and its immediate post war successor, the Corporal, was that they were large, heavy systems. Something more akin to a good heavy gun was needed. Something smaller, lighter and easier to transport. Something with a smaller footprint and shorter logistical train. The answer, at least in the US (and thus for its allies) was the MGR-1 (later M31) “Honest John”. This was a truck mounted and launched tactical ballistic missile with a range of about 15 miles (almost doubled in the later M50 version). It could lob a 1,500 lb. conventional high explosive (HE) warhead that far, or toss a 20 kiloton (kT) nuclear warhead the same distance. There was even a warhead equipped with bomblets for dropping Sarin nerve agent on enemy troops!
The Honest John could be launched from a simple ramp mounted to the back of a 6×6 truck, which when so equipped was given the designation M386 TEL (Transporter, Erector, Launcher). This made the missile highly portable, mobile and relatively easy to conceal. Many units were deployed to Europe during the Cold War, and were in use with many different allied armed forces. One of those forces was England, and thus it came as no surprise when the Dinky Army range of vehicles welcomed the Honest John into the fold in 1964. The model stayed in production for a long time, finally bowing out in 1975.
The Dinky Honest John – First Contact:
The first time I encountered Dinky’s Honest John was the same time I encountered a great many of the other Army Dinkys I have today; looking through some of my Uncle’s old Dinky Toy catalogs from the late ‘50s and into the mid ‘60s. Since my Uncle was not really into military vehicles, and only had a few, I was blown away by the number that was offered. Among all the uniformly green tanks and trucks in the catalogs were two vehicles that really stood out: Firstly, and most impressively, was the No. 666 Corporal. The second one was the No. 665 Honest John Missile Launcher. Despite my great numbers of ‘80s GI Joe toys, I hadn’t really seen large missile-launching vehicles as toys before (other than Rolling Thunder). Sure, most GI Joe vehicles had missiles ON them, but they were small, and secondary. These Dinkys were ALL ABOUT the missiles and it struck me that they missiles they represented must be incredibly powerful.
At the time, I desperately hoped my Uncle had either of these two rocket-launching masterpieces. However, he did not, and I reconciled myself to being content with looking at pictures of them. Fast forward about 30 years, and now I have both of these die cast harbingers of the Endtimes in my collection at last!
One thing that’s common in toy marketing is the production of “Halo” products; big, expensive pieces that only a few can afford. Growing up in the ‘80s one certainly encountered this a lot. GI Joe and Transformers (my two favourite toy lines growing up) each had a yearly “big toy”; the GI Joe aircraft carrier (the USS Flagg) and Defiant Space Shuttle and the various Autobot and Decepticon “city bots” being the most visible examples. However there were often smaller, “second place” toys that were still impressive, but not quite so. That was my initial impression of the Honest John. It was kind of a “Corporal-light” if you will. It was what most kids would get if they asked for a Corporal, and it would likely have been good enough in most cases. However, getting to handle one now, I see that this is an unfair description, and that the Honest John is a great toy in and of itself.
The Honest John in Detail:
The Honest John that I have in my collection is, unlike all my other Dinkys, a very much later-run example. It came not in the blue-and-white striped boxes that many of my other Dinkys did, and in fact not even in the picture-boxes of the later ‘60s, but rather in one of the “box and bubble” packages seen into the 1970s. This is not something you can tell by looking at it out of the box, but there is one other immediate indicator that this is a newer issue. The colour. Nearly all the Dinkys I have are the same green, although earlier ones tend to be a bit different. This Honest John, though, is quite a bit more olive that his stablemates and that is the giveaway. However, despite the colouration, the toy is more or less identical to the original issues from the mid-‘60s, and that’s more than good enough for me! In fact, I’m very glad to have such a perfect example of a later-issue Dinky; it’s neat to see how the brand evolved with time!
The chassis of the Honest John may look familiar to some of you. It should. It uses, as its base, the same truck used as the base of the No. 667 Missile Servicing Platform Vehicle! If it’s one thing I love, it’s a variant, and it’s really both neat and expedient that Dinky did what the real Army did – found a truck that could haul the Honest John and plop it on the back! Of course, while the chassis is the same on the Honest John as on the “cherry picker”, that’s where the similarity ends.
Clearly, the biggest difference between these two toys is the GIANT MISSILE and its associated launch rail that take up the entire back end of the truck! On this particular Dinky, the launch rail and pivot system are metal, and are painted in the same olive green as the front cab, hood and rear-rails of the truck cab. However, the decking and fenders are plastic, and are moulded in a far different colour of green. Interestingly enough, the green that the deck comes cast in is much closer to the original “Dinky Army Green” that older Honest Johns would have been painted in. Why Dinky chose to change the colour of its army vehicles I can’t say, but they should have changed the colour of the decking to match, I’d have thought!
Despite the colour mismatch, the rear decking is nicely done, with a lot of diamond-hatch “no slip” panels, giving it a very industrial, military look. There are several “steps” on the platform, as well as two small, rather faintly-raised, handwheel details near the front of the decking, over the fuel tanks. It is possible these are meant to represent the levelling jack controls, as the real M386 has three jacks that are used to level it for firing.
The missile rail is all metal, and has some nice, heavy-looking detail cast into it. Just like the real vehicle, the launcher can traverse a bit of centre either way, and can raise and lower through a limited ark. This is where the accuracy of the launching system largely ends, however. On the Dinky Toy, the rail is very long. It extends over the cab and quite a way behind the missile’s exhaust port. This is NOT the case on the real M386. On the actual vehicle, the front rain “extension” is only deployed once the vehicle is in firing position, otherwise, it would go right through the cab! Also, the missile launch rail ends at the back of the missile. It might seem odd for Dinky to have gotten this so wrong, but it really isn’t.
The main function of the missile rail is not to LOOK right, but to BE cool. That means its function is to actually LAUNCH the missile. Unlike the GI Joe toys I grew up with (save the later, lame ones), the Dinky Army missile-armed vehicles actually do launch their weapons. Just like the weird post on the Corporal Trailer, the extended launch rail of the Honest John is there to facilitate this overridingly-important function. You have to remember; this thing was a toy. It was an expensive toy, and second only to the Corporal in terms of imaginary destructive power. Most kids and their friends, waging a backyard offensive, would be unlikely to encounter a Corporal in action. The Honest John would thus likely be the most powerful piece of artillery in the campaign, and so making sure it could physically project that power was an extremely important design consideration.
To achieve this, there is a long spring in the launch rail. At the front is a little “ram”. This assembly is pulled back and “cocked” using the projection hanging down from the launch rail. The missile is then placed on the rail, with one of the two small front guide-fins in the slot, butted against the ram. Once this was ready, the launcher could be elevated and traversed. Firing was accomplished by “unhooking” the cocking lever through a downward press. This would allow the spring to uncoil, thereby bringing black rubber-tipped devastation to any enemy foolish enough to try and invade the Honest John’s territory.
In order to give the spring room to be cocked, the launch rail had to be made longer than in real life. Dinky chose to mould the “extension” on the front open, which was wise, since this is right for launch configuration on the real vehicle. It’s cool that you can see the “step” in the launch rail (roughly where the warhead starts to taper down) on the Dinky; this is where the “extensions” flip out on the real thing. So, while it might not be super-realistic, it is fairly close.
One other thing that is not technically correct is the drivers cab. These vehicles are usually seen driven with the windows and top down, and the front window folded forward. This isn’t always the case, but almost so. Clearly, Dinky didn’t want to retool the chassis and I have to admit that I do like having the glassed-in windows and nicely sculpted “soft top” on the vehicle. I think it makes it display well.
The missile, on the other hand, is actually rather accurate in shape and size. The two little fins used to launch it aren’t correct, but other than that, it looks the part. It’s lightweight plastic with a bit of a ballast in the nose provided by the heavier “impact tip”. The only thing that’s off on it is the colour; usually only test rounds would have been white. Deployed missiles were usually dark green or cammoed like their carriers. Still, this is a minor issue, and I like that the missile is white; it helps it show up on the shelf where the vehicle is displayed, and draws attention to it.
The firing missile isn’t the only cool play feature, either, although it is clearly the gimmick around which the unit is based. On awesome feature is that the launcher rails have “working” hydraulics! That’s right, those little pistons go in and out of those cylinders! I always loved toys that did that; Majorette’s large-scale (Super King- and bigger-sized) vehicles often had that. As a kid, having “functioning” hydraulics is pretty darned cool, and adds a tonne or realism. It also helps to keep the launcher accurately in place; they are functional in that they provide the stability for the elevation mechanism.
Equally cool is that this truck has TRUE DUALLIES!! This may not seem like a big deal. It is. BIG TIME. Most toy trucks don’t get this right. As a kid, that is SAVAGELY DISAPPOINTING. “Real trucks have duallies. Why doesn’t my toy?” This is a thought that has crossed the mind of every child playing with a toy truck at some time. I guarantee it. Some people dismiss it. Others, well, let’s just say the scars cut a bit deeper. Still, it won’t be Dinky’s fault, since this missile-hauling mofo boots that childhood plague of “toy-based undually-ness” square in the nuggets!! This is still a big deal to me now, so I know it was important back in the day.
Rounding out the epic playability of this toy is the spare tire. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Spare tires that are moulded on are “meh”. Spare tires you can ACTUALLY change??? OH HELLZ YEAH! There would be nothing worse as a backyard general to find your ultimate weapon stuck by the back door or near the rose garden due to a flat tire. That neighbour kid’s tanks are advancing fast, and if you can’t get that MGR-1 out there, he’s going to take the shade tree by lunchtime! This is where the ability to physically change a tire and get back into action is of paramount importance. Maybe it’s just me, because the tires look like they’ve never been off this thing, but I can tell you, if I was playing with this thing as a kid, I’d have been changing tires all the time! Having that spare in the little well behind the cab just adds that much more to the toy.
Normally, I look at a box first, but in this case, I thought I’d change it up. As I mentioned earlier, this is a later version that comes on the cardboard base with a bubble on top. I do, in fact, have the bubble, but it’s quite yellowed and very brittle. Thus, I display the Honest John out of the box. I didn’t even dare to photograph the bubble, since I have it in protective storage, and didn’t want to disturb it.
The base upon which the Honest John comes, however, is the really interesting part. Not only is it quite large, but it has a fully pictographic set of instructions for how to load, cock and fire the missile! While this is something most 6 year-olds can figure out, I’m sure, it’s nice to have and makes for an interesting display. It’s also worth noting that the patent is from (or rather renewed in) 1971. On the underside is a code ending in “73”, so I can’t help but wonder if this vehicle is from 1973 originally.
I find it interesting to see that, by the time this toy was originally sold, the safety objections to certain toys were already rearing their ugly, fun-sapping heads. There is already an enormous warning about not firing the missile at people (I’m sure THAT was always heeded…) under the truck, and there’s another sticker making sure that people know it’s a “missile firing toy” in front of it. If you didn’t get that it was a missile firing toy by the MISSILE FIRING INSTRUCTIONS all around it, then really, don’t you deserve what you get? That, however, is a separate rant. This is the start of the slippery slope; our dayglow waterguns and complete lack of real lawn darts are well down the slope from there.
Other than the few Army Dinkys I got from my uncle, all the rest have come from my brother who, of course, gets them second- (or more) hand. I don’t know the histories of most of my Dinkys, but this one is a bit different. Unlike a number that have come from dealers, this one actually came to me (from its original owner. Apparently, he wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it, rather than just try to flip it for a profit. My brother rightly assured him that was the case, and the deal was done.
As a collector and lover of toys, I completely understand this. I would hate to part with something I grew up with and cherished thinking it would essentially be sold into little more than slavery. To think of the things I love becoming little more than a commodity to be resold, without any love or appreciation shown for them, is quite heart-rending. I have no love of speculators and gross profit-takers when it comes to toys. Thus, if the person who once owned this particular piece should ever happen across this site, please rest assured that your much-loved Honest John is much-loved once again, and is truly appreciated and valued as a part of my growing collection. He is on prominent display and enjoying the company of his fellow Army Dinkys.
Like all Army Dinkys, the Honest John launcher is a very cool piece of both toy history and military history. Sure, it’s not a completely accurate representation of the real thing, but it is a very nice toy. It’s solidly-built and heavy as a brick, with a certain sound and feel when it’s rolled that lets you know it’s from a time long-past.
If you are a collector of militaria, military toys or a fan or the Cold War, the Dinky No. 665 Honest John is a must-have. It’s a splendid piece that not only represents one of the most iconic symbols of the Cold War, but also oozes zeitgeist from the time of its creation. It’s from a time when toy armies were all green and die cast metal; no neon colours or unneeded safety measures on this one!
I am overjoyed to have this piece in my collection, and it makes a perfect bookend to my display, opposite to the Corporal at the other end. It’s often said “they don’t make ‘em like that any more” and they’re right. This toy is a blast from the past, and if that’s your thing, go out and get one!