When you think of army vehicles, it’s usually tanks and other armoured vehicles that come to mind. They’re the ones that get all the “glory”, smashing their way through the enemy and spearheading the advances, after all. It’s no wonder they’re the most famous. However, no matter how tough the tank, armoured car or other army vehicle, there is one truth that prevails; everything breaks at some point! The Germans found this out in spades in WWII when their heavier tanks (Tigers and King Tigers) proved to be maintenance nightmares.
Thus, it is no surprise that vehicle recovery and repair is a major concern and consideration for any fighting force. To this end, the British company Scammell developed the Explorer recovery tractor as an outgrowth of their experience gained in WWII. The Explorer, officially titled the FV11301, was developed in the ‘40s and entered service in the early ‘50s. With a 10.3L, 6-cylinder engine (Man, each cylinder is like an apple juice can!) throbbing away under the bonnet, the 11301 was an extremely powerful and versatile vehicle.
Now, one thing that most boys will agree on is that tow trucks are cool. It’s always fun to have a “breakdown” and get your tow truck in there to pull the wounded car to a garage; whether or not you have a toy garage is not even really a concern. Most boys will (or at least would have, back in the day) agreed that army vehicles are also cool. So, now, take a tow truck and make it an ARMY TOW TRUCK, and you’ve got yourself a winner! Most kids don’t think about the logistics behind whether the recovery vehicle can actually recover the target in question; they just think it’s neat to hook up a damaged or “blown up” army vehicle to a green tow truck and haul backside to the motor pool for repairs.
The Dinky 661 Recovery Tractor:
I don’t know if it’s with that in mind or not that the good folks at Dinky decided to make the Scammell Recovery Tractor. There’s no doubt that it was a fixture in the British Army of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which made it a prime candidate for production as a Dinky Toy. The Scammell was introduced into the lineup in 1957, and was still available in the early ‘60s. Given its inherent play value, a long production life is not a surprise; even though the Scammell isn’t armed and can’t blow anything up, it can sure be useful to help those other vehicles that can!
Unlike the Bedford QL and Morris Quad, the Scammell is actually one of the “Dinky Supertoys” line. This is the line that was reserved for larger, heavier and more elaborate models. Often, Supertoys had working features and were larger than their “dinkier” (yes, pun intended) brethren. Because of this, the Scammell is a brute of a toy. Because the real vehicle is rather robust in its design, this bulkiness and sturdiness is carried over into the toy. The Scammells are big trucks; thickly built and powerfully proportioned, and the Dinky makes sure to convey that! I swear, if a kid was playing with this and got mad and hurled it at another kid, first aid would DEFINITELY be required.
The Scammell is painted in the ubiquitous “Dinky Dark Green” of all their military vehicles. I love that, since it gives a nice uniformity to any display. Like other trucks of both the Dinky and Supertoy lines, there is a driver seated on the right side of the cab. This small, brown-clad fellow must have seemed strange to children outside of England, since he’s driving on the “wrong side”. He’s not very detailed, but at least it shows the relative size of the truck to a person, and that’s valuable from a modelling perspective! There are a few small paint apps on the vehicle, such as the insignia on the front and back fender, as well as the headlights on the bumper. Other than that, though, you pretty much get a massive green brick inside the Scammell’s box.
The box itself is quite interesting, though. Unlike normal Dinky boxes, which are thinner yellow cardboard, the Scammell’s box is a top-lidded, two-piece affair. In this era, the Supertoys all had similar boxes with a royal blue bottom and a white/blue striped lid. The lid had a nice drawing of the toy on it as well as the name and number, and the ends of the box repeated the salient info, albeit without the art. There’s a brief description of the Scammell on the side of the box, so boys know exactly what their getting. The description is very factual and down to earth; very British in its approach to information conveyance. The inside of the box is actually an insert designed to keep the Scammell from rolling around. There is a pale yellow piece of cardboard that is cut out to the size and shape of the truck’s cab and body, and the truck rests in this.
This is a very well thought out box. Thankfully, my Uncle kept the boxes to all his toys, and they are all in very good shape. This box has done yeoman service in keeping the ravages of time away from the Scammell. However, in an insidious twist, the box has actually also CAUSED a bit of damage to the toy; since the box is cardboard, it has absorbed and held some humidity close to the truck for long periods, resulting in a bit of rusting on the axle ends, and a peculiar paint defect on one corner of the cab. It’s interesting to note that this is an early version; the “7” in the inspection stamp in the photo above indicates, I believe, that this is a 1957 issue of the Scammell, making it one of the very first!
This is why it’s a good idea to let your Dinkys hang out in the breeze. Keep the box nice, for sure, but maybe keep the contents separate. After all, if a Dinky’s in a box all the time, it’s not of much use for anything else, is it? The strange paint discolouration was ameliorated by some gentle cleaning, but it couldn’t be completely removed.
One thing that’s really great about the Scammell is the fact that it has a full-on winch system on its boom. It’s not like other, cheaper tow trucks that just have a hook on a short string, or even a plastic arm. No, the Scammell has a spool of green string that it can deploy. To draw the string off its spool requires a (GENTLE) pull on the string, but it also requires you to tilt back a lever near the base of the boom. Having a long string means that the Scammell can reach down into a ditch or other backyard obstacle to recover a disabled comrade. The hook on the truck is an impressive two-piece affair, with a metal hook that’s free to rotate inside a black plastic case. The case is very industrial looking, and has some “rivet” detail on it to add to this “hardcore” impression. Incidentally, I believe this hook is the same one used on the Supertoys Jib Crane.
What makes the Scammell really special, though, is the windup mechanism for the string. As expected, there’s a typical “Dinky crank” on the side of the vehicle. This winds up the string and pulls the Scammell’s charges to safety. However, it’s more impressive upon inspection; there is actually a ratcheting mechanism! That means that once the string is withdrawn to the desired length, it won’t just reel back out on its own! When you’re towing light things like a Hot Wheels, this might not seem important. However, the Scammell is designed to pull vehicles that are as heavy as or heavier than it, and that’s a lot of weight. Having the locking ratchet is essential, and is well-thought out on Dinky’s part. It’s because of this ratcheting mechanism that one must tilt the little lever at the base of the boom to release the string. This detracts a bit from the realism of the model, but actually makes playing with it more realistic for the person doing it. You’re not just pulling a string, you’re manipulating levers and gears, and for a kid, that’s way more fun! Seeing the release lever click up and down with each turn of the crank is also a neat added play dimension. Sure, it’s not so realistic, but remember, these were toys, not models, back in their day!
One final thing that rocks about the Scammell is the spare tire! There is a spare tire bolted to the back of the truck, and the wheel is the large, knobby kind found on all 6 corners. This means a child could have not only recovered a damaged vehicle with the Scammell, he could have also changed a tire on the Scammell itself! When you’re in the middle of a bedroom battlefield, this kind of realism is intensely important! Take it from me!
The Dinky 661 Scammell Recovery Tractor is an awesome toy, and a good model of the real vehicle. The detail level is pretty good, and the shape is right on. Although not quite up to modern kit standards in terms of fineness, the toy does a good job of representing a very important, albeit not often remembered, piece of army hardware.
Like all old Dinky Toys, this is a signpost on the highway of history. It’s from an era when boys played with sturdy army toys and did so often with careless abandon. Battles were fought in backyards and bedrooms and sandboxes, and the wear and tear on toys like this could be devastating. The Scammell was built, like most Dinkys, to take a literal and figurative pounding and keep rolling. Because of this, finding one in good shape, with its original string, can be a bit hard today. I’m very thankful my Uncle was of a more peaceful bent, keeping his small army in reserve for the day I could put them on parade.
The Scammell may not seem to be the most glorious of Dinkys, but it is a great replica and can serve as a darn-effective paperweight, should it be called upon to do so. It’s a quintessentially British vehicle from a similarly quintessential British toy maker. If you are interested in the history of replicas, the British Army and/or the Cold War, it’s definitely a must have.