When I was growing up, I can remember running into only a couple of different 1/43 scale replica car brands. On was the relatively short-lived “Super Hot Wheels” series. I always thought they were weird, because there were so many cars in the line that just weren’t known to me. Things like a Maserati Biturbo, and various Saabs and Lancias. I loved the 3rd Gen Firebird, and used it as a Knight Rider Car (i.e. KITT) a lot when I was a kid. However, the line meant little to me because the bulk of the subjects were so foreign.
There was another line I sometimes saw, and got a few of as presents, and that was made by the Italian firm Burago. Of course, I now know that the Super Hot Wheels were just reboxed Buragos, since both were made in Italy! That definitely explains the Saabs, Lancias and Alfa Romeos! However, 1/43 just wasn’t that cool a scale in North America, despite it being big in Europe.
And big in Europe it was. There are still lots of 1/43 replicas from Europe, and of course there are my Russian Die Cast that are also in that scale. I’m sure there are lots of makers I’ve never heard of. The scale seems to have been, and still be, popular for both high-end, very detailed and precise replicas, as well as for more simplified toys. Even Dinky made some cars in 1/43 nearer to the end of its life!
One brand that I was not familiar with on the toy side was the French maker “Solido”. My uncle used to collect the Solido “Age d’Or” (Golden Age) replicas when I was young, but these were expensive, highly-detailed, very fine replicas of mostly ‘20s and ‘30’s cars. The were on par with Franklin Mint stuff, and were clearly not for little hands. They’re still on display and look stunning, even today! However, there was another side to Solido that I only just encountered recently. Not only did they do high-end stuff, they also made cheaper replicas for kids.
Enter the Solido “Cougar” range. No, I don’t know why the French constantly use wildcat names to denote a lower-end product. They did the same for the cheap models, calling them “Bobkits” with a bobcat face on the box. My Harrier T.4 is one, although it lacks the feline boxing…
Now, the Cougar line seems to have been right on par with the Burago line – more or less. They’re cheaper, simplified models, most without opening doors. They’re simply painted with one colour bodies and integral chassis-interior “underpans”. Glass headlights seem to have been a de rigeur thing for 1/43s in Europe, and the Cougars follow suit, sometimes. They all have the same, un-detailed wheels that do not attempt to replicate any real wheel pattern, but do a great job of looking uninspiring and Euro-cheap, just like so many of the wheels on the real cars.
Your Toys are Obscene!
There are some things in this world that are culturally independent, and can be enjoyed and appreciated by people the world over. Good examples of this are art and music. However, some other things are incredibly rooted in their culture, with two very marked examples being desserts and cars. I find I don’t mind most cultures’ foods, but when it comes to desserts, I find things just fall apart. They’re too much of an ingrained, and acquired, taste. The same is oh-so-very-true for cars. Cars that seem perfectly acceptable in terms of styling, layout or performance in one culture are completely ridiculous in others.
A perfect example of this was shown in an old (Motor Trend I think) magazine, where the editors took a 2nd Generation Trans Am to Europe. Of course, over there, a T/A is rarer than a Ferrari, and due to strict European taxation, high-displacement engines are almost never seen. An engine on the scale of 400cid is almost ungodly. Apparently, one Frenchman shouted “Your car is obscene!” to the editors. Of course, to me, a Trans Am is not only beautiful, it’s also a moderately- sized sporty car. To them, it’s a humungous, gas-eating abomination. No surprise, then, that the opposite also holds true.
Regardless of their technical (de)merits, drivability or suitability for their home markets, I consider most European everyday cars to be nearly as obscene and alien as the Frenchman found the Trans-Am so long ago. They’re too small, oddly styled and hopelessly gutless. (This was even more true up until the late ‘80s.) It doesn’t really matter to me what country they’re from; most European non-supercars just seem too awkward; too many worlds removed from what I grew up with.
Of course, that means that I want models or toys of them ALL. I’ve had good luck getting a number of Majorette and Matchbox Renault toys, and that’s worth something. But there are so many more. I found this out when I recently received some as a gift from my brother. (He always gets me the coolest stuff!)
So, what all was in my “flock of fails”? The first thing I saw was the Talbot Tagora, as my eyes immediately were drawn to its brown, boxy good looks. This was a model I’d just recently learned existed, and I was amazed to find out my brother had bought this for me BEFORE I knew there was a toy of it! Also in there was an Alfa Romeo Alfasud, a Renault 14, a Peugeot 104 and a Citroen Visa! It was like my well-worn copy of Craig Cheetham’s “World’s Worst Cars” book had come to life! I recognized three of the cars, but the Visa and 104 were new. Either they weren’t sufficiently crappy to be in the book, or they got left behind. I can tell you, they were certainly ugly enough to be in the book!
From Where, To Where?
The Cougar toys seem to have a somewhat more difficult development history than I might have thought, when I first got them. It seems they were the last products deployed by Dinky France, and as such are definitely interesting. My French Military Dinky Toys are actually finer, better moulded and more impressive than my British ones. However, the Cougars are anything but fine and precise, and it’s interesting to consider them as possible Dinky Toys. If so, it’s easy to see how the mighty had fallen, and the collapse of Dinky France could hardly have been unforeseen if quality had fallen this far in only two decades.
If you want to wade through all the history of where they came from, why some Solidos have Dinky Bases etc., etc., go here. https://www.planetdiecast.com/index.php?option=com_kunena&func=view&catid=60&id=24911&Itemid=0
I’ll admit, I gave up. I’m interested in the cars, and really can’t be bothered to figure out this tangled web of Solido/Dinky interbreeding. Suffice to say that the Cougars might have started largely as Dinky moulds (there’s a Fiesta that I have as a Spanish Dinky, and it’s a very fine, heavy replica), but by the end they were pretty watered down and the Cougars were basically low-end (what we’d call “dollar store” or the British would call “pocket money”) replicas based on earlier, maybe more nicely-finished, models.
The most interesting thing is not where they came from, but rather where the Cougars ended up. In Europe, the Cougars were offered under the Solido name and boxed, like many other Solidos. They were also sold on blister cards, without any real “Solido” naming on them, just an orange card with a big black wildcat (likely a Cougar, but I can’t tell) and “Metal” and “Cougar” in huge letters on the pack. These might have been for British markets, or others where “Solido” had no real meaning or cachet.
However, they also made their way to Canada! I know this, because my small collection of Cougars has Leisure World price tags on them, and that was a South-Western Ontario hobby shop chain until around 2000 or so, when it closed. That’s a shame, by the way – they did it all, and had a lot of cool stuff. The packs my Cougars came in are unlike anything else I could find on the internet – they’re blue, boring as heck, and say “Solido” but not “Cougar”. The bubbles are generic, and whatever car it is just fits inside them. The car is called out in the top right corner, and there’s NOTHING on the back. This is some bare-bones stuff!
Below, you’ll find a selection of Cougars that I have for your viewing pleasure. If you like low-end replicas of godawful cars, then you, my friend, have come to the right place!
Talbot Tagora: One of the least inspired “executive” cars ever, it failed to live up to any expectations.
Renault 14: The “pear” from Renault; what more can be said about this little toad of a car?