Vans are great, for so many reasons. I’ve you’ve been through the Lagoon at all, you know that I have a deep love for ‘70s and ‘80s era Street and Show Vans. Vannin’ and Vanners really combined creativity, artistic talent and wild abandon to create some of the most over-the-top vehicles of all time; things that no super-tuned import or even fire-breathing muscle car can ever quite equal. For a time, vans were a big thing not only on the street, but on the toy and model racks as well. Companies were quick to capitalize on what was “cool” to sell products to kids, and that means that there are a lot of scale vans out there to collect!
Vans were also great for toy companies because they were so flexible. All a toy company needed was one or two van toys and they could load them up with nearly infinitely varied graphics, meaning they could shift tonnes of the same units to kids with only minimal investment in tooling. Hot Wheels was great for this, but Corgi was no slouch either; both had small scale (about 1/64) vans that were adorned with all kinds of interesting, cheesy or downright bizarre graphics, stripes and motifs. Another advantage of vans was that they were a perfect billboard for applying licenced likenesses to vehicles that were otherwise utterly unrelated to the van. Hot Wheels did this with some of their Marvel licences back in the day, but Corgi, that cheeky British purveyor of not-quite-Hot-Wheels and not-quite-as-good-as-Matchbox was also in on this.
Corgi tended to make odd custom vehicles for their licenced products, but they would also put licensed likeness on their van casting. Most famously, there were Superman vans and Charlie’s Angels vans, but I’m sure there are others, too. One thing Corgi did have that Hot Wheels did not, however, was a line of much larger toys. These were roughly 1/43, and of course there was a custom van in that line too. This mould also got the Superman and Charlie’s Angels treatment, along with other purely custom trims. This van was quite deluxe, because it had a four-panel glass roof and opening rear doors, as well as a customized cardboard “interior” insert. For the Supervan, this was a “control centre” with screens and the like, and for the Charlie’s Angels van, it was a more feminine interior with wood panelling and a couple of beds.
However, all of this is just backstory; a history lesson to get us all on the same page. This article ISN’T about these well-known vans. This article isn’t even about a Corgi van. This article is about something else. It’s not completely different, but it’s also not the same. It’s one of those things that you just have to see to believe. Even then, it’s a bit of a head shaker.
What I am talking about, of course is the largely unknown, roughly 1/43 Star Angels van.
A Corgi by Any Other Name…
I was at a toy show in Woodstock, Ontario, and there was a fellow selling a great many die cast cars. He had a lot of cool stuff, including mint condition Zylmex, Yatming and Tomica cars, as well as the more “mundane” Hot Wheels and Matchbox stuff. He also had a big collection of Russian die cast in their boxes (more on them eventually) and some beautiful Matchbox Super Kings. In with those larger vehicles, one stood out. It was a yellow-orange van, and I immediately supposed it was a Corgi. My inner Vanner-wannabe locked onto it immediately, and when I picked it up, I noticed that it was a bit… different, if you would, from other Corgis I’d seen.
The back end looked like the Corgi Superman van, with two openable doors and two horizontal custom tail lights. However, the windows were square; normally, on a Corgi, they’re oval. I also noticed that the van was a “hard roof”; the glass panels weren’t present. There was a sunroof, and two “domes” that were solid, but that was unusual. The front end, though, really gave me a start. It was a completely custom unit, with no real headlights or grille like any other van I’d ever seen! Whereas the Corgi has a normal Chevy van front, this had a horizontal bar grille, and then vertically barred “headlights”. It gave the van a much more radical custom look, and I was intrigued.
I opened the back doors and saw the expected “control center” (it even says so!) with cheesy screens and sci-fi gadgetry on it. There was no obvious tie in to any licence, though. Then, I took a look at the side, to see exactly what I had in my hands… I saw a very nicely matched yellow-orange decal with large white letters, stars, clouds and three faces on it. I didn’t recognize the faces. Heck, I barely realized they were supposed to be human females, to be honest! But what it said above these tortured visages told me everything and nothing, all at once.
What, in the name of any- and everything holy is/was/are/will be/should never be/could-have-been “Star Angels”? Just WHAT? That’s the first, and for a few seconds, only, thing that my mind could come up with. Then it started to make sense. I’ve seen enough dollar store “combining super road fighting robot cyber warrior police team trans-morphing” Transformer “variants” to know a knockoff when I see one. This had to be that, didn’t it?
I mean, look at it. There are three, let’s suppose they’re females, for argument’s sake, highlighted on the van’s side. I suppose they’re supposed to be glamourous, and the stars and clouds and sunbursts do add a certain “saviour-like” grandiose-ness to their likenesses. If you can ignore the fact that they look like some kind of enforcer team for Martha Stewart, and given that they are three, and have “angels” in their name, my poor brain couldn’t help but assume this was some kind of crazy Charlie’s Angels knockoff.
The question, though, is why? Was Charlie’s Angels really so great, so overwhelmingly popular that it was worth it for someone to bother knocking off the Corgi Van? And if so, why didn’t whoever made this just do that, and just copy the van?
Up to the Challenge
That’s what makes this van so interesting and trippy. Well, that, and the fact that we now have a feel for what the Golden Girls did before they retired and Estelle Getty joined the crew. This van is, but at the same time isn’t, a knockoff. I mean, it’s clear (ish?) what the manufacturer was going for, I think. They wanted to compete in the licenced 1/43 custom van market. I can only assume this was a more hotly contested chunk of the toy market than I remember, since that’s the only way to justify the work needed to make this thing…
There’s nothing on this van, except the tail lights, that is exactly like the Corgi it rips off pays homage to. The maker had to go and create a new mould, with a solid roof, to start with. Add the custom front end and you’re not talking about new tooling again. Not only that, but this van is BETTER than the Corgi, because it has actual, open portholes! The Charlie’s Angels van only has decal portholes! Weak! Add to this the custom “Control Center” in the back, and what you have is a toy that would have likely cost MORE to make than the Corgi it was (at least spiritually) based on!
Even more interesting is that it’s not a cheap toy. It’s just as weighty as a Corgi Supervan, and it rolls as well as one too. (Namely not at all. These things suck at free-wheeling.) There aren’t any sharp edges or gross blobs of flash all over the place, the detail (what’s there) is crisp, and the doors are tight; tighter, actually, than the Corgi equivalent! There’s even chassis detail! Put that together with a separate piece chrome steering wheel, non-chrome interior and coloured glass, and you actually have a toy that’s very impressive. The only place it doesn’t out-shine the Corgi is the wheels. These are one-piece tires with painted on chrome “wheels”, whereas the Corgi has separate wheels and tires. No biggie.
Then there’s the decal. And that’s where it’s both the strongest, and the weakest. The physical quality of the decal is amazing. It is a tough, almost plastic-like material. You can see it wants to lift off the van in spots, but it is thick and doesn’t roll. It retains its shape well, and is very glossy. It also matches the van AMAZINGLY well. How many times have we seen decals that are supposed to “blend in” that aren’t even close? Yeah. I’m talking to you, Corgi Supervan…
So the question then, is, who made this, and why? Well, we may never know why (unless it’s because Bea Arthur paid someone to put her likeness on a van), but thanks to the underside, we can find out who. The entity to whom we should pay thanks for this most interesting piece of history is none other than the world-famous SZE Toys. Yep. You know them from such great toys as, uh… well… huh. Well, maybe we DON’T know them and they’re NOT as famous as I would have thought. However, they ought to be, I think. Unsurprisingly, this toy was made in Hong Kong. I’m going to leave it at that.
However, just when you thought the fairly vague but not incorrect chassis detail would be no place for extra oddness, you were wrong. “Okay, what can be weird down there” you ask? (This is a bad question, given how these lovely “ladies” look on the van’s side… oh wait, never mind… you mean down there on the VAN! Got it…) Well, the one thing you wouldn’t expect to have any room for weirdness is the oddball part; the toy’s number. Most toy companies have a number to identify castings, etc. Dinky Toys each had a number, as do Models of Yesteryear. It’s not strange at all. However, it is strange when that number is NOT a whole, round number. That’s right; this toy is number 70 1/2. Yep, 70.5. What? How fine a resolution does SZE use? Is there a “Suped-Up Man” van that’s 70 5/8? It’s just too much to think about.
The Star Angles are not something I’m familiar with. I checked, and there is a female musical group from Russia or somewhere close by that uses that name. However, they’re much newer than this van. (Heck, maybe SZE should contact them and update the van FOR them!). There’s also a series of Ukrainian novels (I believe for teenagers) called the Star Angels series, but that’s way post-van too. So, I think it’s safe to assume that neither of these two is related. Thus, it seems that, for better or worse, the Star Angels, their mission, and the name of their stylists, will forever remain a mystery. Maybe it’s better that way, so we can each experience them in our own way.
All oddness aside, though, the Star Angels van is really a blast! It’s a good toy, with excellent decals, nice detailing inside and quality that’s right up there with the biggest of its competitors. With a surprisingly unique style and presence all its own, it’s a great piece for collectors to keep an eye out for. I have no idea how common it is, but I’ve never seen another one. If anyone has, or has a different variant of this vehicle, I hope they’ll drop me a line!
If you like die cast, Street Vans, oddball knockoffs or any combination of those, then this is definitely a good item to seek out. It has all the charm and quality of a mainline toy, with the added bonus of the funhouse mirror reflection of pop culture that can only be found in a knockoff. It’s the best of all worlds, and for that, it gets top marks from me!