We all know that Vannin’ was a big thing in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. With huge boxes to work with, there was a tonne of room for expression, both inside and out. However, despite the best efforts of Ford and Dodge to get in on the Vannin’ craze, the fact was that not everyone could afford a van. Also, not everyone might want to actually drive one, despite its apparently potent girl-attracting power. There were plenty of would-be Vanners for whom a van was out of reach financially, but who also had to consider things like gas, insurance and where to actually PUT the darned thing. In big cities, room is sometimes scarce, and a rolling bordello is not as easy to parallel park as a compact car.
One solution, as proposed by Ford, was to create ‘mini-vans’ from Pintos. This was not embraced as widely as the Blue Oval Brigade had hoped, and the Cruising Wagon was never the ubiquitous stand-in for the Street Van that they had hoped. However, there was another class of vehicle that DID succeed in being its own niche of the custom culture. This was the mini-truck. Nowadays, customized mini trucks seem to be “nothing new”. There have always been people dropping/slamming or wildly painting trucks, right? Well, yes and no.
Back in the ‘70s, there WERE no North American mini-trucks. The American trucks were all huge, full-sized machines designed more for work than play, and boasting van-like proportions. However, Japanese trucks, available primarily on the west coast, provided an alternative. Thus, the Datsun 620 in its various forms, along with a few others, began to inevitably succumb to the customizers’ sprayguns, tape stripe kits and wild imaginations as far as bodywork goes. One of the more famous, and standardized, of these customs was something called the “California Sunshine”. This was a conversion kit for adding IMSA flares to a Datsun 620. If you wonder why, the question is really: “Why would you NOT add IMSA flares to a custom in the ‘70s???”
Apparently, the kits were offered by the “California Step Side Manufacturing Incorporated” company. Now, every California Sunshine that I’ve seen has a custom grille and square headlights. This vehicle was so famous that MPC even retooled their Datsun 620 into one of them. I can only hope that, one day, Round 2 will reissue this version, as I don’t have one, and have never seen one intact. However, MPC was not the only one to get in on the California Sunshine IMSA vibe. Nope. There was another company that offered a replica along these lines as well. That maker was Zylmex.
Yep, Zylmex. They were a die cast toy car producer in the ‘70s and ‘80s, from Hong Kong. They usually made quite fine, but often rather delicate, toy cars in the popular 1/64 size. They were, of course, nowhere near as popular as Hot Wheels or even Matchboxes, and they occupied a very small portion of the North American market. They were right up there with Playart and Yatming, actually. If you don’t know those makers either, you likely weren’t playing with toy cars in the ‘80s. If you do know them, then you had some and you know who I mean. However, Zylmex was big enough to have its own logo, and that, actually, is pretty darned amazing!
An oddity I came across at a recent toy show was a large scale Zylmex! I didn’t know they made big toys, and this particular vehicle was close to 1/43 scale! What made it even cooler was that it was a custom Datsun 620 pickup! I love 620s, and I love lame ‘70s customs, so this thing was a definite keeper! If you want some weirdo die cast, then keep on reading!
The first impression this truck gives is that it has “angry ‘70s custom” in all the right places! I mean, look at it! It’s got nearly everything! Just starting at the back, you can see those big, California Sunshine flares. They are clearly not stock, but they help contain the rather large wheels that this truck is riding on. In that way, the Zylmex really captures the custom spirit of the times. Of course, no custom paintjob, no matter how red it is, is complete without some kind of wacky striping. There is some weird yellow/orange alternating bar thing in the IMSA-intake section of the flare, and this really, while not being the most artistic, works. These stripes are on plasticized paper decals, and it’s amazing they’ve lasted so long and so well, even still being shiny on the surface!
Another large and impressive decal adds another, improbably excessive custom touch. The entire bed is decalled as if it was wood! How awesome is that! So often big pickups are customized with wood beds, so the good folks at Zylmex decided to do the same with their outrageous custom mini-truck! I won’t lie – it’s a bit ridiculous, but that’s what makes it so awesome! They went to so much trouble to make the decal fit very well in the bed, too, and it almost makes it to the edges on all sides. The brown colour and black woodgrain definitely get the point across. It can be taken two ways, too. One interpretation is that this is how Zylmex represented a true “wooden bed” conversion. The other is that if this truck was real, it would have a wood veneer actually glued to the metal bed, just like this decal! Either way, it’s proof that Zylmex was on the ball with this one!
The one opening feature on this truck is the tailgate, a typical nod to playability on pickups of most larger scales (i.e. larger than 1/64). The gate on this one, though, is very oddly hinged. Instead of just hinging on pins at the bed’s edge, the (somewhat bulged-appearing) tailgate is hinged UNDER the truck, at the end of a curving arm! This unusual arrangement means that, when the tailgate is opened, the unit actual rests on the ground! WTF? I don’t know if that’s legit for California Sunshines, but I’m willing to bet it isn’t! Why Zylmex chose this much more complicated system is beyond me. However, it does make me think it would be a lot easier to load in angry dirt bikes on a real truck thusly equipped? Zylmex must have channeled their inner ‘70s rage and wife-beater-sporting afterschool-special troubled youth to come up with this one!
Moving towards the front of the truck, we of course run into side pipes. You can’t not have side pipes on a truck like this. I’m frankly surprised they didn’t go with smokestacks, actually, but you can’t have both. (Wait… why not? Hmmm….) The side pipes are big and chrome and totally unsuited to the likely anemic powerplant below the hood. This again makes them totally appropriate for the time! Note too that the door handles have been shaved. This is not only an awesome custom touch, it also saves money for Zylmex on tooling. This must be something they learned from Hot Wheels’ early days: if there was a car called “Custom <whatever>” it meant little to no surface detailing or even correct head/tail light configurations. It’s a good student that can learn and apply. Zylmex is clearly aspiring to mastery, here.
It’s also cool to note that there’s a very large sunroof. This helped save them some metal in the die-casting process, I’m sure, and as clear plastic is much cheaper, it’s not a surprise to see it. It does let you see the two black seats and separate-piece chrome steering wheel that forms the not-overly-detailed interior, though. There’s no reason to have much of an interior, truth be told; this thing’s all about the body kit and external custom touches. And speaking of those things… check out the front third of this little monster!
Of course, there are the front flares. That’s a given. However, there’s also a large chin spoiler/air dam. What surprised me on this was that it is as restrained as it is! It’s not one of those cowcatchers that IMSA vehicles (like Gold Rush) often have; it’s just tall. The front bumper is chrome, but is hilarious in that it is actually set back from the grille! Thus, in a crash, it would do nothing. Of course, if you’re driving a pimp truck like this, you’d better not crash it. ‘Nuff said. The hood, though… that’s where it’s going on! Check it out!
First, and foremost, (I think) is the immense, JC Whitney-esque wannabe Street Rat hood scoop! Okay, so what’s the deal with that? Unless the engine has been customized too, it’s just a Datsun 4 under the hood. Why would it need such a big hood scoop? Also, why is it so narrow? Well, the answer is clearly that a.) It wouldn’t matter in real life, because you need a big hood scoop to be cool, and b.) It doesn’t need to be wide, because there’s no guarantee it’s even functional! Even if it was, we can assume that because the engine is small, it doesn’t need a wide hood scoop! Note, too, that with the height as it is, the opening for air ingress would still be large enough to be effective.
The second thing you’ll notice is the odd “flame” decal on the hood. This actually looks a little like G1 Hot Rod, the cool Transformers futuristic sports car. It also, of course, has a bit of the typical “Trans Am Wannabe” that so many lame late ‘70s and early ‘80s decals had. Whether it was the Cobra on Cobra IIs and early Fox-Stangs, the Bee on the AMC Hornets, the lame “flaming arrow” decal on the Dodge Fire Arrow in 1979, or the flaming “AMX” decal on late Spirit-AMXs, EVERYBODY was trying to be like the T/A in those days. However, the Fire Chicken always has, and always will, reign supreme in terms of intricacy and impact. Zylmex’s attempt to join this crew of TA-wannabes is the “flaming collar” of this mini-truck. They yellow flame pattern is outlined by a blackish brown outline. This is supposed to add contrast, I think, but it doesn’t quite work.
The main reason it doesn’t work is because it’s so sloppy! It looks like a drunkard applied it in a dark closet using a half-dead Sharpie ™ marker! What’s amazing is that it wraps over the hood scoop like it does. Then it hit me; the only way it can do that, is if it’s PAINT. That’s right, the flame and its attendant outline are, in fact, painted on! That’s a lot of work for a third-tier toy company, and the toy is all the better for it!
The grille is interesting, because it’s a totally conventional Datsun 620 grille! Unlike California Sunshines, which have square headlights, a bar-grille and Shelby-like fog lights in the centre of the grille, this one just has a normal, factory-stock front facia. Why? Maybe it’s due to copyrights, maybe it’s because they based it on a more conventional 620 mould and couldn’t be bothered to change the grille? Who knows. I do like it though, because it makes this toy just that little bit more bizarre.
The underside of the truck is also metal; something usually reserved for much more expensive toys, and is painted in a semi-matte black. On it there’s the barest minimum of technical detail, but there is the Zylmex name and logo, and the item number “R654”. There’s also the name: “Datsun Sunshine”. Huh. So, they clearly don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but they clearly mean to use the California Sunshine idea to the (barely?) legal limit. Nice work, and exactly what you’d expect in a Hong Kong toy from the turn of the decade into the ‘80s.
I did find out that this was sold as part of the Zee Toys (the apparent parent of Zylmex) “Pacesetters” line. It seems to have consisted of this version and an orange version with more “stripey” striping and no wooden bed. They were sold on blister cards, also unusual for an all-metal 1/43 toy, and were made in 1980. I’ve never seen one in the pack, and in fact, this one is the only one I’ve ever seen in real life. There is apparently also a red version with a pair of white contoured stripes on the hood, but no side decals. The only one of this I’ve seen online came in a bubble-box, like a late Dinky Toy. Of course, you know I want them all!
The Zylmex “Datsun Sunshine” is a very cool die cast. It’s fairly high-quality, although there are some roughness issues at the body seams, and the doors look like they might have once opened, but don’t now. The paint is surprisingly good on both the chassis and the truck body, mind you there are some ‘thin spots’ in the corners of the bed. This is not unexpected.
The truck is surprisingly heavy, being all metal, and it rolls very well. I had a heck of a time keeping it corralled while I was taking pictures of it! It’s not super-detailed, but it is good enough you can get a feel for what Zylmex was going for.
As far as larger Die Casts go, the Datsun Sunshine is a very cool example of a very weird choice of subject matter from a rarely-remembered purveyor of toy cars. It oozes period Zeitgeist, and is a definitely colourful addition to any display! I do love the wooden bed, too, as that just takes it right up over the top. While this might not be a common vehicle, If you like ‘70s customs or mini-trucks, it’ll definitely be up your alley. If you’re just in to the weird and wonderful, this little guy has you covered there, as well!
If you see one, I encourage you to pick it up. You won’t be sorry!