Majorette

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Majorette are die-cast toy company originally from Lyon in France, founded in 1961 by Norev creator Émile Véron. He had originally started producing model railway based toys, branded as Rail-Route. Three years later the first model cars are produced, and by 1967 the company were re-branded Majorette and due to the success of the new venture ceased produced railway models. Exports across Europe and the UK started to establish the company reputation and soon became the biggest French model car manufacturer.

The original series of models, were known as the 100 serie, consisting of a line up of cars, trucks and other road vehicles. They were comparable to the matchbox models of the period. The first 200 series models were released in 1970, they were bigger than the previous models but continued the line of realistic road cars. Majorette had clearly decided to increase the scales to align and compete against Matchbox and Mattels Hot Wheels of 3 inch die cast models. However, there were fundamental differences between Majorette and it rivals, it stayed true to its road car philosophy, whereas Matchbox and Mattel often used fantasy, modified and outlandish designs.

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230 Peugeot 204 1968-1974 Opening side doors (missing windscreen)

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221 Renault 16 1967-1970 Opening bonnet and side front doors

They also offered opening features, the previous 100 serie model cars from the 60’s offered far more opening features per model, but manufacturing overheads limited the 200 series to just a single opening feature. The range also featured a thin twin axle mounted bars, longitudinally mounted within the metal chassis plate which didn’t travel too well across the play room floor, but would absorb bumpy surfaces in a realistic fashion.

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Not all models offered suspension, some wheels were fixed at the axle but nearly all of the early 70’s car castings featured metal baseplates, finished off with a series of attractive mag style plastic wheel. These earlier castings were sold with a two piece black plastic wheel and a silver plastic hub. By 1972 all castings used a single piece plastic wheel, which included a variety of different styles centres as the decade progressed. Some later models also sold with somewhat exaggerated wide racing style wheels, which while not unattractive (it offered an almost caricature feel to some sports models) did suggest that Majorette were exploring other avenues other than realism.

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Early style wheel, with white centre.

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Post 1972 style wheels

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mid 1970’s to early 1980’s style wheels

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1980’s style wheels

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1990’s style wheels

Some wheel designs remained in production for decades, and were never totally exclusive to a model. Some castings often included 2 different styles, although smaller scales (bigger cars) often used smaller wheels.

The range did heavily feature French models, mostly family cars but also produced a series of European, American and Japanese cars. The majority of models also offered extra play value by including opening features.

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Sprung mounted side opening doors, which would snap shut was also a pleasing feature.

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Opening bonnet, note the use of the shared engine, wing mirror with the interior casting.

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Opening boot, one of the only instances used.

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Opening tailgates

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Plastic tailgate.

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Opening plastic hatch, note the boot luggage details

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Opening plastic van doors

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Majorette also started deploying other features on their models, a select number of 1980’s and 1990’s models also offered plastic sliding sunroofs.

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Some were see through plastic glass too.

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Another innovation was the use of steering, like systems used in previous years by other companies, pressure on the front wheel would allow the wheel to pivot in the opposite direction. This meant that there was no suspension on these models. The idea was relatively short lived and only featured on a handful of cars.

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A couple of late 80’s castings also offered a simple plastic pop up headlamp design.

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What also singled out the brand, was the consistent use of realistic French number plates, some models sported the administrative department number of Lyon which was 69, others sported the 75 Paris plate. A small number had generic plates, some post 1990 models had transfers.

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Many models also were designed with tow bars, with the plastic interior casting being part of the hitch retainer to stop caravans being flung around at speed!

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The castings were accurate in proportion and used similar assembly construction to larger 1/43 models. Some models employed chassis lug techniques to also display headlamps, while other models shared the plastic window casting as headlamps.

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Headlamps shared with glass assembly

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Tail lamps shared with glass assembly

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Tail lights shared with interior assembly

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Models also offered a large number of re-colours throughout the castings history, Majorette tended to recolour their models very regularly and it’s quite possible to find as many as 10 colour variations per casting.

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Initial colours were generally realistic, with some very attractive hues being used, some examples however were not only ruined by the inappropriate colours, but also the colouring of the moldings.

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Decals were applied using methods appropriate to the technology at the time, plastic transfer slides were common on most models, even production family cars would have them, usually a generic design with no actual brand. Some of the later models had etched tampos with a varying degree of success. In some cases quite realistic sponsors would be included but this practice is noticeably rare in the 80’s models, no doubt due to the prohibitive costs of licensing.

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241 Daf Bache circa 1970

Like Matchbox, Majorette offered more than just cars, their range included commercial, construction, farm, trains, motorbikes and other forms of transportation.

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All models displayed the model name on the baseplate but never a year of manufacture although did display the model number and a scale size. Pre 1987 castings proudly displayed their country of origin, later models either had no indication or Made in Thailand.

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This meant that some models, particularly larger 1/60 scale cars sat somewhat unhappily next to 1/53 scale Superminis, but this was clearly a constraint to packaging.

They were originally sold in plastic perspex boxes, similar to schuco’s 2 piece container with a lid, a polyurethane mount specific to the model and a small piece of paper acting mostly as a advert rather than anything else.

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The lid was kept secure by circular ‘buttons’. Producing these attractive and strong cases would have bumped up the costs of the model, so a cheaper solution emerged in 1975/76.

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A typical late 70’s/early 80’s example of packaging.

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Late 80’s packaging, using the 200 series labling.

The plastic cases were replaced by a polyurethane transparent box with a white plastic base. It still allowed the whole model to be displayed, but in far more secure fashion. This style of box remained virtually unchanged into the 90’s. Once these boxes were opened, it would be impossible to reseal and repackage the model.

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These cases were also joined by the bubble pack, a standard practice use by most small scale die-cast manufacturers at the time. This solution enabled more sales by utilising hanger pegs rather than shelves in the shops.

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The back of the card featured a checklist of the current models for sale.

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Some Promo models were sold with a resealable polyurethane packaging. This dates from the mid 80’s as a promotional toy for Defensor.

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Bubble packs became the standard form of packaging as the polyurethane boxes were phased out in the early 90’s. This is an early 2000’s example. Majorette continue to package their models as bubble packs to this day.

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Some models during the late 90’s/early 2000’s were sold in a square box reminiscent of the 1970’s-1980’s style boxes.

In 1989 Majorette expanded their 1/64 model range to include seven higher priced highly detailed Deluxe Collection series of 1/64 models in plastic, sold in plusher packaging selling at around 4 times the price of their standard metal models. These models were unusual as there were very few high detailed 1/64 models available at the time, with the notible exception of Matchbox who had some success with their World Class series. The choice of cars available included the following models:

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1001 Jaguar XJ-SC V-12 Cabriolet with opening side doors

Each model was made from an advance type of plastic which allowed the unpainted models to have a high level of detail. Unlike Matchboxes World Class models, these were bespoke castings and had nothing in common with their cheaper siblings.

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1002 Ferrari F40 with opening side doors and rear engine lid

The results were actually worth the extra cost, and included opening features, chrome plating, engine detail and rubber tyres. The metal bases with screws gave some weight to create the impression of solidity.

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1003 Porsche 911 Turbo with opening side doors

The level of accuracy was of a good standard, and would have a lot of appeal to collectors if they were released today.

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1004 Lamborghini Countach with lifting side doors and rear engine lid

The range lasted for no more than two years, as sales would have been slow. Other models offered include the 1006 Rolls Royce Corniche and 1007 Mercedes 500 SL.

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1005 Ferrari Testarossa with opening side doors and rear engine lid

The marketing people for Majorette may have calculated that prestige and supercar models would have more appeal than the homegrown selection of French cars, which in hindsight seems logical. It’s a shame that the range was not allowed to expand, perhaps it’s a case of the right product released at the wrong time. They were not widely distributed in the UK, although some specialised model shops would have stocked a limited number.

Other models, with younger collectors in mind also utilised the increasing use of miniture electronics to increase play value. Several vehicles were released in the early 90’s fitted with pencil batteries to operate flashing lights and sirens. The downside would obviously be that the battery had a limited lifespan, and the model would effectively lose its novelty if dropped water!

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BMW 750i with flashing headlamps

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Porsche 928 with flashing roof lights

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233 Renault Express released in the late 2000’s as part of an ongoing Cadbury’s promotion.

In the UK, the majority of the standard 200 Serie sales were in chemists, small independent toy shops, discount and drug stores, rather than the Matchbox/Mattel dominated supermarkets and were often priced slightly lower than their rivals, in the mid 80’s typically selling for around 20% less than a Matchbox or Corgi model. As distribution into the 90’s wavered, they became increasingly hard to find, but promotional models were still available.

More recently the die cast toy car market has been dominated by Mattel, with Hot Wheels being available in most of the major UK supermarkets, although in 2013 Morrison’s started supplying a limited range of models, with larger Tesco’s and Toys ‘R Us more recently supplying both the premium and standard range of models.

While Majorette experienced financial uncertainty during the 90’s it also absorbed some of Europe’s smaller die cast manufacturers, such as Spains Mira and Portugals Novacar ranges. Mira’s identity and castings were effectively stopped, but Novacar continued for a period with a series of Majorette castings (with a couple of unique models being produced) utilising Majorette’s wheel designs. The models had plastic bodies with metal baseplates (the opposite to Majorette in fact) and didn’t offer any opening parts. The cars were often finished in bright colours and racing numbers.

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Novacar’s Peugeot 605

Below are a selection of my own Majorette models, they are organised roughly by their year of manufacturer in order of their numbering sequence. It is not a complete list of models available. I have not included commercial vehicles, tractors, F1 cars etc.

1971-1980

The decade started with a carryover of some of the 60’s 100 Series, which were quickly replaced by larger models with less opening features but matching the quality. However, as the models were always aimed at children, Majorette deployed a vivid colour palette occasionally coupled with outlandish decals but in the right colour the castings were amongsts the best on offer, particularly when main rivals Matchbox were concentrating on outlandish fantasy designs. Majorette kept their model range with a handful of exceptions, based on real vehicles – and even those generic designs were subtle and sober in their designs. Perhaps the most surreal design offered by Majorette could be seen on 237 Citroën Dyane Maharadjah produced from 1975 to 1978, it was based on the Citroen Dyane, with some artist license.

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202 Volkswagen 1302 1972-1974 – short lived model with opening bonnet

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203 Volkswagen 1302 1972-1980 – released at the same time as 202, casting re-introduced in the 90’s

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203 Fiat 127 1972-1978 opening side doors

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206 Citroën DS 21 1974-1980 Ambulance opening plastic tailgate

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207 Jaguar E-Type 1972-1978 lifting front engine cover

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208 Chrysler 180 1974-1977 opening front side doors

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209 Dodge Camper 1974-1979

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210 Volkswagen K70 1973-1976 Opening front side doors. Some versions also available with rectangle headlamps

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210 Volkswagen Golf 1978-1985 Opening tailgate

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212 Dodge breakdown 1974-1981

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213 Mercedes 350SL 1975-1979 opening boot lid

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216 Plymouth Fury 1974-1980 also available as a taxi

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217 BMW Turbo 1976-1983 opening plastic gullwings

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219 Simca Matra Bagheera 1974-1982 Opening plastic window toned lifting tailgate

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220 Volvo 245 DL 1976-1983 Opening tailgate

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221 Bertone Camargue 1974-1981 a concept car based on the Citroen GS, plastic window toned lifting tailgate

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225 Dodge Safari Pick-Up 1973-1979. Canopy is removable.

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229 Datsun 260Z 1976-1984 opening doors

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230 Renault 4L 1975-1981

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231 Citroën Dyane Rallye 1976-1983

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234 Simca 1100 Ti 1975-1979 Opening tailgate

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235 BMW 3.0 1974-1977 opening doors

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237 Citroën Dyane Maharadjah 1975-1978 originally fitted with an umbrella attached to the rear

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238 Peugeot 604 1977-1983 opening bonnet

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239 Simca Matra 670 Le Mans 1975-1979 opening engine cover

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240 Simca 1308 1977-1981 Opening tailgate

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240 Volkswagen T2 Bus 1974-1981 Later recast of 244. Also available as a mini-bus. White plastic opening tailgate

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244 Volkswagen T2 Bus 1974-1981 earlier casting with rim below the side window. Also available as a panel van. White plastic opening tailgate

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246 Range Rover Pompier 1978-2003 Two version available, earlier model has exposed rear

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247 Porsche 924 1978-1985 plastic window toned lifting tailgate

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249 Mercedes 450 SE 1978-1985 opening front side doors

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250 Citroën SM 1971-1978 opening side doors. Later versions were cast without fog lights.

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251 Ford Capri 1978-1983

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256 BMW 733 1979-1986 open front doors

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257 Renault 5 1974-1981 notable for its plastic door mirrors and airel

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260 Renault 17TS 1975-1978

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261 Morgan 1979-1991 removable plastic roof

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264 Renault Alpine A310 1979-1985

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265 Citroën CX 1979-1984 front opening doors

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266 Renault 18 1979-1985

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267 Excalibur 1979-1986 removable plastic roof

1981-1990

The range continued into the 80’s, still employing the realism of real family cars occasionally combined with inappropriate colours and decals. However as the decade continued plastic bases were also becoming more common, and some of that perceived weight and quality was lost. The 1980’s were a tough time for virtually every die cast toy car maker, with increasing costs and profit suffering. Well known 1/43 specialists Solido acquired the company in 1980, but there was a fairly minimal effect on the models. However in 1987 Majorette were forced to transfer their productions from France to Thailand, to help minimalise costs. At the same time Majorette also started producing promotional models, based on existing castings usually using vans and classic vehicles but also offered companies a choice of standard cars. Despite the issues, Majorette continued producing accurate castings of road cars and continued their eclectic range of unique castings. Majorette looked towards opening their choice of models to cast during this period, and the number of American and Japanese (particularly Toyota) equaled the number of European castings being produced.

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Citroen Visa II Chrono 1984-1988 Opening tailgate

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Triumph TR7 1983-1987 opening side doors

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205 Renault 5 GT Turbo 1987-1991 Opening tailgate

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206 Pontiac Fiero 1985-1991

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209 Porsche 911 Turbo 1983-2004 Opening side doors

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210 Peugeot 205 CTI convertible 1988-1994

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211 Ferrari GTO 1987-1994

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212 Ford Escort XR3 1983-1988 Opening tailgate

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214 Nissan 300ZX 1988-1996 Opening side doors, pop up headlamps

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215 Chevrolet Corvette 1984-2003 Opening side doors

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216 Toyota Lite Ace 1983-1992 Opening tailgate

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217 Ford Thunderbird 1986-1995 Opening bonnet

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218 Peugeot 405 MI16 1989-1995 Opening side doors

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219 Honda Accord 1984-1988 Opening side doors

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220 Ford Mustang SVO 1986-1995 Opening tailgate

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221 Audi Quattro 1983-1988 Opening side doors

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222 Renault 25 V6 1987-1991 Opening side doors

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223 Crazy Car 1981-1987

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225 Citroen BX 4 TC 1987-1989

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227 Ford Mustang GT Convertible 1988-1994

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228 Chevrolet 4×4 Towing truck 1983-1997

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229 BMW 325i 1987-1992 Opening side doors

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230 Volvo 760GLE 1985-1991 Opening side doors

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231 Mercedes 190E 1986-1995 Opening side doors

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233 Renault Express 1988-1997 twin opening plastic rear doors in black

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235 Citroën Acadiane 1980-1985 twin opening plastic rear doors in white

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236 Jeep Cherokee 1980-2001 dropdown white plastic tailgate

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237 Lamborghini Countach 1980-1995 later versions have plastic rear spoiler

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239 Fiat Ritmo 1981-1986 Opening tailgate

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239 Audi 90 1989-1993 Opening side doors

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240 Chevrolet Impala 1986-1997 Opening side doors

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243 Ford Transit Minibus 1988-1997 sliding side door

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244 Jeep 4×4 1983-1995 removable roof

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249 Toyota Celica 2.0 GT 1988-1993 Opening side doors and pop up headlamps

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252 Renault 4 Surfer 1983-1987 Originally supplied with removable surfboard

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253 Oldsmobile Omega 1982-1986 Opening bonnet

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255 Renault 5 Turbo 1982-1987

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266 Land Rover 90 1987-2003 Opening plastic rear door in black

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268 Jeep 1980-1982 some version also supplied with a removable plastic roof, later version offered with bigger wheels

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269 Jeep Ambulance 1980-1990 opening twin plastic doors

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270 Autobianchi A112 1984-1987 opening tailgate

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271 Alfa Romeo Giuletta 1985-1987 Opening side doors

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271 Alfa Romeo 75 1988-1991 Opening side doors

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272 Ford Sierra 1984-1990 Opening side doors

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273 Toyota Tercel 4WD 1985-1990 Opening tailgate

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275 Renault 11 TXE 1984-1988 Sliding plastic sunroof

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277 Toyota Land Crusier 1982-1993 later version fitted with larger wheels. Opening plastic tailgate

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280 Renault 5 1983-1986 Opening side doors

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280 Ferrari F40 1989-1999 Opening rear engine cover

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281 Peugeot 205 GTI 1985-1995 Opening tailgate

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284 Saab 900 1983-1988 Open front side door

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285 Lancia Monte Carlo 1983-1987

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287 Toyota Hilux 1983-1986 Opening bonnet

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296 Chevrolet El Camino 1988-1996 Opening side doors

1990 – 2000

Availability in the UK started to become patchy in the mid 90’s, due to insolvency and take overs but the parent company who also owned Solido started to rebuild their distribution outlets towards the end of the decade due to the takeover by the Simba-Dickie Toy Group. The quality of the castings were typically variable with some odd livery and colour choices but overall a good wide line up of castings but seem to sway more towards sports and supercars than the previous years, perhaps to open their appeal to American markets. Steering was featured on several models towards the end of the decade, which also meant the loss of the suspension on those castings. Several castings from the 70’s and 80’s were also re-introduced during this period, a number of them were produced as promotional vehicles, with vans and trucks being the most noticible models, although the 203 Volkswagen 1302S casting was also re-introduced into the main range. The loss of the ’69 Department’ plates reflect the relocation of the factory, some models sported transfer plates while other had casted generic number plates.

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201 Fiat Coupe 1999-2004 Steering

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202 Peugeot 405 Turbo 16 1990-1998

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204 Ford Mustang 1993 Steering

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205 Peugeot 206 1999-2006 Opening bonnet

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206 Renault Twingo 1995

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209 Porsche 996 1999 Opening side doors

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216 Mercedes A Class 1999-2005 Opening tailgate

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218 Peugeot 406 1997-2004 Opening plastic sunroof and steering

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220 Honda NSX 1997

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221 Renault Safrane 1992-1997

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223 Chevrolet Bel Air 1991-2004

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224 Jeep Cherokee Limited 1990-2000 Opening tailgate

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225 Renault 19 Cabriolet 1993-1998

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227 Ford Ka 1998-2004

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229 Aston Martin DB7 1994-2004 Open side doors

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230 Toyota Rav4 1999 Opening side doors

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232 Buggy 1992-1995

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232 Mercedes CLK GTR 1999-2004

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237 Audi TT 1999-2007 Opening side doors

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243 Ford Transit Support vehicle 1988-1997

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244 BMW Z3 Coupe 1999-2006 Open tailgate

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250 Mercedes 300TE 1990-1998 Opening tailgate

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252 Honda Prelude SI 4WD 1990-1993 Opening side doors

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254 Citroen XM 1991-1998 Opening bonnet

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257 BMW 325i 1993-2000 Opening side doors

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260 Mercedes 500SL 1991-1999 Opening bonnet

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264 Volkswagen Golf 1993-2001 Opening tailgate

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269 Ford Mondeo 1995 Steering and sliding suroof

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270 Renault Clio 1991-1994 Opening tailgate

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271 Ford Econoline 1999 twin opening plastic rear doors in black

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272 Renault Espace 1997-2004

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275 Ford Escort 1992-1996 Opening side doors

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276 Toyota 4 Runner 1994-2003

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279 Stock car 1993-1994

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286 Fiat Tipo 1990-1995 Opening tailgate

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293 Jaguar XJ6 1990-1997 Opening side doors

2000-2010

In recent years the Majorette brand staged a reconnaissance, despite several setbacks, including more investor takeovers and insolvency as well as the destruction of the factory in Thailand during the 2012 tsunami but are now noticeable as one of the few popular die cast manufacturers to still offer opening parts.

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211 GT Racing 2001-2004 Thought to be a casting based on the Ferrari Testarossa

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214 Nissan Micra 2002

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221 Renault Scenic 2000 Opening tailgate

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244 BMW Z8 2001-2007 Opening bonnet

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254 Citroen C3 2002-2011

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257 BMW M3 2001-2008 Opening side Doors

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289 Renault Kangoo van 2001

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294 Jaguar S-Type 2000-2004 Opening side doors

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294 Mini 2001

The future looks good for Majorette, particularly to collectors who prefer well detailed contempary European vehicles. Alongside the German company Siku, MAjorette remain one of the few small scale die-cast toy car manufacturers to still offer opening features. An increased distribution to the UK has meant that availability is very good at the time of writing. I will be collating some of the more recent releases in the near future.

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