Posted: February 16, 2011
The Legacy of George Toteff
Many enthusiasts of the plastic kit hobby still don’t know who George Toteff was. Only a select few modelers have met him or had the opportunity to speak with him about his work. We've never seen his name on a kit box, but his influence on many aspects of the hobby is impressive by any account. It stretches from the formative years of plastic models right to present day. Many of the people involved in the formation of the model companies that shaped our hobby into what it is today are no longer with us. With his passing in early February, George Toteff is now among them.
As an early employee of AMT (the first by some accounts), George Toteff is credited with probably the single biggest landmark in the model car hobby: the creation of the AMT “3-in-1” kit. There were of course model car kits before 1958. AMT, a manufacturer of promotional replicas from its founding in 1948, had taken tentative steps in offering model cars as kits during the Fifties. They offered some of their dealer promotional models in unassembled form. However, it was the eleven 1958 car kits offered under the AMT and SMP brand names that brought together elements still present in popular car kits to this day: styrene plastic, one-piece bodies, vacuum metallized “chrome plating”, and optional parts that allowed three building versions. These kits quickly established 1/25 as the definitive model car scale. All of these things were not invented at AMT, but they were the first to combine them successfully.
George is credited with devising the complicated sliding tool design that was needed to mold model car bodies in one piece. This was initially done for the promotional models, so they could be molded in colored plastic, instead of being cast in aluminum and painted (AMT = "Aluminum Model Toys"). Of course, this worked for kits, too and AMT’s 3-in-1 models quickly became the standard by which others were judged. The addition of optional parts brought the builder’s imagination into play, and as a side benefit often brought multiple sales of each kit. It allowed the young designer-builders to work out all the ideas they could come up with. The 3-in-1 concept was expanded further with the Trophy Series (popular cars from earlier eras), and the Styline and Advanced Custom kits (a reboot of the earlier Styling Kit, with putty replacing modeling clay and molded parts, to assist builders in their restyling plans).
During 1963, by then an AMT vice president, Toteff decided to form his own company. Working with Dick Branstner (original owner of the “Color Me Gone” series of drag racing cars), MPC (Model Products Corporation) was born. The owners of the new company remained on good terms with their counterparts at AMT, which distributed many of the early MPC products in AMT packaging. The first true MPC kit was the 1964 Corvette. AMT didn’t use that one because, as the producer of dealer promotional models for Chevrolet, they already had their own Corvette kit. Early MPC kits included the Gangbusters series (late Twenties/early Thirties classic cars with period accessories) and the 1932-33 Chevrolet kits (the first “non-classic” car kits that weren’t Fords).
Right from the start, Toteff's MPC developed a good reputation for its car kits. He was able to wrest from AMT the rights to produce a number of promotional models (which also made excellent kits in most cases). When MPC reissued its earliest car kits under its own banner, most were changed substantially because Toteff didn’t want MPC to offer the same versions that AMT had sold. Some of these changes frustrated collectors later, but back then, they were sound business moves. MPC also introduced slightly larger 1/20 scale car kits in the late Sixties, which should rightfully be viewed as precursors to the 1/18 scale pre-assembled diecast replicas, popular with many collectors today. MPC also issued an impressive array of licensed items, including Star Wars and a number of television-related car kits. (AMT did this too, but not in the same numbers or with the same success as MPC, at least in car kits.)
Around 1970, MPC became part of a larger company. George Toteff's attention shifted to the Lionel toy train division, then in decline after many years of booming business. Under his leadership, Lionel was (no pun intended) put back on track. In the early Nineties, he resurrected Lindberg, another pioneer model company then in a long period of decline. Under his leadership, they introduced a number of new products. Their reputation with “serious” modelers was restored; no small accomplishment since they hadn’t done much of anything new for many years prior.
George Toteff played a major part in defining what a model car kit should be, for entire generations of hobbyists. His influence on both AMT and MPC in their formative years helped them to create exciting hobby products that were highly sought after when introduced, and sentimentally prized by many today.
The management and creative team at Round send out our sincerest condolences to the Toteff family. We are all proud to be the caretakers of the historic AMT and MPC brands.
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