Marcel van Cleemput ("Mr Corgi")

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index


Marcel van Cleemput (1926-2013) (a.k.a. "Mr Corgi") was Mettoy's Chief Designer for the Corgi Toys range, and was involved in the design of every Corgi car from the first design in 1956 to the last produced before the company went bust, in 1983. He died on March 15, 2013, on the 150th anniversary of Frank Hornby's birth.

Working primarily out of Northampton, Kleemput opened his own design company (Acorn Technical Design Services) and continued to work for Mettoy as an independent designer after the company's crisis in 1983, rather than move to Wales. During this time he did a wide variety of other design work ("I never turned anything down") including designing computer cases for Thorn EMI. In his spare time he also designed his own furniture and housefittings.

Corgi Toys

Recognising that there was not much point in trying to compete with the well-established Dinky Toys brand if one was just going to produce the same sorts of models that they were already making, Cleemput continually tried to "push the envelope" with new design features, using plastic for windows and upholstery, including opening doors and bonnets, and, as Dinky eventually followed suit, going further to introduce sprung suspension, and on one model, even moving windscreen wipers.

As well as the usual Corgi models, Marcel designed a range of film tie-in models culminating in the 1960s Corgi Batmobile model, the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang model, and the complex and iconic Corgi James Bond Aston Martin DB5 and Lotus Esprit "submarine car" models, whose success earned Corgi a great deal of money.

Cleemput attributed Corgi's success in the tiein character-merchandising market to the company getting an early successful start (with a model that merely required a transfer to be added), and his and his team's ability to measure up an original vehicle faster than their competitors, which was an important factor when visiting film sets or creating models at extremely short notice to coincide with film releases. His team would not only take conventional measurements to supplement the ~70 photographs that Cleemput would take (and develop himself, to save even more time), but would also bring large sheets of paper to do "rubbings" of complex parts and curves, and details such as radiator grilles.

"The Great Book of Corgi"

The Great Book of Corgi", by Marcel Van Cleemput

The Great Book of Corgi", by Marcel Van Cleemput [image info]

Cleemput became a well-known and much-loved figure in the toy collector community, after writing the definitive book on the history of Corgi Toys ("The Great Book of Corgi"), and visiting various collector events to sign copies. He also seems to have been much-liked by everyone he visited on his dealings on behalf of Corgi, from Formula One racing-car crews (who he'd visit to measure up their cars) to the production crews on the James Bond movies.

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