Volume IX, Number 3

The CanAm Generics
by Doug Breithaupt

Sometimes, a toy car mystery just seems to keep building until it demands attention. The curious case of the CanAm generic race cars is just such a mystery.

The CanAm racing series of the late 1960's and early 1970's was a great success. CanAm, for Canadian/American offered racing manufacturers like Porsche, McLaren, Lola and others an opportunity to produce cars with amazing power, unlimited by horsepower rules that governed other racing series. The Porsche 917 CanAm racer had over 1000 h.p. on tap. many toy car makers produced small-scale examples of CanAm racecars, correctly identified and in authentic racing colors. This is not a story about those realistic models.

For some reason, major toy car companies like Matchbox, Mattel, Corgi and Kenner decided to offer generic CanAm racers. What makes this curious is that in the early 1970's, licensing was not a major issue or expense for these companies. In fact, most all four were already producing authentic racecars. Kenner offered a Porsche 935 and Ferrari 512BB racers in their Fast 111 series. While they were given gimmick names instead of the company names, they were still easy to identify as specific racecars. Hot Wheels had done Ferrari, Ford, Lola, Porsche and Chaparral racecars. Matchbox had Ford and Porsche models while Corgi offered Porsche, Ferrari , Ford and Austin Healey racers. Clearly, licensing was not a problem when it came to doing racecars. Why then did these companies decide to do generic models of CanAm cars? Siku, Ertl, Polistil, Galgo, Zylmex, Yat Ming and others all did CanAm racers that clearly matched a real car. Why would larger toy car companies not do the same?

Matchbox produced their #56 Hi-Tailer in 1974. The graphics were much like the L&M sponsored Porsche 917 but replaced the 'LM' with an 'MB' and 'Team Matchbox' instead of 'Porsche'. The chromed engine reads 'ZOOM' on the valve covers of the V8. The shape is quite close to the Porsche 917 CanAm racer as well.

Corgi offered a generic model called 'CanAm Racer', so there was no question what they wanted the association with this successful racing series. The racing graphics are more generic than what Matchbox did and the car is less distinctive as well. It has a V8 engine based on the number of velocity stacks but is otherwise impossible to identify.

American Victory

Steam Roller

Hot Wheels produced both the 'Steam Roller' and American Victory' castings in 1973. The 'Steam Roller' has the look of a McLaren M8A while the 'American Victory' is clearly inspired by the German Porsche 917 CanAm racer. Hot Wheels had done a correctly identified Porsche 917 LeMans racer in 1970 and a McLaren M6A in 1969. More recently, Hot Wheels did the Shadow Mk. II A CanAm racer in 1999.

Kenner produced their Fast III series in the early 1980's and many of the models represent real cars. Most have generic names and some are clearly fantasy cars. Their CanAm model is called the 'Cam Rammer' and shows inspiration from the Porsche 917 CanAm racer once again. It carries a V8 engine and includes a driver as do the Matchbox and Corgi models.

All the models shown here have seen plenty of play time and the two Hot Wheels have been re-painted. I have not made an effort to seek out mint examples. I'm never sure if I should display these examples with other authentic CanAm models or in a separate are of their own. I have the same problem with generic open-wheel and stock car racers. These same four companies also did other generic racecars from F1 to NASCAR so this trend is not exclusive to CanAm. Perhaps the real reason why they did this is because it was simply easier and cheaper to design a generic racer. They figured that kids would not really care anyway and perhaps they were right.