For Outboard Motor Collectors, True Riches May Lie in the Smallest of Boxes
In addition to my collection of antique outboard boats and motors, I also have a collection of toy boats and motors.
My primary interest is in K & O outboard models and Fleet Line boats. The company was based in Van Nuys, California, and sold its products through hobby shops, toy stores and department stores.
K & O was the only manufacturer to make exact replicas of the then current actual outboard motors. They were the only toy model company to receive permission to use the real names on the motor covers as well. Evinrude, Johnson and Mercury dealers even sold them to their real outboard customers for their children to play with.
The toy motors were made from 1952 to 1962. Only one motor was made in 1952, a 25-horsepower Johnson, but others were added yearly until all of the manufacturers were represented. The company fell on hard times in 1960-62 so they made fewer different models and produced less motors in total as well.
The company also sold boats under the Fleet Line name but they were not nearly as nice as the die-cast outboard motors. In 1952 the motors sold for $4.95 and the later versions were marketed for $6.95. The purchase included a box, which was a copy of the real shipping crate, a plastic stand and wire terminals for connecting to batteries inside one of the toy boats.
The first K & O replica was a 1952 Johnson 25 hp which looked exactly like the actual motors but without the decals. Perhaps this was sold before K & O received permission to use the Johnson name. The next version was a 1952 Johnson 25-horsepower with the correct 1952 decals.
The second brand of outboard to be manufactured by K & O was the 1954 Evinrude 25-horsepower. Only the Johnson and Evinrude brands were made in 1954 but it must have been a good year for K & O as those models are fairly common today.
In 1955 the first completely redesigned full-sized outboards appeared in dealer showrooms. They looked much more modern and streamlined than the 1954 models. K & O followed suit and had exact replicas of the 1955 Johnson and Evinrude outboards in the stores and hobby shops before Christmas.
K & O also produced a model of the 1955 Mark 55 40-horsepower Mercury. The real Mercury was the highest horsepower outboard offered that year so I’m sure the kids liked the Mercury better than the Johnson or Evinrude.
1956 was another year of growth for K & O. A 33-horsepower Scott-Atwater motor expanded their line-up. It was probably the best detailed and most complicated of all the motors made by K & O up to that point. The Johnson, Evinrude and Mercury motors all received a color change, just like the real motors.
A 30-horsepower Gale Buccaneer was added to the K & O lineup in 1957. Buccaneer was a sister motor to Johnson and Evinrude as all were manufactured by OMC (Outboard Motors Corporation). This was also the first year that K & O sold replicas of more than one horsepower of the same manufacturer. The Mercury Mark 55 remained in the line with a decal change and an all-new 1957 60-horsepower Mark 75 was added.
The company offered the largest variety of motors in 1958. Johnsons were offered in the 35 hp and 50 hp models as were the Evinrudes. Scott-Atwater expanded to the 25-and-40 horsepower models. Surprisingly, Mercury was only offered as a 70-horsepower Mark 78 and a higher horsepower Gale Buccaneer 35 continued with a color and decal change.
The big news for 1958 was the introduction of the Oliver outboard replica. Oliver was a tractor manufacturer that got into the outboard business for a few years. 1958 was the only year the toy Oliver was sold which makes it a highly desirable toy for both miniature outboard and tractor collectors.
It is interesting to note that during the years when there were two horsepower sizes available the smaller of the two is harder to find. The reason is probably that since the models were all priced the same, the kids apparently wanted the higher horsepower engines.
In 1959 K & O introduced a plastic 1959 Johnson 35-horsepower model. This marked the first year K & O began making motors out of materials other than die-cast metal. The little model (only three-and-a-half inches tall) was smaller in scale than the die-cast versions and was sold on several different models of plastic boats.
The 1959 Gale Buccaneer was renamed the Gale Sovereign and Mercury was represented by a 70-horsepower Mark 78A. The Merc was sold as a standard motor and also as a drink mixer which used a replica gas tank to hold the batteries. It also came with a longer cord so the motor could be set on the rim of a drinking glass.
Scott-Atwater was dropped from the K & O lineup in 1959 although the real motors were still being produced. I assume that the popularity of the little motors was tied to the real ones as Scott-Atwater ceased manufacturing the real motors in the early 1960s.
The rarest of all toy motors was manufactured in 1960. It was the 60-horsepower version of the Gale Sovereign. It’s a really neat motor and apparently only a few were made and even fewer exist today. This was also the last year the Gale was represented in the K & O lineup.
1961 marked the beginning of the end for K & O. The toy motors were all re-styled like their real counterparts but no new motors were added. Only one plastic motor was offered, an Evinrude 40-horsepower Lark.
There were only five K & O toy models offered in 1962. It was the last year for K & O Fleet Line. The Johnsons and Evinrudes were made in 40 hp and 75 hp versions and a new black Mercury 1000 was produced.
Rocket ships and Sputnik replaced the little outboard motors in the toy chests and over five decades later the miniature models are coveted by collectors. Recently a Gale Sovereign sold on eBay for $10,000. Riches may lie in the toy box.