A Bid for Gamda and Sabra

Toy cars in good condition and in the original package can be sought-after collectors' items with a hefty price tag.

A 4-year-old boy receives a toy car. New and in the original package. First to be thrown out is the package. The delighted and curious child will put the car through a series of ordeals that are beyond the imagination of even an adult automobile tester, however professional or creative he may be. After a time a wheel or two will likely be lost, parts will be ripped off, the paint will peel and the toy will make its way to the garbage can. Decades later, in a fit of nostalgia, the child, now an adult, will try to remember the toys he used to play with. The collectors among the adults might also try to restore to their possession motorized models reminiscent of childhood. Toy cars, especially if they are in good condition and in the original package, can be collectors' items that are hard to get, and with prices to match.

Israeli children in the 1960s played with toy cars that were locally manufactured with an element of national pride. At the time there was on Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi a small factory that made, imported and locally marketed various models of cars whose name was indicative of their size: "Gamda" (based on the Hebrew for "midget" or "dwarf"). Some of the models were designed and embellished on the basis of vehicles then in use in Israel, and inspired by the spirit of the times, including those of the Israel Police, the Israel Defense Forces, the postal service, the Egged bus cooperative, El Al and others. Production ceased around the mid-1960s. Afterward Gamda, now under the name Gamda-Koor, launched a new line for the mass production of a more professional series of models, known as "Sabra," in cooperation with an American toy manufacturer. The name was chosen because the models were now being marketed around the world. This time they were models of 1960s' American cars, along with one "foreign" exception: the Volkswagen Beetle. The models continued to roll off the production line during the 1970s, until the factory shut down for economic reasons.

In April of this year, a model of an Egged bus of the type manufactured by Leyland in the 1960s was sold by auction on eBay, the Internet site. The seller, who was English, received the equivalent of about NIS 4,800. The happy buyer will not be able to transport passengers in the bus, and will at most be able to place it on a shelf in the living room. This Israeli-made Gamda toy, a model of the original Leyland bus, is not the first to be sold in this way. The two last bidders ratcheted up the price by thousands of shekels in a close, tension-filled contest. The identity of the winner is not known.

An offer of $1,000

The bidder who came in second - his final offer was very close to the winning offer - is Arik Hetzroni, an Israeli who once worked for the Egged cooperative and has lived in Los Angeles for the past 11 years. He is the owner of Dynamic L.A., Inc., a shipping firm that transports motorcycles, cars and other items to Israel for private individuals. His miniature collection includes 30 Gamda models.

For the past 10 years or so, Hetzroni has been looking mainly for the Gamda bus, and in the meantime is collecting other models made by the company. "There is a religious guy in Brooklyn who has two buses," he relates. "But I haven't yet found one, even though I am willing to pay even $1,000 for the same model."

A collector who owns three models of the bus is Rafi Ilivitsky, who is involved in high-tech and has been living with his family in England for the past 13 years. For someone who started to collect only about two years ago, he has an impressive collection: 30 Gamdas and about 110 Sabra models. He takes the subject very seriously, keeps his models well-packaged and highly recommends that they be placed upside down, on their roofs, to prevent the erosion of the bottom assemblage and the rubber wheels of the little vehicles.

Models belonging to the series that originated in the small plant in Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi have been acquired by people around the world. Ilivitsky notes that he bought about half the Gamda models in his possession in a small antiques shop in France, and others from people in various countries including Argentina, New Zealand, Australia and even Hong Kong.

The two collectors in question, who are in their forties, acknowledge that their distance from Israel and the national-nostalgic character of the models they seek, enhances the importance of the collection for them. Another motive they cite is childhood memories of the 1960s, when as youngsters they played with Gamda models.

Ilivitsky recently received an offer of sponsorship from a large toy manufacturer in Britain, earmarked for publication of a detailed catalog containing the history and the prices of the models. Describing himself as "an Israeli in soul," he notes that for him the catalog is a way to present Israel to the world proudly, in his way. So far he has documented 66 models of Gamda and 190 Sabras.

To everyone who remembers stashing toys from the 1960s in the storeroom and now thinks he has a treasure on his hands, Ilivitsky cautions that it is very hard to find old toys that are in good condition; he says the average price for the various models, other than the bus, is about $100 to $150 for a model in good condition. The models of military vehicles, which were usually simpler, fetch even lower prices. He says that the popularity of the models is due to the interest that collectors have begun to take in special and unusual ones, which in the past were not held to be of any great importance.