|By Eric Bryan
Daktari was an American TV series which ran from January 1966 to January 1969. Based on the 1965 film Clarence, the Cross Eyed Lion, it was about a veterinarian, Dr. Marsh Tracy, working in East Africa at the Wameru Study Center for Animal Behaviour. Dr. Tracy, his daughter Paula and his team worked to safeguard animals from local officialdom, hunters, poachers and other threats. Regular characters included Jack Dane, Bart Jason, Jenny Jones, District Officer Hedley and Mike Makula.
The original concept was inspired by Dr. AM Harthoorn and his wife, who ran a Nairobi animal orphanage. In the Harthoorns’ work to protect animals, he and his crew developed a tranquilizer gun which enabled them to catch many types of creatures in order to treat them without harming them.
Two of the most important Daktari characters were Tracy’s pets, Judy the chimpanzee and Clarence the lion who carried on his cross-eyed aspect from the original film. The sweet-natured Clarence even had his own stunt double named Leo. Clarence was fearful of trucks and wasn’t much for snarling or looking ferocious, so Leo took over acting duties with scenes requiring the use of vehicles or displays of aggression.
Daktari was filmed at the California animal park Africa U.S.A. and at a studio in Florida, with some footage shot in Mozambique for atmospheric effect. Though the series’ name may evoke the word “safari,” “daktari” is Swahili for “doctor.”
The merchandising of Daktari was prodigious. Products included comic books, bubble gum cards, View-Master reels, novels, soundtrack albums, jigsaw puzzles and a Marx Toys play set. This latter item was a colorful extravaganza which included a cabin and huts, jeep, trees and shrubs, boulders, “hand painted jungle animals,” many figures and other accessories. All of this could be set up on the included play sheet to create an East African encampment complete with river. But the most famous and iconic Daktari memorabilia came in the form of two classic gift sets produced by the British diecast model maker, Corgi Toys.
Corgi Gift Set 7
In 1967 Corgi introduced one of its now-classic TV tie-in products, GS7. This item was also one of the smallest Corgi gift sets, as it included just one diecast model. The latter was Corgi’s No. 438 Land Rover revamped with a new green and zebra stripes paint scheme. It had license plate stickers and another reading “Wameru Sub-District” along the bottom edge of the windshield.
The remainder of this gift set was made up of five plastic figures. These represented Dr. Tracy with Judy the chimp seated on his lap, a tiger lying across the hood of the Land Rover, Clarence, and Paula who could ride on the lion’s back. The Clarence figure also had a pair of eyeglasses to wear, and there was a miniature stethoscope for Dr. Tracy.
You might wonder if such a simple set could be very successful. But due to the popularity of Daktari, combined with the quality and detail of Corgi models, the GS7 stayed in production until 1976 after more than one million units were sold.
Because Corgi produced this set for a considerable time, there are a few variations to look for. The earliest GS7 Land Rovers had spun metal wheel hubs. These transitioned to cast hubs later in the 1960s, and as Corgi continued to manufacture the set into the 1970s, the later versions were fitted with Corgi’s plastic Whizzwheels.
Corgi Gift Set 14
Apparently the brisk sales of GS7 and the continuing fame of the TV series inspired Corgi management to look at how they could expand on the Daktari theme. In May 1969, Corgi released its Giant Daktari Set, GS14. This new set encompassed GS7 plus two truck models: a Kew Fargo elephant carrier and a Bedford giraffe transporter.
The elephant carrier was Corgi’s No. 484 Dodge “Kew Fargo” Livestock Transporter in new paintwork with a blue or fawn cab and a tan or green transporter box. This model had a galloping zebra logo on the doors of its cab. The Bedford truck was based on Corgi’s Chipperfield’s Circus No. 503 Giraffe Transporter, with the cab and chassis painted a fawn color and the rear carrier portion in an attractive giraffe hide pattern. Both of these models were also fitted with Wameru Sub-District labels.
This set also included two giraffe and two elephant figures in plastic, which the transporters could carry. The packaging of GS14 featured some of Corgi’s loveliest box art, with a colorful illustration evoking a sunny East African scene. It depicted the three vehicles from the set out on the savannah, with the Dodge and the Land Rover at rest while the Bedford raced in pursuit of herds of giraffes and zebras.
You will find some early editions of GS14 with the vehicles all with spun wheel hubs. There also are some examples of the set with mixed hub-types, with the Bedford having cast hubs and the Land Rover and Dodge truck both with spun hubs. Then there are the sets which had all three vehicles with cast hubs. Finally, in the late releases, the Bedford and Dodge retained their cast hubs while the Land Rover was fitted with Whizzwheels. Corgi withdrew GS14 in 1973.
Corgi Classics No. 07104
In 1998 Corgi revisited the Daktari theme in its Classics series with a commemorative model based on the original 1967 GS7 release. The Land Rover was back, in a similar green and zebra stripe paint scheme, but with bolder stripes and Wameru Sub-District decals on the sides of the pick-up bed. The casting was similar to that of the original Corgi Land Rover, but the new version had an enlarged rear window in the cab and different wheels.
This model also had some detailing in the form of front and rear license plates, a Land Rover logo in the grille, and painted blinker and parking lights. Though the miniature representations of Dr. Tracy, Paula and the tiger weren’t to be seen, this set did include the figures of the two beloved characters Judy and Clarence, this time cast in metal.
On safari for Daktari
If you explore the Corgi Daktari marketplace for mint-in-box examples, you can spend more than $150 for the spun and cast wheel hub varieties of GS7, while the Whizzwheels version can be had for considerably less. A hunt for spun or cast or spun and cast hubs combination examples of GS14 will probably end in an outlay of at least a few hundred dollars for a successful “capture.” However, the GS14 with the Land Rover with Whizzwheels can go for less. If you have your eye on the Corgi Classics 07104, you should find that it is usually fairly easily attained for $30 or less.
For an extended project you can also of course scout for unboxed individual models and assemble each of the elements of the gift sets, for far less expenditure. Why not go on safari for Corgi diecast Daktari? It’s a hunt on which no one gets hurt.