By Donald Conner
In the 1950’s, you had your two basic space ship designs: the rocket and the flying saucer.
We earthlings knew all about rockets because we invented them. For years, science-fiction art and movies depicted the rockets; they were curvaceous, sexy things of beauty in a decidedly art deco mode. And by the 1950s, we were already sending them up towards space -- the dream of putting a man on the moon would soon become a reality.
Flying saucers, on the other hand, were steeped in mystery and urban legend. While people wrote about rockets in science journals, saucers were fodder for the tabloids and the pulps. These were the aliens' vehicles, terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The idea of a flying saucer sent the mind racing: "Are they real?" "How do they work?" "Who built them?" "Are they friend or foe?" Imagine the cosmic knowledge that could be learned by one trip in a flying saucer! Combined with their unfathomable menace, they were like outlaw bikers and the key to the universe, all rolled into one.
While other kids might have been afraid of a saucer landing on their lawn, I would have asked Marvin the Martian if I could take her for a spin! A rocket could only follow a straight line, but it was a well-known fact that a flying saucer could turn on a dime and zip in the opposite direction in an instant -- it really handles, baby! It was a cross between a Lotus Elan and a hovercraft, the perfect intergalactic sports craft.
Some of Don's flying saucers.
And that's why I collect flying saucers. Once you decide to collect vintage robots and space toys, you can quickly discover that the space toys are almost overwhelming in their variety. Space tanks, flying saucers, rockets, space cars, lunar landers, space capsules, and space stations -- all have been produced by the great toy manufacturers from Japan, America, Great Britain, France, and Germany during the classic period from the mid-1950s to the late-1960s. Faced with that, I had to find a focus, and I was drawn to the flying saucers like a divining rod drawn to the Pacific Ocean. Battery operated, friction, and wind-up -- these toys whirred, spun, bumped, turned, almost but not quite fell off the table, rose and hovered! And they did it while flashing, sparking, buzzing, and beeping their way to a coveted status among kids back in the day -- and collectors today!
To launch this column, I'd like to talk about the X-505 Flying Saucer, by Nomura of Japan. It's one of my personal favorites. Sure, it's an extremely rare piece, but I also love it for its looks and its status as a trend setter.
The X-505, a true beauty!
Catalog dated to 1962, the X-505 is one of the earliest of the friction saucers to have a central, clear dome. Another Japanese company, Masudaya, had been making friction saucers some years prior, but their design had more of a fuselage swooping back between two elongated fins. And a company called Yoshiya had been making battery operated saucers with central domes and pilots as early as 1960. But Nomura took it a step forward with the X-505, introducing the tin, lithographed cockpit and pilot to the friction saucer. Other toy manufacturers would soon be copying the X-505 formula of tin-litho pilot's head and cockpit, embossed headlights, two fins, and sparking window.
Note the lithographed cockpit and pilot underneath that perfect dome.
Sparks would light inside the four elongated, red windows behind the pilot.
The X-505's mechanism is fairly simple. The inner flywheel acts as a motor for this bad boy -- rev the toy up by swiping the wheels across the floor and then set it down and watch the sparks fly as it zooms forward!
Adding an X-505 to your collection is no easy trick -- they rarely come up for sale, and I do mean rarely. But if you do come across one, take a close look at the dome. Nomura used a much thinner plastic on their friction saucer domes and it cracks easily.
I bought mine years ago in a Smith House auction, it was the one piece I wanted very badly out of that auction and at the time I didn’t have a complete sense of just how rare it is. Luckily, robots were getting much more attention than saucers in those days and I managed to snag this little gem. In the 5 years since that auction I haven’t seen another boxed example come up for sale anywhere. In my opinion, the box itself is one of the best flying saucer boxes eve. The art work really sizzles with its emphasis on the sparking engine. Whenever I see it I can't help thinking the same artwork could have been easily used on a brick of firecrackers.
So you can see why the X-505 was such a trend setter. It's a real dazzler, a space vehicle with hot-rod good looks and a forward-looking design.