I was just reading an article on Mantua (found here).
Apparently Consolidated Foods/Sarah Lee purchased Mantua in 1970, about the same time General Mills purchased the rights to make Lionel Trains. Interesting coincidence.
Correct, as I mentioned earlier, Mantua Metal Products became Tyco Industries, actually shortly before the acquisition by the big food conglomerate.
Consolidated Foods was really responsible for cheapening the quality of the Mantua line from that point forward until the Tyler family bought back the New Jersey production factory and the pre-1970 American tooling in 1977.
Obviously, Consolidated Foods viewed Tyco as strictly a toy train line, unlike the Tyler family that founded the brand. In a lot of ways, Tyco was the HO equivalent of MPC’s Lionel in that seven-year timeframe. But the drop in quality was much more real and tangible on Tyco products.
Across the board, metal components were eliminated in favor of plastic. Mantua had featured diecast frames and trucks on its freight cars, with shaped metal axles. Steam locomotive bodies, with a couple of tooling replacement exceptions in the late 1960s, were Zamac (zinc alloy) castings. Diesels, while not having a traditional chassis, had gimble-mounted trucks featuring metal mounts and sheet metal gear box covers riveted in place. All of those components became plastic during that span — except for the Mikado, Pacific and General boilers. Any new steam models introduced had plastic boilers and cheaper mechanisms, culminating in the Chattanooga Choo Choo steamer that was tender driven, a cost-saving design that really irked me.
And, yes, except for the pre-1970 steamers, all production was moved to Hong Kong.
When I see people posting here that Mantua was considered to “always” be bottom shelf, I think they are reflecting on the years after 1970. In fact, Mantua was well respected by hobbyists, who loved using the steam locomotives as the basis for modeling projects prior to what we consider to be the modern era.
It’s the American classic tooling, not the cheapened product tooling in Hong Kong, that ended up back in the hands of John Tyler’s family. And it’s that tooling, albeit perhaps missing the worn-out tools, that ended up in the Model Power line in 2001 and appears to be heading toward Lionel, presumably in North Carolina or some American production facility on a contract basis, if the information Derek (Notch 6) got from Lionel proves correct.