Tonka's made in

New Zealand 

  By TonkaClub member Edward Cottrell (UK)


Tonka goes international ...

Tonka toys have always been associated with the United States of America. Well, of course they have, after all, Tonka toys were born in the state of Minnesota and named after the lake of Minnetonka. In the early days of the Tonka Company, one factory was all they needed to meet the demand for their quality steel toys. But as word of the Tonka quality became greater, so did the numbers of little boys asking mummy and daddy for a Tonka toy at Christmas time. It became clear that one factory would never be enough to make the number of toys needed. As Tonka expanded, and became a household name not only in the United States but also in other countries, they needed another factory to produce the toys alongside the Minnesota plant.

Tonka Canada was created. In Toronto, Tonka toys were produced to help Tonka become a bigger and better toy manufacturer. Tonka now had the facilities to sell toys to the world. Tonka Canada toys were shipped to many countries for sale, including Europe. Shipping costs meant Tonka toys in Europe cost more than what they did in the USA, so for countries outside the US and Canada, Tonka were still something of an exclusive toy. However, for one country in particular, Tonka toys remained so exclusive, only the most privileged of children could ever have owned one. That country was New Zealand.

The quest ...

My quest to find out about Tonka NZ began a few years ago, and it’s still not over. There is still so much information I’d love to find out. Until I complete the puzzle, I’m going to share with you what I’ve found out so far! 

It all started when I bought a rusty Tonka jeep. It was red; it had a light on the bonnet and had 4 white wall tyres. All in all, nothing I hadn’t seen before! 

At the time, I had no access to that wonderful world wide resource we call the Internet, so my knowledge of Tonka was limited to Canadian and American made toys. When I bought the jeep, I hadn’t been collecting Tonka’s for very long, I was still learning! 

The jeep was pretty dirty. My mum wouldn’t let it stay in the house unless it was cleaned, that’s when I realised I’d found something I’d never seen before! The white wall tyres read “Tonka NZ”. Now my geography wasn’t brilliant, but I was sure NZ meant New Zealand. Then it hit me – this toy was not American, it had been made in New Zealand! 

Since my first Tonka NZ find, I’ve come across quite a few more examples of New Zealand Tonka toys, including tiny Tonkas and “square fender” trucks. I also took the time to restore my NZ jeep, saving the all-important NZ decals on the underside.

Tonka and New Zealand

 There is at present very little information about Tonka toys NZ on the Internet or in reference books. This makes researching into the NZ Tonkas pretty difficult. I’ve been piecing together the Tonka NZ story and this is what I have learnt so far!

 Between the 1950’s and 1960’s, New Zealand had a large tax placed on all goods imported into the country (including toys!). One reason for the import tax would have been to help New Zealand’s own producers sell there items, without fear of foreign companies competition. One foreign company was of cause Tonka Toys USA. The import tax meant Tonka would have been unable to sell their toys in NZ for a competitive price, and children would never have been able to afford a Tonka for their back yard.

 To ensure Tonka Toys were affordable to the NZ market, Tonka did what many other foreign companies did at the time. They set up a factory that would produce a limited range of toys in New Zealand itself, thus overcoming the import tax placed onto foreign goods. This meant Tonkas could be enjoyed by the children of New Zealand; at a price they could afford!

 Tonka NZ was based in Auckland, and produced toys well into the 1970’s.  

In 1966 Tonka corporation won one of the first ever New Zealand Export awards, a prise given to companies who had made an outstanding contribution to industry in New Zealand!



  Note: the truck, pulling the sandloader is made in New Zealand.

Look for some other examples of New Zealand made Tonka toys at the 'Hall of Fame!'. One of the Dutch members has some great looking examples!



How to identify a NZ Tonka toy

  New Zealand Tonkas have a few distinctive features that make them different from standard Tonkas. These features vary in different types of Tonkas, from body styles to decals.

 NZ Jeeps:  

A New Zealand Tonka jeep will have a bonnet made from a separate piece of steel (the same as the early USA Tonka jeeps). They normally have the older style windshield that is not riveted on.  

NZ Square Fender Trucks: (1958 to 1967 in the USA)

 The NZ ranges of “square fender” trucks are fairly easy to spot. The main difference from the USA version is inside the cab – they are all “right hand drive”! They always have 1961 style grills and bumpers (with the T badge in the bumper), a 1965-style bonnet (with no ribs) and a 1963-style roof piece. This combination of parts was never used in the USA, only ever in New Zealand.  

 Other tale tell signs are harder to spot, including older style chassis with no “leaf spring” details on the rear axel, and old style italic Tonka logos when newer logos should be present.


Decals, or stickers are the easiest way to spot an NZ Tonka, especially on NZ tiny Tonkas and mini Tonkas, as these are basically the same as the USA versions.

 NZ decals are oval shaped, with Tonka backed in red, and NEW ZEALAND backed in yellow along the bottom halve.  

Many NZ Tonkas will have a back decal on the underside, stating the toy is “New Zealand Made”.

 NZ tractors had a square black decal on the front, with Tonka New Zealand on it.

 Finally, many NZ Tonkas have a silver decal on the underside, stating, “Remember, axel bearings need oiling regularly”.  


Tonka NZ trucks sometimes used their own special white wall tyres, with the initials NZ on one side, opposite the Tonka logo.  

 Tiny Tonka NZ wheels can sometimes appear to be poor quality. They have glued on tyres and the glue is not always hidden, and can be seen on the outside of the wheel centre.


 NZ Tonka toy colours can be very unusual. For example, NZ mighty Tonkas were orange in some cases, cement mixers were dark green and plastic parts that were normally white were moulded in orange!


With so little information available, I’ve began to come to some of my own conclusions and thought up some ideas of my own about Tonka NZ. These are only ideas and only happen to fit the facts, hopefully one day we will all know for sure. Until then, here are my NZ Tonka “theories”:

  • NZ Tonkas were made using the old USA tooling. Once Tonka were finished producing the old style parts in favour of newer parts for updated toys, they sent the best of the old tooling to Tonka NZ. This is why NZ Tonka pickups and other toys appear to be made from 1961 style trucks, but have later style cabs and older style logos.
  • Tonka NZ toys produced the square fender trucks even in the 1970s, still using the 1961 grill and bumper parts. 
  • Tonka NZ toys were imported into the UK. This is why so many can be bought in the UK, compared to other countries.

 Tonka New Zealand made some amazing toys. The New Zealand factory is a big part of Tonka history. Although I’ve been able to find some information about Tonka NZ, I’d still love to know more!