Esjusa / Serjan, Spain 1960s/1970s
When I was a kid these were really popular in Spain. They were sold in bazars, in "surprise" paper bags, so you could never really tell the contents until you opened the bag. Most Montaplex bags were military-themed (just Google "montaplex" and you'll see what I mean) but there were some more peaceful contents like sports, vehicles...
Esjusa (ESpañola de JUguetes, S.A.) began to manufacture surprise envelopes with small plastic toys within in the early 1960s. These envelopes were a huge succes and at some point Serjan, who had been distributing them, came up with the word Monta-Plex for the series and made their own company. The toys were still manufactured by Esjusa and at some point they were distributing similar envelopes with the same figurines. Both companies were from Barcelona, by the way, and let me warn you that the story might be a little different depending on where you read it. As far as I am concerned (or at least for the scope of this article) they are all "Montaplex". If someone involved with these companies wishes to make some precisions, feel free to contact me.
There were three Montaplex cycling bags (Tour, Giro and Vuelta), though there are many variations (different backs, price tags, etc...). The contents of the envelope, though, were some kind of a surprise. Of course they were cycling related, but you could find riders of different sizes, and maybe some supporting cars or spectators. The most frequent cyclists you could find in a Montaplex envelope were 2 cms long, and they came in various positions. The envelopes measured 80 x 105 mm.
Sample of different backs
Montaplex tiny figures. These measure 2 cm. The handwritings is mine (from when I was a kid) and corresponds to some forgotten game
The contents of the kept changing over time. In general you could expect to find around 20 tiny low quality ciclists (roughly at scale 1/72), all the same colour, and some extras, which might be spectators, motorbikes... The figurines were uncut inside the envelopes. Although the riders were all in the same colour in the same bag, generally different bags carried different colours, so you could have a nice multicolour peloton. The quality of the contents also varied with time. In the 1/72-ish scale there were found in three series. The ones which I will qualify as "of lower quality" featured riders in 4 positions on the bike.
The "higher quality" riders had more variation. There wereat least 8 different positions. These are harder to find nowadays.
These are even rarer: the riders are slightly bigger, weels are solid, vehicles are nice (though flat and undersized)
One quite common thing you could find in the bags are those complements (camera and/or banner). These fit any 1/72 car. However I never found any matching car in a cycling Montaplex bag. You could find completely different cars (scroll down to see the weird Ford T), or you could find cars as those shown here in other Montaplex bags.
UPDATE june 2023: These two cars are slightly longer (7cm). By their size and level of detail, they look like they could have been made by Montaplex. However, it is just a guess, I had never seen those before. Furthermore, as you can see, quite a few bits are missing (including a driver, whatever was on the back seat - maybe a standing cameraman looking back?- and even a tire!). If it weren't for the "Vuelta Ciclista" sign, I would have never noticed these cars.
Some bags also included spectators. These civilians are copies of Airfix set 6. (Thanks to Marco Bijl for this information)
Sometimes, though, there were bigger riders in the bags. I always felt disappointed when this happened, since there well less figurines and I did not need standard-sized low-quality unpainted figurines. I used to touch the bags before pourchasing them to make sure that there weren't big riders in them. I just wanted the small ones.
Mid-sized riders (50 mm from wheel to wheel) of the French-inspired "two-position" type were not unusual to find.
On the other hand, these huge riders are VERY unusual. They measure 9 cms long, and I only know of these four positions. Furthermore they are very unstable. Warning: I have never found them in an unopened Montaplex bag myself, so I cannot really asseverate that they are Montaplexes. However, I have seen pictures where one of them is depicted besides a (supposedly) recently open bag and a set of small riders. I do not have any reason to think that these pictures are fake.
They look like they are standing, aren't they? Well, they aren't exactly...
Some time ago I was able to purchase some original unopened Montaplex bags. This gives a good example of what you might find in them. Though there were both "Vuelta a España" and "Tour de France" bags, the contents were similar. Almost all the riders were yellow (a couple of bags had blue riders), all the bags had spectators (mostly green), some of the bags featured a camera or a banner (occasionally both!), and all the bags featured one or two (!) Ford-T cars with no apparent relation with cycling. Most of the paper bags were in poor condition but I have saved the best unopened ones to trade. Email me if if you are interested.
Avoid whatever Montaplex envelope marked "Nueva Generación" or "Homenatge" you might find. These are modern reproductions (though the riders in them might have been made by Montaplex; the ones I found in this envelope Volta a Catalunya were of the the low-quality mid-sized type Montaplex. By the way, there was never a "Volta a Catalunya" montaplex bag (nor any "Anquetil" or "Perico Delgado" bag, which I have also seen for sale).
In later years a new series of envelopes called Montaman was distributed. They contained bigger figurines that you had to assemble. I always found them quite ugly.
By the way, one of the videos I made for the Figueres exhibition features exclusively Montaplex riders (and spectators):
Montaplex peloton on a Corriere dei Piccoli board
Description written in December 2022.
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