Tonka Toys Identification Guide | Cheat Sheet

Tonka truck identification, at least in the early years, is really pretty basic stuff. You will see that, at times, the changes from year to year can be fairly subtle. At other times, the changes could best be described as brutally apparent. In the tables below, I've listed a few different Identification Features for the various truck model years. Some are fairly broad, (you will only be able to narrow down the age of your truck to within a few years) and some will identify the exact year of manufacture.

The Identification Features listed below, are applicable to the Tonka classic Regular series of trucks. Roughly those trucks that are 1:18 scale. In the early and mid 1960's, Tonka began to add new series of trucks, notably the Tiny-Tonka, Mini-Tonka and the Mighty Tonka series. And the Regular line grew to include the Gas Turbine futuristic cab in 1965. The logos would be applicable to ALL model series. Tire, wheel cover, windshield and bumper/grille information only works for the CLASSIC Regular series.

Logo 1947-1955 1947-1955
Logo 1956-1957 1956-1957
Logo 1958-1961 1958-1961
Logo 1962-1969 1962-1969
Logo 1970-1973 1970-1973
Logo 1974-1975 1974-1975
Logo 1976-1977 1976-1977
Logo 1978-PRESENT 1978-PRESENT

First Year Issue, 1955 1955 1955 marked the first year a pickup truck was manufactured by Tonka. The front clip was the same round fender design Tonka introduced in 1954. You could have any color you wanted as long as it was red. The grille and front bumper was a one piece plated steel design. The headlights were separate plated steel pieces that pushed into the grille. Tires were molded one piece black rubber. The wheel covers were aluminum with a satin finish and 5 round holes. The tailgate was hinged at the bottom and secured to the box sides at the top with a plated metal chain on each side. There was no windshield, side or back "glass". Tonka DID NOT provide a method to hitch an accessory trailer. The model was based on the current Ford F100 pickup of the era.
1956 Grille 1956 In 1956, the pickup was painted dark metallic blue, when sold individually, Omaha orange , when purchased as part of the State Hi-Way Set or red when purchased as part of the Builders Supply Set. The front bumper and grille, although still plated steel, were now separate pieces with the grille held in place by a single, clear, smooth plastic headlight on each side. All other features remained the same as the 1955.
1957 Grille 1957 The 1957 models were similar to the 1956 but with one key identifying feature. The hood now sported a scoop, unique to 1957. There was also another feature added to the rear of the pickup. A pocket was added to the underside rear of the bed that, when used with a pin, would hitch a trailer. 1957 marked the end of the three year run of the round fender pickup models.

The example on the left features the front end of the Hi-Way pickup. Note the black bumper. Except for the Hi-Way series and the Allied Van Lines semi, all other 1957 trucks sported the familiar bright finish bumper.
1958 and 1959 Grille and Bumper,4 Parallel Hood Ribs 1958

1958 saw the introduction of what would be called square fender trucks. Once again, the design of the pickup was based on the Ford F series of the period. A clear plastic windshield made its initial appearance, but still no side or back "glass". The tailgate was hinged at the bottom and secured to the box sides with plated metal chains. The pocket for an accessory trailer was retained. Tires were black rubber and the aluminum satin finished wheel covers still sported 5 round holes. The plated steel bumper and grille were separate pieces with the grille now held in place by four smooth, clear plastic headlights. NOTE: The grille on the 1958, 1959 and 1960 models, has the Tonka "T" embossed in the center. The center of the front bumper is smooth. The hood on 1958 and 1959 models only, can be identified by the four parallel ribs, evenly spaced, running front to back.

How do you easily tell a '59 from a '58? Keeping in mind that both years sported hoods with 4 parallel ribs, check for the chains. The tailgate chains disappeared in '59 and so did the holes to connect them.

There were other changes that took place in 1959 that can help differentiate models made in both 1958 and 1959. New for 1959 was the introduction of whitewall tires. Depending on the model, trucks were manufactured with either a rubber whitewall inserted into a black rubber tire or the familiar one piece rubber blackwall tire.

Also new for 1959 was the introduction of two new wheel covers. The aluminum wheel cover with five round holes was deleted. Depending on the model, the trucks were fitted with either a plated steel solid disc wheel cover or a plated steel wheel cover with five triangular holes.
1960 Grille and Hood 1960 1960 models saw a couple of design changes. The key identifying feature is the hood design. The 2 inside ribs were deleted replaced by a very wide center rib that grew wider front to back.

The pocket under the bed was deleted. A new hitching method was designed into the chassis to allow accessory trailers to be attached. It should be noted that the trailers designed in 1957, 1958 and 1959 WILL NOT fit the newer hitch. The hole in the trailer tang is too small.

Tires and wheel covers remained as noted on the 1959 models.
Tonka T in Bumper 1961 1961 models were very similar to their 1960 counterparts except for this key identifying feature. The embossed Tonka T that had graced the grille on the 1958 through 1960 models was removed. Not to fear. The Tonka T was now emblazoned on the center of the front bumper.

Tires and wheel covers remained as noted on the 1960 models.
Generic Grille with Twin Headlights 1962


1962 saw the end of the Tonka truck's resemblance to the Ford F series, though I think to some degree there is still a likeness. However, someone somewhere deemed models manufactured from 1962 through 1967 as "generic" and the terminology stuck over the years. Relegated to what was once a stepchild like existence, these "generic" models are becoming a solid favorite with collectors because they are reasonably priced.

Tires and wheel covers remained as noted on the 1959 through 1961 models.

The grille and bumper was a massive one piece design with two plastic headlights per side.

1962 was the last year for the smooth, clear plastic headlight.

1963 saw the introduction of the faceted, clear plastic headlight.
Generic Grille with Single Headlight 1965


1965 began a three year run for a revised, "generic" grille and bumper. Though still a one piece design, it now sported only one larger, faceted, clear headlight per side. The wheel covers carried over from 1964.

1965 marked another change. The occupants finally eliminated that drafty feeling because the truck now sported a completely enclosed cab, "glass" all the way around.

1965 also marked another change. The tires and whitewalls changed dramatically. The tire was changed to an injection molded plastic material as was the separate whitewall. Tonka referred to this tire as their" TX-500 life-time tire." The whitewall was also narrower.

1966 trucks looked the same as 1965. You're going to need a catalog to see the color variations to determine a 1966 from a 1965.

1967 also noted a change. Only the wheel cover with 5 triangular holes was used on all Regular series models. The solid disc was eliminated.
1968-1972 grille
1968-72 grille w/clear headlights

1968 wheelcover
1968-73 wheel cover
1965-71 whitewall

1972 Billboard Tire
1972 billboard tire

1973 grille
1973 grille w/white headlights






1968 marked a major change in the grille. For the next several years, the classic Regular series grille would be based on Dodge pickup trucks of the era.

1968 through 1972 grilles had one faceted, clear headlight per side. Inside the cab, injection molded plastic seats and a vinyl steering wheel were added.

1968 also marked the use of a different plated steel wheel cover. It still had 5 triangular holes but a raised rib was added on each spoke. TX-500 life-time tires were still used with the narrower whitewall of the previous 3 years.

1969 models had all the features of the 1968

1970 saw one change. The TX-500 life-time tire was replaced with what Tonka called their "flotation" tire that looked remarkably like the TX-500 tire EXCEPT the flotation is markedly wider. The tire retained the narrow whitewall and the same wheel cover as the previous years.

1971 models had all the features of the 1970

1972 saw another change where the rubber meets the road. The narrow whitewall was replaced with what Tonka called their "billboard black sidewall". In other words a raised white letter sidewall on the same floatation tire already in use.

1973 models resembled their 1972 predecessors except for a change in the headlights. White faceted replaced clear.

1974 was another change over year. And the changes again took place on all four corners. The entire 3 piece wheel cover/tire/sidewall assembly was replaced by a 2 piece assembly; an ultra wide injection molded plastic tire mounted to "mag" style wheel.