Lost Toys: Marx Toys’ Navarone Play Set

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At some point, I suppose it’s inevitable that one looks back upon childhood and thinks about toys. No matter your generation, your toys were much cooler than the new-fangled gizmos the current generation plays with, and darn it, I’m right about that. Because not much can compare to Marx Toys’ Navarone Play Set!

Installing the Guns of Navarone

Note that this large, grey play set, displayed here in a happy moment on Christmas Day, 1976, does not seem to be officially linked to Alistair MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone action-thriller novel from 1957 nor the 1961 movie based upon the same. There’s no tie-in language on the packaging, which can be seen in a story on the Official Marx Toy Museum from the July 13, 2008, Reading Eagle, and the name of the play set from the box is “Famous World War II Battle of Navarone Giant Play Set,” not “The Guns of Navarone Play Set.”

But, um, Navarone doesn’t actually exist outside of MacLean’s fervid imagination, and there was no “Famous World War II Battle” there outside of book covers or movie theaters. I suppose IP lawyers were less active in those days. To live in simpler times . . .

The play set itself was, for a young lad, a work of beauty and genius all at once. Lots of cannons, rope ladders for scaling the face of the mountain, a working elevator in the back, and even bunk beds! And tons and tons of plastic army men—not that I didn’t have tons anyway, but more was always better. It was, in truth, sort of a Barbie house for plastic army men, though one bristled at the comparison at the time.


Detail of 1976.xx.xx JCPenney Christmas Catalog P410 on flickr.com by Wishbook via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike License.

According to the 1976 JCPenney Christmas Catalog entry for this item (pictured above), we’re talking nine pounds of injection molded plastic fun!

Of note, there’s nothing electronic about the Navarone Play Set—no battery-powered sirens, no wind-up tanks or flashing lights, just plastic and imagination. By the time the G.I. Joe action figures came out in the early 1980s, I still had the play set, and the Joes fought Cobra where once the green army men fought the grey ones, even if it was a bit of a tight fit.

I’m not the only person to fondly remember this toy. The set fetches high prices on the auction market, and there’s even a video demonstration of the set, narrated by a lucky kid whose father is letting him play with it.

(Image courtesy of Wishbook via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike License.)

42 thoughts on “Lost Toys: Marx Toys’ Navarone Play Set

  1. Mike Lantis

    Am interested in buying Navarone Giant, I went through 2 as a kid in mid 1970’s. There were also 2 other WWII sets one with a North African campaign genre and another with like a European campaign. Do you have any clues?

    Thanks-Mike

  2. Mike,

    The Navarone set tends to pop up on eBay from time to time (for fairly hefty prices), and there are some sites focused on Marx and other toy manufacturers from the 1970s that might have forums where people buy and sell them as well. Beyond that, I don’t have any leads, I’m afraid.

    Good luck finding a set!

  3. I remember this thing like it was yesterday. I got one around 1980 or so from my grandmother as a birthday gift and it ranks as one of my favorite toys ever. I’m going to find one on eBay someday just for old time sake.

  4. Roland

    I have one of these play sets in the original box. Do you know how much these are selling for and where to sell it?

  5. Roland,

    I’m not sure of the exact price range you could expect for a Guns of Navarone play set, but I’d imagine they sell for US $50+ if complete and boxed. eBay seems a good place to start if you were looking to sell.

  6. Brian

    Just dug this out of storage for my kids yesterday.

    Fun watching them play with it.

    Amazing detail on both the Green and Grey Army men that came with the set. Not the usual five or six positions. Love the guy that swings his rifle like a baseball bat.

    Hope you find one for yourself.

  7. Wow, this brought back some memories! Thanks for posting. I don’t remember when exactly I got this playset, but it was in the late 70s and it provided many hours of serious fun for me and my brother. As I started collecting Star Wars figures, it even subbed as an Imperial base from time to time!

    Completely forgot about the plastic terrain mat that came with it too.

  8. jeffg

    Hello,
    This brings back fantastic memories of when the world was just – easier. I too would love to get my hands on one if anybody has one left or is interested in selling.

  9. I had–still have it, actually–the Mego version of the Navarone. Got it at Christmas, 1981. The box, which I still have despite it being sun faded has a 1981 copyright date. Mine was black in color but was otherwise exactly like the earlier gray version.

    I also had a European front playset called “Battleground.” It came with pontoon bridge, rolled barbwire barriers, pillboxes, mines, and I believe German and American soldiers. Combined with the Navarone, one could have quite a war. My friend had the gray Navarone and I recall bringing mine to his house while holding it with one hand and my other hand steering the bicycle. Great times. Always liked that lower level garage door that opened…

  10. Dan

    I played the crud out of my Guns of Navarone set when I was a kid. Hours and hours at it, blasting Germans. I was fascinated by the detail and variety of the soliders. Whenever I happen to see a bag of army men hanging in a store I can’t help but think of the Navarone figures. There is never any comparison.

  11. MinnesotaDan

    I would be interested in purchasing one of these play sets for my boys. My neighbor had one when I was a kid, and it kept us busy for hours at a time.
    Let me know,
    Thanks

  12. Camilla

    I have just found one of these in my parents garage. It is not complete I’m sure, in terms of any figures that may have come with it. It belonged to my brother when we were children in the late 70’s. It is in the box, but the box is old and cobwebbed and damaged. If anyone is interested in making us an offer for it, get in touch, Camilla@brightboxlimited.com. Thanks.

  13. Teresa

    I am also interested in purchasing one of the original playsets complete in the box if anyone has one they are willing to sell. Thanks

  14. Michael

    I have Navarone cliff play set with other pieces but not a complete set and also not in box. I also have an Iwo Jima play set it is almost a complete set but also not in a box. I do have a used one million B.C. playset, it is 95% complete and is in the original box. All is FOR SALE!!!!!!

  15. Lance and Linda Zubrin

    I have a 1981 WW II Giant Navarone Playset Complete in Box….I live in Cherry Hill NJ though willing to ship…I can send Photo’s….

    Thank you

  16. David Frederick

    i am 47 now but i had two guns of Navarone mountains playsets when i was a kid , the first had Gray cannons and for some reason the 2nd one had yellow cannons , but this to me was the stand out toy of my childhood .Ihad tons of army men besides but also bought 2 battleground sets by marx as well.

  17. Monnie

    sounds like many of us are searching for the Navarone Playset. please put me on the list of interested buyers. my sons (and me) would love to get our hands on one. thank you!!

  18. Mike

    I had a playset that was very similar to this back in the late 1970’s . It differed in the fact that the figures were not solid colors. Both the American and German soldiers were colored with the flesh parts being fleshed colored and the uniforms and equipment being colored correctly as well. I have never been able to find another example of it anywhere and have wondered who had actually made it as I do not remember from when I was a kid but I can remember it as clear as day how it looked and the detail that it had was on the high end….

  19. Paul

    I would love to get one of these sets for my sons. It was, hands down, the greatest toy from my childhood. I am in Michigan by the way.

  20. Tom

    Looking to sell my old guns of naverone set have two mountains one still with the box and complete set the other is not complete but has both guns some accessories also I have acouple other sets have had them forever if you would like any of these contact me on my email tmantrue@yahoo.com or wait for these sets to appear on eBay

  21. Tim

    I loved this toy; it was one of my all-time favorites. I also had Marx’s Iwo Jima playset which was a carbon copy of the Navarone one with different coloring and lots of Japanese soldiers.

  22. Jason

    Wow!! I finally found it. If any one has a set they are selling please let me know. Send me email- jasmruth2007@gmail.com. My childhood friend and I was talking about spending hours playing with this set when we were kids. The good old days. Hope to hear from someone.

  23. Todd

    I have one of these still in box complete set with matt extra army men and trucks is used of course was mine as kid but still in great condition willing to sell at right price.

  24. Paul

    Does anyone remember a box army set around 1972, would have cost less than 20 dollars. If so, do you also remember everything that came in the box?

  25. Lisa

    I grew up with 3 sisters, no brothers, in the 60s/70s. We played with all kinds of toys, from barbies to big wheels to this, the navarone mountain playset. I’m not sure why my sister wanted this so badly, but my mom ordered it from Penney’s catalogue. We all laughed when she came home with it and she told of how a man at the pick up counter said, ” your son will sure love that!” Ha ha because we were GIRLS! Sure beats today with the hyper pink girl aisle. I don’t remember having one pink thing as a kid except maybe rub a dud dolly who we probably set up as a giant attacking the naval one mountain play set. Those were great times.

  26. Harri

    My husband and I were just watching the movie on tv and he turned to me and said, ” I use to have the guns of Navarone play set. I played with it for hours growing up.” He then went to a speciality shop and purchased soliders for our 5 year old son for Christmas. After he saw how much my son LOVED playing with the soliders, my husband stated he wished he kept his playset. Thus, I am interested in a set if anyone has one. I live in Northen California. Email: hmsa30@aol.com

  27. DonaldBreneman

    Had it. This was the coolest toy ever. Loved every second of playing with it as a boy.

    I still have it now along with most of the men. One of the guns is missing and the ladder and furniture but I still have the original box which is trashed, but is an awesome part of the toy anyway. The best thing I did was introduce it to my sons and I was so happy to see them play with it. Now it sits in my son’s closet after many good days of play for him. I swear it’s a fine line for me to go get a six-pack and get it out and have the battle of my lifetime at any moment. Even my friends are flabbergasted when they see it as they know it totally rocked.

    I would consider selling but I honestly would not be able to think of anything cooler to ever replace the memories of this childhood piece.

  28. Mike

    Yes, this set absolutely rocked! Mountain fortress with anti-naval guns! The Allied soldiers had a landing craft which was cool. The German howitzer had great detail. There were some excellent soldier castings, including an Allied mortar man. I believe there was 4 piece medic set–two medics with molded hands, the stretcher, and a wounded soldier that fit on the stretcher.

    I must have gotten mine around 1976; it came with a small comic book illustrating an American army unit attacking a random Gestapo-like Bond villain and his minions.

  29. Jodie

    I recently accrued one (just the mountain – no guns or guys) from an auction. I even had to do some digging to find out what it was. The only difference is mine is more of a tan green color. Most of the ones I see are darker in color. Do you know the difference?

  30. Rory

    I picked up the mountain along with the accessories a few years ago from Ebay. I already had the figures so that wasn’t a problem. I saw one of the other posts mention the landing craft. I have a suggestion for those who want more landing craft but don’t want to pay $12 plus for the BMC brand. If you have one of those Swiffer mops or sweepers, save up the boxes that the replacement heads come in (heck, I would just take the heads out when I got them and put them in a resealable baggy) and then cut off one of the shorter width sides and reattach it with duct tape in a hinge fashion. The last step is to pick up a small plastic electrical box and tape or bolt it to the other end. You end up with a good homemade version of a Higgins landing craft. If you have any marching or standing figures (the Timmee Toy officers are good for this) you can set them inside the box as the driver.

  31. Lost in the 70s

    The Japanese version can be found in the 1979 Sears Wishbook catalog pg 613, titled World War II Battle Scene of Iwo Jima Jungle Mountain. $14.99

    This is the set I had, my best friend got the Navaronne set the same year.

  32. Dave

    Actually, if you watch the movie carefully, there is a line that mentions that the military may have to invade if the commandos don’t complete their mission (which they obviously did)

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