Model cars are miniature models of cars built to varying scales, designed to be played with as toys by children and collected by adult collectors. The category can also include other miniature vehicles such as trucks, vans, buses and tractors.
Types of model car
There are several different types of model car. The earliest produced were tin model cars, some push toys and others powered by clockwork. They were often built as scale models of real automobiles, and the early 20th century examples represent iconic classic cars. Iron model cars were produced, and later pressed steel models.
The most common form of model car, the diecast model, evolved from these. Diecast models are pre-built and solid. These can range from simple robust children’s toys to highly-detailed models; all are popular with different areas of collecting. Diecast toy cars are built in various scales of size, including 1: 64 scale, 1:43 scale, 1:25 scale and 1:18 scale.
Larger cars tend to have a far higher level of detail and are often produced for adult collectors, whereas the smaller models are cheaper, made with far less detail and usually aimed at children. However, the wide range and variety of the smaller 1:64 scale vehicles have made them increasingly popular with collectors. The most popular brands for collectors include Tootsie, Matchbox and Hotwheels (both produced by Mattel), Johnny Lightning and Dinky.
These cars have been produced for a number of years; the Dinky range of vehicles (produced by Meccano) was first released in 1934 , Matchbox began life with British manufacturer Lesney Toys in 1953 and Hotwheels were first launched in 1968.
Other popular manufacturers of model cars include Lledo, Schuco, Thunderjet, S & K, and Consolidated Freightways.
In the 1950s and 60s, plastic promotional model cars were produced by car companies, to give away with car purchases or bought individually.
Model cars can also come in the form of model kits based on real production vehicles, which are put together and painted by enthusiasts. They can be made from plastic, wood, resin or die-cast metal, and usually have a high level of detail. They can also often feature moving parts and have internal features such as engine blocks. Some detailed kits can have thousands of tiny parts, whereas others are simpler and aimed at younger children. There a large number of kit car manufacturers, with the most notable being AMT, Monogram, Revell and Tamiya.
Guide to Collecting
Collectors generally fall into the separate categories of early model car collectors, diecast model car collectors, or model car kit collectors who build the cars themselves.
There is a strong collectors’ market for smaller die-cast toy cars, and many of model companies now produce models aimed at adult collectors, a practice that began during the 1970s. There are a number of models created as limited editions, some vehicles are produced in a number of colour variations and re-issues of classic models and series’ from the 1950s and 60s are common.
As with many collectibles, model cars are far more valuable if kept in their original packaging; this can often add up to 50% to their value on the secondary market.
Some toy cars are not scaled, with no attention to detail, if intended for children. Model cars are generally scaled exactly with lots of detail, which is a factor that some collectors hold to be extremely important.
Of course model car kits are not generally kept inside their packaging. They are collected for the joy of creating an exact replica of a real life car.
Where to find model cars
There are large number of organizations and clubs for collectors of toy cars around the world, and a wealth of information from which to research vintage models. Many clubs hold regular meetings, events and auctions, and there are a number of dedicated toy dealers and auction companies who can supply antique and vintage toy cars.
They can also be found at car-boot sales and charity shops as they are often sold or donated once children have grown out of their toys. However, the majority of these toys are in 'played in' condition so they tend not to be suitable for the more serious collectors looking for investment grade toys.
It is worth exploring some reference websites for model cars, of which there are many, focusing either on model cars in general, or one brand or model, for example Malcolm's Diecast Showroom, Hotwheels Collectors and Wyatt's Johnny Lightning Website. There are also magazines that many collectors subscribe to, for example the Toy Trucker and Contractor.
The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.
Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.
Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.