Die Cast Cars Collectors Guide

The world of diecast is pretty broad. From the highly collectible and simply produced nostalgia items of the 40's, 50's and 60's, to the incredibly detailed show-pieces often favoured by vehicle enthusiasts today. For those of us unable, perhaps, to afford the real thing, a die-cast recreation can be a fantastic substitute.

But when did diecast begin, what makes some items so collectible and what do the current range of Die Cast Toys for sale offer that previously wasn't available to collectors?

In the Beginning, There was Lead-Alloy

Diecast toys really began in the 1930's. Companies like England's Dinky Toys and France's Solido, started making toys roughly in keeping with the scale of trainsets, which were popular at the time. An avid locomotive modeller could by a sportscar to decorate a road or add a tractor to a field, to add further realism to their layout.

original dinky

These early models featured a simple, quite basic painted metal shell attached to a baseplate and having 4-rubber tyres. Precious few of these pre-WW2 examples remain today due to the widespread use of high-lead and zinc alloys, which deteriorate very badly with age. The use of newer alloys has largely put a stop to this problem.

It didn't take long for people to fall in love with the little cars and trucks, and within a couple of decades there were a number of companies successfully producing miniature models of popular vehicles all over the world, most notably in Europe and the US. These small toys were no longer necessarily bought for adding to trainsets, many were bought by adults enjoying their cute appearance, but the vast majority were given to children as toys. Much of today's collectors market is made up of these children, all grown up and (maybe) with some disposable income. Some of whom add to collections they may have had as a child, some try to buy back toys they wish they hadn't parted with and a great many now enjoy being able to buy the collection they coveted but never had in their youth.

By the time Mettoy introduced their range of Corgi Toys onto the scene in 1956, many of the names we're familiar with today were already established. Corgi threw a real spanner in the works for other diecast makers though, with the first major change in the industry since the widespread use of more suitable alloys shortly after the war; Corgi cars had windows and interiors.

As we've already learnt, up to this point a basic metal shell in a likeness of a particular, existing vehicle had been sufficient to keep children and hobbyists happy, this new added detail meant that other makers of diecast cars and vehicles would have to keep up with Corgi's advancements or lose business. Further, this additional attention would put in motion the wheels of a new, precision-lead machine, passing through stages like opening doors, detailed engine bays and jewelled headlamps. All this extra detail and focus on a truly realistic likeness culminates in companies like Kyosho, Autoart and Minichamps who produce some of the best and most realistic popular-scale likenesses of automobiles collectors can buy today.

Current Die-Cast

Manufacturers like Kyosho, Hot Wheels and Minichamps are at the forefront of collectible diecast cars in the modern era. The level of precision exhibited on model cars today is breath-taking, as is the range of cars being produced. Race cars, both current and historic, have always been a popular choice, and Minichamps range of Formula 1 racing cars are a definite favourite with racing fans and diecast collectors.

size guide

The French companies Solido and Norev, produce excellent cars at a more affordable price point. Both companies focus mainly on well-known French cars, particularly in the case of Norev, and make some stunning, timeless and nostalgia-inducing copies of the likes of Citroen and Peugeot as well as other, largely European, brands.

Scale and Die-Cast

There are a few scale choices for die-cast models but, particularly when considering only new models, two main scales will crop up again and again, these are 1:43 and 1:18.

1:43 is the single most popular scale for die-cast cars. A typical car made in this scale will be around 3-5 inches in length. 1:43 is widely used for two principle reasons, the first being that it is small enough for a collector or enthusiast to have a large collection whilst still being able to store and display it effectively, the second is that 1:43 is still physically big enough for manufacturers to add a lot of detail. Most die-cast car companies produce an abundance of models for this scale, making it a great choice for anyone wanting to start buying and collecting current model cars.

1:18 scale models are quite a bit bigger, usually measuring around 8-11 inches in length for a typical car. The choice in models available for 1:18 is certainly less than 1:43, but you couldn't describe it as being sparse. Similarly to 1:43, most manufacturers will have a large range of models in 1:18, although, being larger and often more expensive, the range is often limited to very well-known cars, such as popular classics or particularly historic racing cars.

Other scales, though less well provided for, are still seen regularly. These include:

  • 1:12, the most popular scale for diecast motorcycles. Some cars are also produced in this scale, but they're quite rare and usually very expensive due to their large size. A typical car in 1:12 is around 14-16 inches in length
  • 1:64, which is a very popular scale in vintage die-cast cars like Hot Wheels and Matchbox. A typical car made in this scale will be around 4 inches long
  • 1:72 is another popular scale, this time with military figures. This is due to the prolific use of 1:72 in plastic scale-model kit building, allowing collectors to display diecast and plastic models together. Consequently, 1:72 is not a popular scale for typical cars to be produced in.

Collecting

Most of the value for collectors looking to invest for financial reasons lies in vintage cars, particularly those from the big manufacturers and being produced during the 1950's. Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox toys dominate the collecting market, in that order. This follows the rule that the larger the manufacturer, the more collectible the toys.

corgi merc

The condition of the box that a desirable, antique model comes in can be as (or even more) important than the model itself. Being primarily children's toys, a lot of older toys were played with rather than collected, so examples with minimal or some wear can be found relatively easily and, in most cases semi-affordably. Boxes, however, can be very rare indeed.

Values of individual toys, even within the same casting, can range from tens of to thousands of pounds depending on the rarity of the colour scheme and branding, among other details. It is for this reason that acknowledged collector's books and guides, coupled with a good depth of knowledge, are necessary for any would-be collector looking to invest in vintage die-cast toys. Some of the most valuable vintage diecast models are Dinky lorries and vans, decorated with popular and obscure brands from their respective eras. A small number of these models can reach over 5-figures at auction!

boyce cycles van

This pre-war Dinky van, bearing 'Boyce Cycles' branding, sold for £17,000 at auction in 2008!

Some new cars do become investment opportunities, however, particularly if they belong to a shorter production run and even more so if the car being modelled has a strong following to begin with. Reproductions of vehicles from popular films or historic races or even particular drivers, especially when produced in limited numbers, can command higher prices when demand rises.

senna 97t

Many collectors will tell you that the best way to approach collecting anything is to only acquire the things you truly enjoy. That way, no matter what their value may (or may not) do in the future, you still have a collection you can enjoy.