A child hurriedly runs downstairs early on Christmas morning to tear open a box shrouded in mystery all tucked under a giant red bow. Eyes bright with consuming fascination, he pulls out a shiny red tin firetruck.
It seems like just about everyone in the past seventy years has played with a model automobile. My grandfather owned one when he was a child and I can vividly remember the days when Ken would pick Barbie up in his hot pink Jaguar V8. There’s nothing new about the model car industry as this constantly evolving fascination with automobiles propagates the model car as a valuable collectible item today.
Model cars and toy cars have been in production just about as long as real automobiles and today are a 1.25+ billion dollar industry. Though thousands of mini-automobiles have been made, the biggest difference between toy cars and genuine model cars is seen in their fine attention to detail. Model cars are meticulously scaled and designed, whereas purely toy cars lack accuracy in size and detailing.
In the 1920’s it was believed that small cars helped the sale of their large counterparts. Dealers would sell models right alongside the real ones, hoping that children would form an attachment to a brand and
therefore encourage adults to purchase the full-size version. By the 70’s collectible automobiles were as much geared towards adults as children.
From the run-of-the-mill to the exotic, model cars have been made from wood, tin, resin, cast iron, steel and plastic. Originally much larger than today’s models, tin cars were primarily manufactured in Germany in the early 1900’s. Some were simple push cars, while others contained winding gears. In the 1920s the French car company Citroen built notably large models at 1/8th and 1/11th the actual size. Today, they are typically 1:64.
While cast iron model cars were trendy before World War I, Buddy L Toys popularized the pressed steel model, which allowed for pieces to move independently as these models grew more true to life. With the market’s increasing popularity, companies such as Matchbox Lesney and Hot Wheels jumped in the model car game, blowing away all competition and broadening the collectible’s accessibility with much smaller, more affordable die-cast models. Hot Wheels began to produce limited-edition cars which were updated annually representing the manufacturing schedule of actual cars. To date, the die-cast car is the most popular type of die-cast toy ever produced.
It’s safe to say toy cars are still a relevant, booming industry with companies like Hot Wheels continually producing new designs, movies and even mobile games. However, the model car industry has changed as the baby-boomers and pre-boomers begin to downsize and purchase less. We can only hope that the avid collectors will continue to recognize and share the beauty that is a classic, model car.
Check out some of our own car memorabilia at S&C Etc: