The History of Diecast Model Cars

People choose to collect many different things — stamps, coins, movies, and so on — but few hobby niches have quite the following like diecast model cars. For true passionates, there are few things better than adding a new vehicle to their collection, particularly if it is of a rare model series. But how did these scale models grow into a phenomenon that crosses cultural and national boundaries? Here’s a closer look at the history of one of the world’s favorite collectible items.


How Did Diecast Models Come to Be?

Model cars are nearly as old as the real thing. In fact, the first model cars appeared as toys in Europe and the United States in the early 1900s. Typically made from lead and brass, these early models were designed as toys and weren’t meant to imitate a specific make or model. This was partly due to the primitive nature of casting and metal shaping at the time.


Toys weren’t the only reason diecast models were produced, though. Starting in the 1920s, most auto manufacturers would create scale models of their vehicles for promotional purposes or as design prototypes. These models were typically much larger (with a scale of 1:4 or 3:8) so designers could highlight all the features that would be included in the vehicle. Interestingly, many of these models were made from wood.


Die casting (in which molten metal is poured into a mold to shape an object) became a more common method of producing vehicle models after World War II. Manufacturers in Europe began producing detailed diecast models in smaller scales like 1:43, which made them better suited for incorporation with model railroad sets. These metal cars were also more durable, and many even included working parts such as movable steering wheels and doors that would open.


Though these models were initially produced in Europe and the United States, it wasn’t long before Japan and other Asian countries also became involved in producing diecast, tin, and plastic models.


Becoming a Collectible

Even in the early days of model cars, many adults demonstrated a keen interest in collecting these model vehicles. While collecting had existed on some scale for several decades, it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the collecting craze really took off. At this time, certain brands were introduced that were specifically geared toward collectors.


The resulting models had a greater attention to detail than ever before and were produced in smaller numbers, making them highly desirable. Larger and more complex kits (such as models in a 1:8 scale) often sold for several hundred dollars.


By the early 1990s, collectors’ tastes shifted to prize even the tiniest and rarest variations in model miniatures — similar to how a stamp with slightly different coloration or printing will be more highly sought after by the stamp collecting community. As a result, even mass manufacturers like Matchbox began producing more collectible “limited edition” models geared toward adult collectors.


The introduction of the internet has since made it easier than ever for diecast model car enthusiasts to connect with likeminded individuals from around the globe. Perhaps even more importantly for the avid collector, it has also made it easier to find rare collectible models. Though model cars collecting may not get as much media attention as other hobbies, there’s no denying that this niche is still going strong today.


Are You Ready to Build Your Collection?

Starting your own model car collection may seem somewhat intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s no wrong way to collect model cars. Whether you wish to keep models in their original packaging so that you can resell them for a higher price later or use them to lend added realism to a model railroad, there are plenty of ways to find enjoyment with these fun collectibles. Which models will you buy next?

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