Diecast model cars merge our love of the automobile with the childhood pleasure of playing with toys. Their palm-of-the-hand size, attention to detail, and relative scarcity make them a fine collectible, too.

Dowst Brothers of Chicago is generally credited with producing the first diecast cars, which began not as toys but as cuff links, charms, and other decorative personal objects. Dowst was already in the diecast business in the early 20th century, making, among other things, some of the tokens used on board games such as Monopoly.

By 1915, Dowst offered its first diecast toy car, a Ford Model T tourer. A year later, the company added a Ford pickup truck to its tiny fleet, and by 1922 the company was selling a variety of diecast vehicles under the TootsieToy brand.

The Depression years were good for diecast model cars, perhaps because people could not afford the real thing. TootsieToy expanded into Mack trucks and Yellow cabs, all the while improving details and quality. For example, its cars’ metal wheels were upgraded to white rubber in 1935, and then to solid black rubber in 1941.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Solido was making diecast cars for French children and Marklin dominated the German market. In pre-World War II England, Meccano’s Dinky Toys reigned. Today its colorful delivery vans and trio of '38 series' sports cars from that era are highly collectible.

Besides their age, one of the main reasons pre-war diecasts are so prized is because they were not especially well-made. They used a zinc alloy which was susceptible to metal fatigue. Children wore the toys out quickly, so few have survived.

World War II put the diecast business on hold as metals of all sorts were funneled into the war effort. Post war, Dinky continued to flourish but two new companies kept things co...

By the end of the 1950s, it was standard practice to package a diecast car in its own cardboard box, the condition of which can affect the value of a car for today’s collector. The 1960s brought clear plastic panels to the boxes, allowing customers to see the car inside without opening the box.

Mattel elevated this practice to a science with its Hot Wheels toys, the first of which appeared in 1968. Hot Wheels differed from other diecast cars in a number of important respects. First, their 1:64 scale was smaller than the 1:43 of most Dinky and Corgis, but a bit larger than the 1:75 favored by Matchbox.

Second, Hot Wheels cars featured wire axles that added to their play value, which makes finding a mint version of any of its first “Sweet Sixteen” models a challenge. Finally, being U.S.-based, Hot Wheels was able to tap into American car culture in a way that the British companies could not.

Of its first 16 models, most Hot Wheels were classic muscle cars (Barracudas, Corvettes, Cougars, etc.) and the rest were race and show cars, including a model designed by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth called the Beatnik Bandit. Corgi was selling Ramblers and Dinky was peddling Morris Minis. American boys yawned.

As the 1970s progressed, Hot Wheels left competitors such as Johnny Lightning and others in the dust. It signed licensing deals with NASCAR and Formula One teams, produced larger 1:43 models for adult collectors and had so much demand for its freewheeling products that it had to turn to Hong Kong for manufacturing help.

Key terms for Vintage Diecast Model Cars:

Diecasting: The process by which molten metal such as zinc, aluminum or tin is forced under pressure into a mold. Diecasting can produce fine details inexpensively, which is why it is the choice of many toy manufacturers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

1up Diecast Collection

1up Diecast Collection

Daniel Beckett's gallery of over 6000 collectible diecast vintage toy cars from the 1960s through the 1980s. Includ… [read review or visit site]



This gallery of Matchbox model cars and other vehicles from the 1970s is worth cruising if you ever had (or wanted)… [read review or visit site]

DFW Elite Toy Museum

DFW Elite Toy Museum

Ron Sturgeon's excellent gallery of fancy model cars and other vehicles. Nice high resolution shots with classy mus… [read review or visit site]

The Show Room

The Show Room

This gallery at Dave's Show Rod Rally features model show rods from 1960 to 2001. Favorites include the 1958 Thunde… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1968 Original Hot Wheels Redline Light Magenta/rose Custom Corvette In Blister!1968 Original Hot Wheels Redline Deep Rose Pink Custom Camaro Stellar! Must See!Minneapolis Moline White Oliver Agco Farm Toy Tractor G1000 Ertl 1:16Gmp 1971 Pontiac Gto Hardtop 1/18 Diecast, Tropical Lime1:18 Cmc M-105 1956 Maserati 300s, RedHot Wheels Redline 1969 Olds 442Vintage Red Original Buddy L Sttion Wagon And Matching Camper Great Condition Hot Wheels Vintage Racing John Morton's Bre Datsun Bluebird 510Highway 61 1:18 Diecast 1957 Chevy 150 Utility Sedan - 50291 Super Street MibDinky 983 Car Carrier & Trailer 984 & 985 Fantastic Original Vintage DiecastVintage Original Tootsietoy Lasalle Saloon Car With Die-cast Body RepaintedDanbury Mint 1930 Cadillac V-16 Roadster 1:12 Diecast Car1/64 Dcp 31380 Ankrum Trucking Inc Peterbilt 379 Mid-roof Slpr W/ 53' ReeferVintage Diecast Boxed Corgi Toys Superb Ford Cortina Estate Golfing Danbury Mint 1:24 Barris 1951 Mercury Hirohata Custom Coupe Highway 61 1:18 Diecast - 1969 Chevy Yenko Camaro - Lemans Blue Supercar MibHot Wheels Legends To Life Don Snake Prudhomme Funny Car 1:24 W Staging LightsErtl? 1/16 Scale Diecast John Deere 6030 Tractor - Used Ut Models 1:18 Diecast - 1978 Chevrolet Corvette - Silver - MibGmp 1:18 1970 Plymouth Heads Up Road Runner Orange Flawed Diecast --- Rare!1971 Original Hot Wheels Redline Emerald Green Over Chrome Boss Hoss Mustang WowAgco Minneapolis Moline G1000 White Farm Toy Vehicle 1 Off Rare No Reserve Highway 61 1:18 Diecast - 1970 Aar Plymouth Cuda - 50550 Blue MibVintage Diecast Boxed Corgi Toys Superb Walls Ice Cream Van Ford Thames ChassisHighway 61 Dcp 1941 Chevrolet Flatbed Truck Dark Green 1:16 # 50065 W Box Sm 63fHighway 61 1:18 Diecast 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda 50575 Nash Bridges Yellow Mib1969 Mint Hot Wheels Redline Alive '55 Chevy Nomad Diecast Redline 1 Owner! M2 Machines 1957 Chevy Nomad Chase - 2010 New York Toy Fair, 1 Of 108, 1:64 Highway 61 1:18 Diecast - 1969 Chevy Camaro Rs/z28 50687 Orange/white Stripes LeM2 Machines Detroit-muscle 1/64 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 428 Gold/black Flames Autoart Nissan Skyline Gt-r R-34 1:18 Scale Die-cast White Super Complete 77303Dinky Vintage 1:18 Scale Die-cast Military Vehicles (18)1/24 Franklin Mint 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Custom Catalina 1:24 L.e. 550 Pieces!Autoart 1:18 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6.5 Tommi Makinen Mint In Box CompleteNascar Jeff Gordon 2012 Aarp Ninja Turtles Dteh Rcca Elite 1/300 Serial # 281White Model 4-210 "field Boss" 4wd Toy Tractor "red Stripe" 1/16 Scale, NibAuto World 1970 Dodge Charger R/t Se Le #amm1051/06 1:18 Scale In Box Ad 62fHw's 2016 Super Treasure Hunt Tv Series BatmobileErtl 1:18 Diecast 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle Ss 396 - Red - Evergreen Le MibDanbury Mint 1969 Pontiac Gto Convertible Limited Edition 1:24 DiecastHot Wheels Redline All Original Magenta Olds 442 Near MintHw's Rlc Bre Datsun Bluebird 510 1/64 Dcp 32482 Tri-state Commodities Kenworth W900l Slpr W/ Tarp Grain TrailerDanbury Mint 1:24 1948 Buick Roadmaster Coupe Broken Hood W Cot & Box Sj 59fDinky Vintage 1:18 Scale Die-cast Military Vehicles (19)Minneapolis Moline White Oliver Agco Farm Toy Tractor Ub With Mounted Picker 1:1Ut Models 1:18 Diecast - 1996 Chevrolet Impala Ss - Green MibScott Bloomquist Diecast Dirt Late Model Danbury Mint 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 1:24 Scale In Original BoxHot Wheels Redline Light Olive Custom CougarM2 Machines 1:64 Rally Historico Transpeninsular 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Chase!!!Dinky 181 Volkswagen Vw Beetle Fantastic Original Vintage Diecast BoxedMatchbox Transitional Superfast Sf-8 Ford Mustang Red-orange White Interior NmibHot Wheels Redline Blue Seasider With Orange Boat On The Card Near MintAirstream International Land Yacht Camper 1:24 Diecast Model Franklin Mint 1968Highway 61 Dcp 1948 International Kb-5 Flatbed Black 1:16 Scale In Box Sm 63fVintage Diecast Boxed Corgi Toys Bmc Mini Police Van With Dog And HandlerUt Models 1:18 Black Bmw M3 Diecast ModelFranklin Mint 1:24 1935 Duesenberg J Convertible B11rr77 W Coa & Box Sj 59fHighway 61 1:18 Diecast 1969 Chevy Camaro Convertible Ss396 Backyard Conversions