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]

VW Toys and Models

VW Toys and Models

A comprehensive site completely dedicated to miniature Volkswagen vehicles. Browse hundreds of toys by country, man… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Moko Lesney Matchbox Giftset G-4-e Race N Rally NmibHot Wheels Redline Gold Custom Mustang Bp Cheetah CardHotwheels Vintage Redlines Sizzlin' Six Set Boxed Rare Deora # 6241 Sizzlin HtfHot Wheels Redlines 1968 Custom Charger And Badge Metallic PinkHot Wheels Redline Hot Pink Custom Eldorado Bp Rare Redline Hot Wheels Olds 442 Ice BlueHot Wheels Redline Classic 36 Ford Coupe 1969 Htf Rose Pink, Very NiceHot Wheels Redline Classic 36 Ford Coupe 1969 Htf Brown, Extremely NiceMatchbox Superfast Mb-8 Red Mustang White Interior Nice With Original Type G BoxVintage Matchbox Lesney Parts & Restore Lot Of 150 Cars And Trucks 1960'sMatchbox Lesney Lot Of 7 Rare Vehicles Superb Mint In Original BoxHot Wheels Redline Us Red Custom Camaro White InteriorMatchbox Fire Station Set In Box With Cars Vintage Toy Truck Hot Wheels Redline Yellow 1969 Olds 442 Hot Wheels Redline Aqua Heavy Chevy Bp *white Interior*Toy Stamp & Red Line 6969 Rare 1973 Mongoose Blue Funny Car ExcellentHot Wheels Redlines 1968 Classic 36 Ford Coupe GoldLesney Matchbox Chevrolet Impala 57b Regular Wheels Mint With Box Late IssueHot Wheels Redline Custom Camaro Solid Green Vintage Red Line Brown InteriorVintage Hot Wheels Redline Ford J-car New Old Stock On Damaged Card W' ButtonMixed Lot Of 12 Hot Wheels Redlines Original. Check This Out. Some RareHot Wheels 1968 White Enamel Custom Chevy Camaro Redline Hotwheel Matchbox Lesney Major Pack M8 Guy Car Transporter Mint In Box Beautiful! Original 1970 Hot Wheels Redline Magenta Porsche 917 W/decal Sheet1968 - Hot Wheels Reline Custom Cougar Blue Original Blister Pack Bp RareHot Wheels Redline Custom Fleetside Mip AquaVintage 1966 Corgi Toys Rocket Firing Batmobile Batman Robin & Box #267Vintage Hot Wheels 1976 Z-whiz Redline Mattel Hong KongMatchbox Super Kings K-16 Ford Lts Articulated Tanker 3 VersionsMatchbox Superfast 22 Pontiac Gp Sports Coupe 1970 LesneyHot Wheels Redline Hotwheel Plum Super Van W/chrome Plastic Base - Near MintMatchbox superfast 5a Lotus Europa Black / Jps Tempa Lesney Matchbox King Size K-4 Fruehauf Hopper Train In Original Box - Mint!Hot Wheels Redline Blister Pack Custom Vw Unpunched Blister RedHuge Hot Wheels Redline Vintage Lot Of 29 Diecast,case, Track,parts,67-70 Nice!Vintage Unpainted Bye Focal Redline Hotwheel Diecast CarHot Wheels Redline Rose Custom ChargerHw Redline 1971 Hk Blue Clear Hood Bye Focal Brown Int C8.9 Cond Awesome PieceHw Redline 1968 Us Rare Windex Blue Hybrid Custom Camaro White Int C8.5 CondMatchbox Superfast 45c Bmw 3.0 Csl, Very Rare Red Body With BoxMatchbox Major Pack M3 Bpw Thornycroft Antar & Centurion TankHot Wheels Redline 1973 Pink Ferrari 512s Vintage Hot Wheels Collectors Race Case With 13 Redline Cars From 1968-1970Lesney Matchbox Turquoise Mercedes Coach 68b Regular Wheels Near Mint First YearVintage Johnny Lightning Custom Cadillac Eldorado Moc Red Lines No ReserveMatchbox Display 95-01-52 Superfast Dealer Display With C9.5-c10 Cars 1983Big Foot Monster Truck Rig Trailor Hot Wheels Steering Rigs FordHw Redline 1968 Us Olive Black Roof Custom T-bird Brown Int C8.9 Cond Very CleanHot Wheels Redline Gran Toros White Chaparral 2g MintHw Redline 1970 Us Rarest Color Light Blue Power Pad Black Int C9.5 ConditionHw Redline 1968 Hk Rare Orange Black Roof Custom Camaro Brown Int C8 CondVintage Hot Wheels Redline Custom Car 1967 Us Red Custom Camaro Original W/tag1973 Hot Wheels - Mongoose 6969 - Redline - Blue - RareCorgi Toys #153a Proteus-campbell "bluebird" Record Car-near Mint-original Box!Hot Wheels Redline Chief's Special 1976 Flying Colors, Extremely NiceHw Redline 1968 Us Honey Gold Custom Vw Volkswagen White Int C9 CondHotwheels Redline 12 Car Filler/restorer Lot W/12 Rally Case-cuda/tbird/vet!Hot Wheels Redline Us Copper Custom CamaroVintage Hk Purple Custom Eldorado Redline Hotwheel Diecast CarMatchbox Speed Kings K-22 Dodge Dragster Orange