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]

Matchbox.de

Matchbox.de

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    

Hot Wheels Redline 1975 White Mustang Stocker Blue & Red Tampo Never Played WithHot Wheels Redline 1968 Custom Firebird Us Ice Blue With Door Lines Nm Rare! Hot Wheels Redline 1968 Yellow Custom Volkswagen MintHot Wheels Redline 1968 Hong Kong Hk Olive Custom Barracuda Extremely Nice Rare!Hot Wheels Redline Yellow 1971 Olds 442 Never Played WithHot Wheels Redline 1968 U.s. Custom Volkswagen Nuclear Hot Pink Very Very NiceHot Wheels Redline 1970 King Kuda Purple W/black Roof Blister Blister Mint!Hot Wheels Redline 1975 Porsche Carrera/p-911 Gold Chrome Salesman Award Car NmHot Wheels Redline 1968 Blue Custom Cougar Hk All Deep Dish W/painted Tooth MintHot Wheels Redline 1968 Hong Kong Hk Creamy Pink Custom Barracuda Nm Rare Nice!Hot Wheels Redline 1968 Custom T-bird Honey Gold W/white Interior Display OnlyHot Wheels Redline 1971 Hot Pink Classic Cord Near Mint Rare Car1969 Hot Wheels Redline Green Olds 442Hot Wheels Redline 1968 Hong Kong Hk Orange Custom Barracuda Nm Extremely Nice!Hot Wheels Redline 1970 Seasider Deep Purple Double Shot W/boat Nm Very Rare! Hot Wheels Redline 1973 White Enamel Snake 6969 Blister Mint -don PrudhommeHot Wheels Redline 1968 Custom Firebird Us Antifreeze With Door Lines Rare! Hot Wheels Redline 1973 Yellow Enamel Snake 6969 Very Nice-don PrudhommeHot Wheels Redline 1968 Custom Firebird Us Red W/door Lines! Extremely Rare! NmLot Of 42 Vintage Hot Wheels --nice Selection Of Redlines -- C6 Or Better-l@@kHot Wheels Redline 1968 Us Custom Volkswagen Creamy Pink Never Played With Nice!Hot Wheels Redline 1971 Hot Pink Snorkel Never Played WithHot Wheels Redline 1970 Sand Crab Hong Kong Hk Green Near Mint!Rare Redline Hot Wheels Bye Focal Red No Reserve!!Danbury Mint 1:24 1958 Pontiac Bonneville Convertible Ltd Ed1958 John Deere 430 Yoy Tractor Original ErtlHot Wheels Redline 1968 Us Ice Blue Custom Barracuda Very Nice Rare!Xrare 1/24 Dale Earnhardt Sr #3 Goodwrench 1998 Aerocoupe Gold Diecast NascarHot Wheels Redline 1970 Heavy Chevy Hk Orange Blister Mint! 25 1960's Vintage Hot Wheels Red Line Die Cast Toy Cars And CaseHot Wheels Redline 1970 Heavy Chevy Hk Copper/light Brown Blister Mint! West Coast Precision 1961 Chevy Impala Coupe Ss/409 Le 1:24 Scale Wbox Jm 40f Vintage Hot Wheels Redline Dodge Charger Sealed In Box Lot9Cmc 1962 Ferrari 250 Gto #19 Le Mans (cmc M-155) 1:18 *new!Hot Wheels Redline 1968 Us Custom Volkswagen Berry Purple All Caps Base Dark IntHot Wheels Redline Heavy Chevy Not Over Chrome Unpainted Prototype Very Rare! Hot Wheels Redline Classic Nomad Zamac (unpainted) Prototype W/bubblegum Wheels Vintage Hot Wheels Redline Amc Javelin Sealed In Box Lot5Vintage Original 1968 Redline Hot Wheels Custom Eldorado In Package Hot Wheels Redline 1968 Custom Firebird Hong Kong Hk Creamy Pink The Real Deal! International Harvester S Series High Detail Lowboy By First GearHot Wheels Redline 1975 Yellow Mustang Stocker W/blue & Red Tampo Very Nice!!!Gottman Toys John Deere Jd Kinze Industrial 8650 4wd Tractor 1 Of 13 Made 1/16Rare Olive 1969 Near Mint Red Lines Hot Wheels Classic 36 Ford Coupe Blister Bbr 1/18 Ferrari Enzo "enzo F" F1 Red Hesp004 Extremely Rare!King Kuda Hot Wheels Redline Moc Mint On Unpunched Card Olive / Brown #4Welly 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 #70 Tope Trans-am Le #1969 1:18 W/box Jm 46fXrare! 1/24 Dale Earnhardt Sr #3 Wrangler 1987 Aerocoupe Elite Diecast NascarHot Wheels Redline 1973 Lemon Yellow Superfine Turbine Sft Very NiceAutoart Porsche 917k #20 Gulf Le Mans Steve Mcqueen #80030 1:18 W/box Jm 46fHot Wheels Redline Classic Nomad Aqua Prototype W/bubblegum WheelsStreet Outlaws Big Chief The CrowTrue Scale 1980 Porsche 935 K3 #71 Apple 24rs Lemans Le #09181 1:18 W/box Jm 46fBbr 1/18 Ferrari F430 430 Spider Daytona Black He180026Gmp Mclaren Chevy M8b #4 Can-am High Wing Bruce Mclaren Le 1:18 W/box Jm 46fFranklin Mint 1:24 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Nomad Service Wagon Wbox No Coa Jm 44fYup Another Vintage Hot Wheels Redline Amc Javelin Sealed In Box Lot7Gmp 1967 Chevy Camaro Z28 #36 Sunoco Mark Donohue Le #13021 1:18 W/box Jm 46fWest Coast Precision 1961 Chevy Impala Convertible Le 1:24 Scale Wbox Jm 40fHot Wheels Redline 1969 Volkswagen Beach Bomb Blue W/dark Int Blister Mint (1)