For many motoring enthusiasts, obtaining the ultimate car collection is actually surprisingly easy and affordable. Want a 250 GTO, Veyron, Blower Bentley in your possession for just a few pounds? How about a Porsche GT3RS for pocket money?
If you hadn't guessed, we're taking a look at the world of diecast replica vehicles – or toy cars to most of you. Whether it's small scaled toys or much larger and more expensive highly detailed replicas, there's a miniature of almost every conceivable vehicle ever made – and probably a few you haven't heard of too.
The obvious starting point is 1:64 scale and Matchbox cars. Introduced in the 1950's by Lesney, their toys gained their distinctive name from the fact that they were small enough to fit inside a matchbox.
The company produced contemporary vehicles of all types, from commercial to agricultural and obviously motor cars. The first model produced was an Aveling Barford road roller and the first cars produced were, somewhat inevitably, popular British models with foreign vehicles following quickly.
In common with other diecast makers, the designers went to great lengths to ensure accuracy – this included using some original drawings provided by manufacturers and including details such as interior features and exterior intricacies such as lights, grills and bumpers.
At this point, there were few other competitors in the same small scale, with other models being much larger and made by companies such as Dinky and Corgi; the former having been established around 20 years earlier.
The majority of these models had bodies and bases made from Zamac – a zinc alloy, with plastic windows and interiors, metal axles and rubber tyres. Corgi and Dinky models also featured realistic plastic light lenses and some opening features with detailed engines.
Dinky first started making model vehicles in the 1930's and focused on a wide variety of subjects including military vehicles, aircraft and seagoing craft. Tinplate was the primary material used in construction and this remained the case for 20 years until the use of Zamac became the norm.
Corgi began making their models at around the same time as Matchbox; the name was based on production being centred at a factory near Swansea and they focused on detail such as glazing. This level of detail drove Dinky in particular to make improvements to its own offerings including realistic operating suspension and steering on some models.
As competition intensified, all 3 companies introduced increasing volumes of models across a wide spectrum of types. They were all aimed squarely at a young market and cost pocket money to buy – a far cry from the values some command today but more of this later.
Fast forward to the late 1960's. The “big three” had a commanding grip on the UK toy market but it was time for an invasion from across the Atlantic which changed the face of the toy car sector forever.
Mattel is one of the world's largest toy makers and today owns many brands familiar to both children and long-suffering parents (broken down by pleas for the latest must-have toy…!) and they entered the diecast toy car scene with American vehicles initially.
Featuring sparkling metallic and candy paint effects, extensive use of chrome-effect plastics and the famous “Redline” wheels (so-called because of the distinctive red pinstripe), these customised and exciting toys took the market by storm.
They were also marketed as being faster than the competition – vitally important to any child (or any grownup for that matter) and Mattel also had the foresight to produce a plastic race track which simply clipped together and opened up a whole new way to launch cars at skirting boards and pets.
Whilst focused primarily on existing models from manufacturers such as Chevrolet and Pontiac, there were also fantasy cars which had little or no direct link to any production car – huge superchargers, multiple engines and outlandishly sized rear tyres were just a few of the features.
Matchbox reacted with the introduction of its Superfast line, Rolamatics and plastic tracks and Corgi launched Whizzwheels – educating an entire generation of children in the wonders of speed with the glamour and excitement of cars from all over the world.
Lucrative collaborations with the film and TV industry followed – who didn't have a Starsky & Hutch Ford Gran Torino or The Professionals' Ford Capri (available in both 1:64 and larger scale) and many other popular movies and shows spawned toy versions – FAB 1, The Monkeemobile, the list goes on and of course who can forget the Aston DB5 with working ejector seat or Batmobile which fired missiles? Children today will never know the joy as a games console just doesn't have the same appeal.
Sadly, Dinky ceased production of diecast toys in 1979 although the brand was briefly resurrected by Matchbox some years later through a series of retro inspired models.
And in a strange turn of fortunes, Mattel acquired Matchbox in 1992, retaining that ownership today. They also owned Corgi for some years before it was bought by Hornby – and another article about the world of model railways may feature in future.
Both brands continue to be a strong presence in toy shops all over the world; their movie collaborations continue with both the Jurassic Park and Fast & Furious franchises featuring on a recurring basis, together with both fantasy cars and the very latest sports and hypercars from almost every manufacturer – not sadly including Ferrari, as Mattel ceased making models under licence from the Italian giant in 2014.
A recent and very relevant partnering in the world of classic cars is with Porsche fan, collector, author and all round petrolhead Magnus Walker.
Toy cars remain popular as both a pocket money treat and a collectors' item. Early models from any manufacturer command strong resale values with notable highlights including the 1969 Hot Wheels Pink Rear-Loading Beach Bomb valued at a staggering $175,000 and 1961 Matchbox Magirus-Deutz Truck Tan/Orange at $11,800.
It is generally accepted that, to achieve a high sale figure, vehicles must be in their original packaging and not played with – if the box is factory sealed, values are even higher. Even play worn cars can fetch serious sums of money if they are a rare or sought after model.
This of course makes the hunt for valuable examples much harder as by their very nature, toys are for play and millions ended up meeting a variety of interesting exits from the world – indeed, the value of cars hidden in attics and buried in gardens must exceed the numbers achieved at specialist auction and private sale!
For the full-time collector, the world of toy cars is without doubt a bona fide business – the examples above support this and serious collectors will pay what to the layman must seem like faintly ludicrous sums for the toys we played with as children.
If your budget is a little more modest, then it can be an affordable and enjoyable way to acquire some delightful toys, some of which will appreciate in years to come. For Hot Wheels collectors, the Treasure Hunt and Super Treasure Hunt models are sought after, as are cars made for specific retail outlets (particularly in the USA) and those made in genuinely limited numbers for Mattel's exclusive collector clubs.
Collecting a particular style of model such as pickup trucks or supercars or from a specific manufacturer is also popular with even recently produced cars commanding very high prices once out of production – the Hot Wheels Lamborghini Murcielago SV is a prime example of this.
Remember, most regular cars cost around £1.50 so on the face of it this is a cheap and fun hobby which can be taken up and enjoyed with your children – just don't forget that they really are mostly toys for enjoying!
We haven't touched on the multitude of larger scale models, some running into thousands of pounds and featuring exquisite detailing. Suffice to say that you can spend the equivalent of a small family car on some of these examples and “it's not a toy” would be a much more relevant riposte should small hands want to play with such a model!
As for insuring your collection, in most cases your household policy should provide cover within the standard contents section. If your collection is larger and more valuable then specialist cover may be required but whatever your circumstances, check with your insurance provider and remember that Lockton remain on hand to assist, whatever your toy of choice might be.