Hobbies: Collectible Die Cast Model Cars

Diecast collector cars are not just for kids. From fast food cars to the top of the line limited edition cars, this article gives you the key terms and basics to start your own diecast collection.


Since diecasting became a popular process in the late 1940s, diecast cars have been produced in large numbers. From the 1940's over sixty companies, on five continents, have manufactured diecast metal cars. Current manufacturers include Ertl, Franklin Mint, Ebbro, GMP, Lane Collectibles, Motor City Classics, Maisto, Anson, Precision Miniatures, Revell Creative Masters, Roush Authentics, Norscot Scale Models, Exoto, Beanstalk Group, Yat Ming, Kyosho, Welly, Minichamps, Gate, AUTOart, Carousel 1, 1320, Inc, Sun Star and Motor Max, UT Models. Former manufacturing companies producing the cars include: Playart, Zylmex, and Lensey/Moko. Probably the most recognizable diecast cars in production today are the Mattel manufactured Hot Wheels.

Types of Collections

Since there are so many collectible diecast cars on the market, many collectors focus only one or two categories. Some isolate a decade, or in the case of a large diecast line, the collection may include only one year of production. Others collectors limit the group to new models of actual automobiles that are reproduced as diecast lines. Vintage cars attract another group of collectors. Movie cars, military cars, or a single automobile maker are hot categories for many collectors.


The most important term in diecast car collecting is to understand the scale assigned to each car. 1:18 popular scale cars are 9-12" in length. Other popular scales include: 1:24, 1:32, and 1:43.

Vintage Diecast Cars

The largest group of diecast auto collectors look for cars manufactured by Mattel under the Hot Wheels designation and Matchbox diecast cars.


Mebetoys diecast toys were manufactured in Italy from 1966 until 1984. To show the degree of specification of collector lines, certain collectors want only the Grand Toros model. These diecast cars, in 1:43 scale, were manufactured by Mattel, who had recently taken over the Mebetoys Company. They were part of the Hot Wheels series and were sold in Italy as Sputafuoco cars. Cars from this series are called Grand Toros. They were made from 1969 until 1973, an extremely narrow area for collecting.

Hot Wheels

Elliot Handler, one of the original founders of Mattel, added moving wheels to a static diecast car. Clocking the model at a scale of 300 miles per hour, the cars were nicknamed "Hot Wheels." Mattel Hot Wheels began manufacture in 1968 and have produced more than 2 billion cars. The 1:64 scale cars are designed by the Los Angeles area company that made a claim to fame by producing Barbie and Ken dolls. First Editions (FEs), introduced in 1995, are designed at the beginning of the year and are boxed and sent to stores throughout that same year. They are extremely collectible.


Lesney Products, operated by Leslie Smith, Rodney Smith and Jack Odell, began diecast manufacture in 1947. The company produced the first diecast toy in 1948. It wasn't until 1953 that the Lesney company, in cooperation with Moko Toys, introduced the small 1:64 diecast cars. Car No. 1 was the Diesel Roadroller, No. 2, was the Dumper, and No. 3, the Cement Mixer. There were 75 models, but not all were continuously produced. Lesney and Matchbox Toys was sold to Universal Toys in 1982, after the original company went into bankruptcy. Tyco bought the company in 1991. The price of Matchbox diecast cars varies, but some of the earliest cars can command high asking prices. The way to determine the age of the car is by examining the type of wheels. The earliest group of cars has metal wheels, and beginning in early 1960s, the metal wheels were changed to gray or black molded plastic wheels. A new plastic Matchbox wheel was introduced in 1969. Matchbox also produces a line of topical series and accessories such as gas stations to use with the diecast cars. These are a separate market for collectors.

Yat Ming

Yat Ming continues to produce diecast cars today. They began production in the 1970s, but very little has been printed on the company. "Fast wheel," "Speeding Wheels," "Real Wheels," "Road Toughs," and "Street Machines" are some of the labeled brand names of the Yat Ming Company. Large retail stores, such as the F.W. Woolworth Company, commissioned cars using their own store names. These cars are not a major collector market today, so a collection would be easy to assemble for little investment. The major problem in collecting this line would be in documenting the dates and models, since little has been published on this company.


"Modeled to a 'T'!" was the slogan that the Dowst Brothers used to advertise their diecast cars first introduced in 1906. "Toots" was a granddaughter who enjoyed playing with the tiny toys. The Strombecker Corporation produces over 40 million cars each year. Scaling includes 1:18, 1:24 and 1:32. Early Tootsie diecasts in excellent condition are highly collectible.

Racing Car Diecasts

NASCAR collectibles are manufactured by Carousel 1 in 1:18 scale. Other companies producing racing collectibles include Action Performance, Team Caliber, Revell and Racing Champions. Carousel 1 models are licensed by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. Grand Prix, Formula 1, touring cars, sports cars, performance road cars are also included in this general category. Racing cars offer a wealth of choice and a huge market for collectors.

Advertising Cars

Advertising companies jumped on the collecting bandwagon with the introduction of diecast cars. Cereal boxes and gasoline companies have company sponsored cars. In the 1970s, boxtops could be collected and redeemed for special cars. This group of collectors has competition from advertising collectors, so these cars can command more money than other types of cars. McDonald's has given Hot Wheels diecast cars as a toy premium since 1983. The cars, with special novelty boxes, given to restaurant workers are the most valuable type of collector car for this category.


Cars are sold as singles in blister packs or multi-car boxed packages around a theme, such as service vehicles or an auto manufacturers such as Ford or Chevrolet. Some boxed sets revolve around a theme such as Muscle Cars or Sports Cars. Some unscrupulous collectors will purchase boxed packs, remove the single unique car, and replace the car with an ordinary common car. The boxed sets will list the cars on the rear of the package, or illustrate which cars are included in each set in a photograph. Make sure the boxed set you wish to purchase has all of the original cars, without any substitutions.

Moving Parts

Many early diecast models offered operating doors, hoods, sunroof and windows. As production costs increased, the movable parts were the first to be discontinued. The designs were then modified to resemble the original design, but without the operating parts. Collecting cars with moving parts requires examination of each of the parts to ensure that they still operate and that paint has not been removed by frequent use. Make sure that the paint has not been touched up or replaced in the areas around the moving parts. This will lower the value of the diecast car.

Condition and Grading

Most collectors keep their car collections in perfect condition avoiding bends or tears in the packaging. A system of grading was developed to establish definitions for trading and sales. "Mint" means that the car is without flaws and is still in the packaging, which is also without flaws. This is an extremely rare diecast car. Cars arrive from the manufacturing plant in volume and many packages are bent or slightly flawed in the delivery process. Cars can have manufacturing flaws which will be impossible to detect since they are placed in blister packs with only one side showing. To be in mint manufacturing condition in the blister pack, a car should not have any missing parts, smeared paint, or casting imperfections. After "Mint Condition" the scale of condition runs from 1 which is considered damaged and not worthy of adding to any collection to 10 which is considered new and in a blister pack. Pricing is at 10% increments from level 2. That means a 10 would be a perfect diecast car, a car ranked as a 9 would be less 10% from the price of the 10 rated car.

Special and Rare Cars

Many collectors will investigate manufacturing techniques of diecast and collect a model from each manufacturing period. For instance, early in the production of the Johnny Lightning Series, diecast cars chrome was used to plate the cars before they were painted. A few years into production, the chrome was changed to nickel plating. Colors are the most notable manufacturing changes. Certain colors were manufactured for limited periods of time.

The special and rare vocabulary for diecast collectors includes: "Hard to Find" and "Limited Edition Cars." Hard to Find Cars are just that, more difficult to find in certain geographic areas. Locating "HTF" cars can be done by monitoring discussion boards on the internet. Some cars are released to only limited parts of the country. If you specialize in HTF collectibles, shop at several big-box chain stores to determine which cars are frequently seen, as opposed to those that are in short supply. Limited Edition Cars have a built-in collectible interest in that only a few are produced. These are usually marked on the package as "Limited" or "Special Edition."

Rare cars are those that were made in a limited number or might include a commonly produced car painted in an one-of-a-kind color. Internet or Collectible Diecast Car Show lore might include an interview from a worker who had paint for one car series and instead painted ten cars in a special color. These cars command high dollar, even if they are not in the original packaging. Be cautious of this type of story in purchasing a car. Most often custom cars are done by individuals and artfully restored to the blister pack to make the car appear to be a one-of-a-kind factory car. Some companies create a line of cars designed to be rarities, such as the Treasure Hunt Hot Wheels manufactured by Mattel. These cars are clearly marked on the exterior packaging.

The most collected diecast cars were given stock numbers, names, and many times, series numbers by the manufacturer. The numbers were assigned to keep track during manufacturing, but as individuals began collecting the diecast cars, these delineation were handy for collectors as well.

Production Errors

With some collectibles, such as coins, production errors can bring top dollar. Diecast car errors in casting or painting, do not increase value. Instead, the price of the car is decreased drastically. Many times these mistakes will make a car move to the bottom of the ranking scale.

Collector Societies

Many of the current diecast car manufactures have their own website that include numbering information and names of the various diecast cars. Several online encyclopedias and websites feature photographs of cars and a few give production details. Many libraries and bookstores carry diecast car price books. It is advisable to study these before investing a large amount of money in your collection. Many times new collectors, called "newbies," spend too much on the first few purchases because they are taken in by dealers who label cars as "limited" or "rare."

For some diecast collectors, the car is just the first step. Display cases, catalogs, buttons from trade shows, and advertising materials are part of the collecting quest. Keep an eye open for related materials. You might not wish to keep it in your collection, but it might make for a valuable trade item to add a car to your special collection.

© High Speed Ventures 2011