The genesis of diecast model cars dates back to the end of the 19th century, at almost the same time as the invention of the car. Just as children loved to play with model trains in the nineteenth century, the demand for miniature models of the latest adult technological innovations was quickly recognized by toy manufacturers.
Over the last 120 years, millions of children have owned these scaled-down replicas of grown-up cars, whether to play at home or keep as adult collectors. Many early models still exist carefully preserved by the keepers of time called collectors.
Early manufacturers of diecast model cars were Meccano and Corgi. Early models were pretty basic and consisted of a small car or truck body with wheels but not interior details. The models were made from either a lead or a zinc alloy. Very early models often fell victim to zinc pest caused by impurities in the alloy, leading to the casting to crack or crumble. This is why it is extremely rare to find pre World War II models in good condition.
A symbol of our childhood
The miniature car is a symbol of our childhood, just like the tricycle or our first “little train”. It originated in 1897 when the French house Rossignol invented and manufactured the first model automobile, which ran on steam. Created by Charles-Jacques Rossignol, this company was called Toys Rossignol, with the initials CR, for Charles Rotel, one of the brand’s toy inventors, and marketed many other toys, such as cars, boats, aeroplanes and carousels.
The joy of collectors
Toys produced at the beginning of the 20th century are now collectors’ items, like those produced by other brands such as Norev or Dinky Toys, a British company created in 1934 and whose vintage models are the delight of collectors.
These days, miniature diecast model cars are for young and old alike. There are thousands of miniature car collectors around the world who are known as “autophiles”.
The heyday of the 1950s and 1960s
As global economies recovered from the impact of World War II, consumerism boomed in many countries, and children benefited from a rapidly developing toy market. Manufacturers of model cars began to produce miniature models of superior quality with interior details. Lesney started to make model cars in 1947. Their successful Matchbox 1-75 series always featured 75 different vehicles, each supplied in a little box the same size as an actual matchbox. Matchbox cars were so popular that the name became broadly used to refer to any diecast toy car.
Collectors take over
Model car sales began to decline in the early 1970s and into the late 1980s. Leading companies including Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox went bankrupt within the space of a few years. Mattel bought Matchbox, however, in the mid-nineties and rebranded the range with the successful ‘Hotwheels’ 1:64 scale range.
Today, model cars are being gradually replaced by remote control models and other online games in popularity with children. Fortunately, collectors have taken over, with many vintage models that take us back to childhood or to realize the dream of owning an expensive car that we could never hope to afford in reality! Manufacturers currently compete to produce ever more realistic models that are so convincing it is almost impossible to tell from a photo that you aren’t looking at the real thing.
2.4 million euros for a scale model!
However, some model cars are by no means the cheap option. Some even go so far as to leave fortunes for a miniature car. This was certainly the case in 2011 when the most expensive model in the world was sold for the sum of 2.4 million euros. It was a 1/18th scale replica of a Bugatti Veyron, composed entirely of diamonds, platinum, gold and silver. Collecting miniature model cars is a passion that can sometimes become very costly!