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Diecast Model Cars - A History

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Diecast Model Cars - A History

Colin Healy
April 25, 2006

There is quite a long history of craftsmen building detailed miniature replicas of transport vehicles and machinery, but it wasn't until 1934 that diecast model cars and lorries arrived on the market in any great numbers.

At that time the model cars and trucks weren't regarded as collectable items in their own right - they were produced to lend added realism to model railways.

Since the early 1920s Frank Hornby had been making increasingly complex train sets. One of the sets, Meccano Set No 21, was embellished with six diecast models, consisting of a motor truck, a sports coupe, a delivery van, a sports car, a farm tractor, and an Army tank. These were the first Dinky models, issued under the "Meccano Modelled Miniatures" label, as Set No. 22.

These early diecast cars were fairly crude by modern standards, being cast from an alloy with high lead content which didn't lend itself to a high degree of detail. Also they didn't attempt to depict genuine vehicles, although the sports car bore a resemblance to the S.S.1, a popular make of the period and a precursor of the Jaguar.

In terms of scale, they were not very well suited to the train sets which they were intended to adorn.

It soon became apparent, however, that there was a healthy market for such models, and it wasn't long before individual diecast replicas based on real cars and trucks were produced and sold separately. Dinky Set 30 was based on the Rolls Royce, Set 36A on the Armstrong Siddely, 36B a Bentley, and 36F was a Salmon sports car.

With the passage of time the quality of detail and reproduction greatly improved. The Dinky sets had diecast alloy bodies and tinplate radiators and rubber tyres. The later models also came with drivers and passengers. The Armstrong Siddely had a footman and chauffeur. Just before the Second World War some superb military models were produced, including tanks with catterpillar tracks and rotating turrets.

Few models from that era have survived in acceptable condition, and examples in good condition are extremely collectable - pre-war Dinkies can fetch prices up to $1000 in auction.

In the 1950s, new production techniques heralded a new era in the history of diecast model cars. Lesney, famous for their splendid Coronation Coach, and Corgi, ("the ones with the windows"), entered the market to provide competition to Dinky.

This new generation of diecast vehicles, with finer detail, better running gear, and better color finish, leads up to the present day, where millions of precision diecast replica models are produced, at quite affordable prices for the collector.

For a great selection of scale replica cars, going back to the earliest days of the automobile, visit diecast model cars



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