Diecast Cars – a brief history

Matchbox Porsche 911 Matchbox diecast car

The Diecast car has a special place in many of our hearts. Collectables, beloved toys, works of art, there are a hundred reasons to love them and as many uses. But there is a reason we are all in love with this classic – and much of that is rooted in its history.

It’s vast, deep, and has been an integral part of childhoods for generations. Diecast cars aren’t just toys, they are pieces of family history that stand the test of time and can be passed down from child to child without losing any of the joy that they bring.

What is a Diecast Car?

An important question, and one we need to answer before we proceed. While commonly referred to as Diecast, it can also be written as die cast or die-cast – there is no incorrect way although avid collectors may argue with you on that point.

Generally speaking, the term refers to any toy that has been put through the die casting method of metal casting. Usually, it is made from a zinc alloy or lead (although the latter is very rare in modern times).

The process works by forcing the molten alloy under high pressure in a mould, which then created the base shape for the product. This is very similar to plastic injection methods but using metal instead. It was the perfect way to mass-produce simple toys before cheap plastics.

The die casting process has been used to create every type of vehicle, not just cars, and the technique can vary according to the country it is manufactured in. For example, the Japanese giant robot Chokogin is created using die casting but uses production methods similar to actual classic cars. It’s a painful yet incredible process to behold.

What’s the Appeal of diecast cars?

A lot of the appeal comes from the fact that this process is able to so perfectly replicate classic car models that we know and love. Dinky Toys is a classic example, as one of their early Diecast cars was a model of the 1930s race car known as “The Speed of the Wind”.

Once this land speed record-breaking model hit the market, it began a trend among other manufacturers as well. Chrysler, Ford, Volkswagen, and Rolls-Royce are just some of the makes that were captured in miniature Diecast form for children and collectors globally.

Among collectors, the trucks are also a popular style. They are quite iconic and often have special branding on them that makes them stand out. As an example, the Heinz branded truck from Dinky Toys is still exceptionally popular among collectors today.

What’s the History?

To really get into the history of Diecast cars, we need to look at the top brands that made these mini motors what they are today. The important thing to know is that our story begins in England. During the 50s and 60s, two major brands competed for the leading market space.

It wasn’t until much later that America joined in, having witnessed the success of the British market. This is where Hot Wheels comes into the picture – but we will take a more detailed look at each brand in question below.

Dinky Toys
They were the pioneers of the Diecast toy industry, the leaders and the reason behind the success of the concept. It was in 1935 that they created their first Diecast car, twenty years before any other manufacturer.

Before this, they made model trains and construction sets under the name Meccano – a brand that was established in 1908. Their first Diecast cars were sold in a set of six and consisted of a sports car, delivery van, a tank, a sports coupe, a truck, and a farm tractor.

It wasn’t long after that they started producing other vehicles, such as planes, and dominated the market as the sole Diecast vehicle creator for two decades. Then, Corgi came along.

Corgi Toys
You may know this brand’s most popular and iconic car as the one with the windows. A Welsh brand, they specialised in tin plate toys before moving onto Diecast. In 1965, they took the industry by storm with the creation of galvanised plastic windows, something we could not do without today.

They were full of confidence, their slogan the one with the windows still remembered decades later. Their initial line was composed of eight vehicles – each a classic in their own right. The size of the cars was the same as Dinky, scale 0 as per the sizing guide used for models trains. Their line was a hit, and people went wild for the fancy windows and classic car models.

Matchbox Cars
Another classic, they came a few years after Corgi launched its successful line of windowed cars. Matchbox made theirs a little smaller than the industry standard, although the size did vary so that they would fit in the tiny packaging. Interestingly, this did not negatively impact popularity.

They were branded as the affordable option – offering a lower price point without compromising on quality. They sparked a war between the three major leaders with Dinky, Corgi, and Matchbox all releasing one car after the other to try and outmatch their competition.

For an entire decade, the three brands were locked in a tense stalemate – unable to break free and come out on top. Everything changed when America entered the market with Hot Wheels.

Hot Wheels
Elliot Handler founded Hot Wheels in 1968, and if that sounds familiar it’s also because he would later create Mattel Toys. He came out with a line of tiny Diecast cars, but they were different from the competition – they weren’t modelled on real vehicles.

Instead, they were exaggerated and customised to match the imagination of the child playing with them. Pullback racing functionality, unrealistic features, everything that made fantasy cars a reality in your living room. Not to mention the track they came with.

The original line was called Sweet Sixteen and had a track that was sold separately. It was a huge hit in America, and when they brought it to Europe it gave the Big Three British manufacturers a run for their money.

The Collapse of British Diecast

It sounds like a dramatic tale, but the sad truth is that Hot Wheels led to the collapse of British Diecast cars. Dinky Toys was the first to fall, its factories closing in 1979. By this point, Hot Wheels had changed their slogan to go with the winner as a sign of their success.

Corgi, Dinky, and Matchbox were all purchased by Mattel, with the former eventually being sold and rebranded as Corgi Classics. They still product replicas of the originals today. Mattel still has a Matchbox line, but Dinky has bee allowed to die off and no longer remains.

To Conclude

Diecast is about so much more than the value of the toy, it’s about the history and memories that come with them. Diecast has had an exciting and fast-paced evolution, one that saw Hot Wheels dominate the market even to this day. Currently, they remain the leader of the Diecast world, but with its popularity on the rise, could this continue to be the case?