A lot of us car folks started out with the small world of die cast cars. From Hot Wheels to ERTL, and AutoArt to Majorette, die-cast cars have been a part of the automotive world since the early 1900's with a great pioneer toy manufacturer, Dinky Toys. Although, it wasn't until the 1950's and 1960's where the miniature replica's really started to flourish more with companies like Corgi (1956), Hot Wheels (1968), and in Matchbox (1953). Of course today, there a tons of toy companies making cars from various sizes of the small 1:86 scale cars to larger 1:8 scale vehicles. In this 4 part series, we'll cover some of the different brands and toys that are made, and go over some history and mention the multiple different lines within the brand.
We'll rev up this thing with the big gun of die-cast vehicles, Hot Wheels. Hot Wheels is probably the most recognized die-cast brand in the world as they are only one of a select few brands that actually cast in-house designed vehicles. Hot Wheels was founded by Elliott Handler who decided to build the brand, because he found his son playing with Matchbox cars and wanted to compete. Mattel Board of Director's were skeptical of the idea so the idea was pitched that their cars, would stand out being more Hot Rod-ish with customized parts and paint schemes rather than the replicated production vehicles that you could find on show floors of dealerships. Hot Wheels has developed into a brand where they have products for many various scales of die cast, but also sponsored race teams, stunt teams, cartoon shows, video games, home furnishings, and developing full scale working vehicles of their in-housed cars like Bone Shaker, Deora, and Twin Mill. In 2018, for it's 50th Anniversary, they began the Hot Wheels Legends Tour which Hot Wheels toured 15 different cities across the United States and held a competition in each stop to become a finalist in having their ride turned into a 1/64 scaled Hot Wheels toy. I personally was hoping to attend the tour in 2020, but recent Covid-19 restrictions forced Hot Wheels to go digital for their competitions. With all of this, Hot Wheels is still a growing brand, and it'll be interesting to see what future plans they have in development.
Hot Wheels Lines: Hot Wheels Main Lines, Hot Wheels Team Transports, Hot Wheels Car Culture, Hot Wheels Premium, Hot Wheels Retro Entertainment, Hot Wheels ID, Hot Wheels Monster Trucks, Hot Wheels Character Cars, Hot Wheels Collectors, Hot Wheels Red Liners Club, Hot Wheels Treasure Hunt/Super Treasure Hunt
Maisto is another diecast manufacturer that design their own vehicles as well as replicating real manufacturers. Maisto produces their 1/64 brand with no interior pieces and blackened out windows, but make up for it with the detailed painted lights and decals on the body. Their 1:24 and 1:18 scale lines are certainly more detailed with interior molds but nothing as elaborate or intricate as Hot Wheels or AutoArt. But it shows in it's price point as they are some of the more affordable die-cast vehicles on the market. Coming from Hong Kong in the 1980's, Maisto didn't really hit the US market until they developed their 1:18 scaled cars to compete with Bburago in quantity, and with better price points than Franklin Mint. One of the first brands to develop detailed and scaled motorcycles, Maisto has done well with remaining productive in 1:18 and 1:24 scaled markets. Maisto also works by not only being able to license the more popular makes and models like Chevrolet Corvettes, Lamborghini Huracans, or Nissan 370Zs, but also smaller and middle ground makes and models like Volvo XC90s, Ford F-150s, and Fiat 124s. If you're looking for a car that isn't quite widely as popular, or just don't want to invest much into some toys, Maisto would be the way to go.
Maisto Fresh Metal, Maisto Design, Maisto Design Transport, Maisto All-Stars, Muscle Machines, Pro-Rodz, Maisto Special, Maisto Premier, Maisto Wild Rides, Tow & Show, Maisto Elite, Maisto Assembly Line
Racing has always been a part of the die cast world and some of the very first die cast replicas in history, were based upon race cars; particularly the open wheeled cars of the past. Racing Champions has been around since the 1990's and has been releasing Nascar, NHRA, IRL/Indy Car - CART style replicas in various sizes since then. Acquiring ERTL in 1999, the detail and craftsmanship of the cars only increased. Racing Champions was also one of the first manufacturers to create suitable scaled figures, semi trailers, and replicated track sections to help build the scene of a race. Through it's success, the use of rubber tires instead of plastic and it detailed roll cages and interiors as well as metal bases, made for a pretty good collectable toy. Racing Champions marketed this closely to race fans and have more of a collectable rather than to be played with. Many of the early vehicles released in the 90's are still found today on their original cardboard backing and worth several hundred dollars. But even with the success they held and even in acquiring ERTL, in 2015 Racing Champions eventually was sold to a parent company called Round 2 who also owns AMT, Autoworld, and Johnny Lightning.
Racing Champions Line:
Racing Champions Mint, Racing Superstars, Racing Champions Hot Rod, Racing Champions Stock Car, Racing Champions 24K Gold Series, Racing Champions Police, Racing Champions Fast and Furious, America's Finest, Racing champions Haulers, Racing Champions Racing Team, Racing Champions Super Truck, Racing Champions Premier
Speaking of ERTL, since 1945, ERTL has been making die-cast replicas of tractors and heavy work vehicles in competition with Tonka, but soon started to build cars instead. The Muscle Car era really propelled ERTL into a heavy contender in the world as they took to the shelves in supplying cars and dreams for those who couldn't afford the real thing. One thing ERTL was good at was obtaining the licensing and rights to replicate race cars of the era, opening a new door for kids to imagine themselves as the drivers they see on television and in the movies. Ertl's mainstay was within the 1:18 scale range, but they did make some 1:64 scaled vehicles and for a while, were the only manufacturer licensed to create "Dukes of Hazzard" cars and still the only ones to ever create a line of vehicles from "Grease." When it came to detail and quality, they were unrivaled but ERTL eventually started to lose ground in the late 1980's with more and more companies coming in to market and eventually was obtained by Racing Champions.
ERTL Line: ERTL Classics, ERTL Farm Country, Thomas the Tank, ERTL American Muscle, Fast and Furious, ERTL Collectors, Cars of the World, ERTL Replica Series
Mini GT and their exclusives are brought to us by True Scale Models, or also known as TSM, has been in the market since 2008 with their 1:18 scaled models, but it's their 2018+ 1:64 line that has been turning heads. Mini GT is doing something most other brands have just started doing, and that would be licensing the vehicles and brands of after market, in particularly, Liberty Walk Works, HKS, and Pandem. Creating detailed cars with the same aftermarket kits, wheels, and body panels allow the current trend flow of actual car enthusiasts to match even their own personal cars. From newer models like the MKV Toyota Supra and Nissan GTR's to Alpine BMW E30's and even one of the first die-cast companies to produce a 1/64 C8 Chevrolet Corvette. They are the only company to make their cars in both left hand drive, and right hand drive as well as every car using soft rubber for the tires and mirrors. You mainly can only find these cars on-line or specialty hobbyist stores as they are limited in the market, but it is still an ever growing company and can't wait to get a hold of one for myself.
Mini GT Line:
Mini GT LB Works, Mini GT Mijo Exclusive, Pandem USA Limited, POP Race,
Minichamps started out with several names before finding it's niche in the 1970's. Minichamps mainly stayed in the 1:43 scale market creating more their models more detailed than the competition staying relatively out of the 1:24, 1:18, and 1:64 scale markets. Minichamps made it big in the early 1990's when they stepped out of the Danhausen shadow and moved with Paul's Model Art on a sponsored German Touring Car Champion Audi V8 driven by Hans-Joachim Stuck. Winning the championship while being sponsored by Paul's Model Art as well as selling the various variants of the car throughout the race season, cleared the way for a profitable future for the modeling company. Minichamps has continued that trend to this day with the replication of MotoGP, Formula1, DTM, and WRC cars through their line up as well as replica helmets of drivers from the mentioned racing leagues.
Minichamps Helmets, Evolution Series, First Class, LeMans Collections, Lamborghini Museum Series, Brabus Collection, Centenaire Edition, Top Gear Collection
Johnny Lighting (JL) probably has some of the most fun die-casts to collect. From diorama based models and barn finds, to demolition derby's and tiny house haulers. They seem to have a small niche in the market that no one else has gotten into. JL's 1/64 scaled cars aren't as detailed or as perfectly scaled from car to car as they can seem a bit on the small side, yet, they do allow for more imagination when it comes to play sets. Introduced by Topper Toys in 1969 with only 11 cars, but marketed matching play sets to help drive sales. But it was couple of years where their sales truly soared when they sponsored the 1970 and 1971 Indianapolis 500 winner, Al Unser. The Johhn Lightning 500 Special was a big seller, especially when no one else could make it. Kids and adults who were fans of the Memorial weekend race, bought them like crazy, and nothing sells better than a winner. JL is still producing fun and memorable cars and trucks today, but with the closing of Toys R'Us, their market shrank substantially with only finding these fun little trinkets at hobby stores and on-line.
Johnny Lightning Lines:
Gone Fishing, Barn Finds, Import Heat, Truck & Trailer, Cars and Coffee, Boogie Vans, Classic Gold, Street Freaks, Muscle Cars, Demolition Derby, Monopoly, Used Cars, Zingers, In Color, Greatest Generation, Holiday Classics, Silver Screen Machines, Rat Fink, Blacked Out, George Barris, Project in Progress, Off-Road, Spoilers, Surf Rods, Wheeld Warriors, Micro Strike,
So of these brands mention thus far, what are some of your favorite examples? Any favorites
of yours or one's that you've held on from you childhood? Or of ones that you plan on attaining? Leave a comment or photo of your favorites. That's all for now, stay tuned for the next entry where we'll cover a little bit of Auto Art, Matchbox, Corgi, BBurago, Majorette, and Action Diecast.
Photos Brought to you by Google Images, Mini GT, Hotwheels.com, JohnnyLightning,