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For the term referring to delineation of (non-model) car ranges, see car model.
L to R with 12 inch ruler at bottom: 1:64 Matchbox Chevrolet Tahoe, 1:43 Ford F-100, 1:25 Revell Monogram 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra, 1:18 Bburago 1987 Ferrari F40

A model car is a miniature representation, or scale model, of an automobile or similar powered vehicle, reproducing the proportion, shape, and details of actual production vehicles. Other miniature ground-running vehicles, such as trucks, buses, etc. (but not railroad trains or tracked military vehicles) are usually included in the general category of model cars. The line between model and toy cars is not well-defined; some toys can be scaled and detailed well enough to be considered models also. Miniature cars which are poorly proportioned or lack significant detail are usually considered to be pure toys rather than models.


Model cars from kits

Revell model of a 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra

Model car most frequently refers to scale miniatures of real production vehicles, designed as kits for the enthusiast to construct. They can be created in plastic, die-cast metal, resin, even wood. The best kits have incredible levels of detail, even in parts unseen when the finished model is on display. Major manufacturers are AMT, Revell, Monogram, and Tamiya but many smaller companies abound.

Promotionals and Kits

Banthrico started producing die cast promotional model car banks in the late '40s for the banking industry. These banks were available as a gift to people that started a new account and had a slot in the bottom to put their spare change. Usually the bank's name and address was painted on the roof of the car. These primitive promotional cars included Buicks, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Packards, DeSotos, Chryslers, Dodges and, of course, the more common Chevrolets and Fords. In mint condition, today these cars are rare and sought after.

About the same time, another company, Product Miniature Corporation was introducing promotional models made from plastic to the public, many of which were also in the form of banks. Many Chevrolet bank models had the inscription on the bottom "To help save for a rainy day, or to buy a new Chevrolet" The almost mandated scale for these cars was 1:25th, however a few Chevrolets and Plymouths were produced in a larger 1:20th scale.

The model car "kit" hobby began in the post World War II era with Ace and Berkeley wooden model cars. Revell pioneered the plastic model car with their famous Maxwell kit derived from a toy. Derk Brand, from England, pioneered the first real plastic kit, a 1932 Ford Roadster for Revell. He was also famous for developing a line of 1/32 scale model car kits in England for the Gowland brothers. These kits were later introduced by Revell in the U.S.

Previously called SMP, Aluminum Model Toys or AMT, began producing assembled 1/25 friction and coaster models in the early fifties. These were mostly promotional models manufactured for automobile dealers. Youngsters would be given the scale models to play with while the parents and the salesman haggled. Collecting and trading these "promos" soon became a popular hobby.

During the 1950s and 1960s, interest in the hobby peaked, and AMT soon introduced the model car kit in 1958. Jo-Han, Revell and Monogram started producing model car kits about this same time, and the mid-1960s was considered a "golden age" for model car building from these new innovative customizing kits. Most of these were known as "annual" kits, and were the unassembled kit version of the promos representing the new cars that were introduced at the beginning of each model year.

AMT, Jo-Han, and, Model Products Corporation or MPC, were the primary promotional manufacturers. In addition to building them stock, most annual kits offered "3 in 1" versions which allowed the builder to assemble the car in stock, custom, or racing form. MPC joined the kit/promo business in 1965, and among their first annual kits/promos, was the full-size Dodge Monaco, which was released with a gold metallic painted body and is a valuable collector's item today.

These plastic models were intricately detailed, with body scripts, trim, and emblems, as well as dashboard details, exact duplicates of the real thing, in 1/25 scale. Typically, each automaker would license their cars to one model company. For example, Jo-Han produced Cadillac models and most of the Chrysler products, while AMT did the Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, and the Ford produced cars. American Motors Corporation shared promotional duties between Jo-Han and AMT depending on the year. Often these companies seemed to interchange models offered. For example, Jo-Han produced the 1972 Ford Torino, and MPC did full-size Chevrolets in the early and mid-1970s. While Jo-Han did Chrysler early on, MPC took on the pentastar in the mid-1970s. 1969 and 1970 Chevy Impala kits were made by both MPC and AMT, as were some Camaros.

Typically, the kits had more parts and details than the promos. For example, kits often had opening hoods, separate engines and suspension parts, while the promos were molded as coaster models with the hood as an integral part of the body and no engine. Bodies were often sprayed in the actual paint colors of the manufacturers. Chassis were one piece of plastic with lower engine, exhaust, and suspension details molded in with metal axles fit through holes in the plastic. There was no operating suspension parts. AMT was well-known for molding sales specifications into the chassis. The promo 1962 Ford Galaxie, for example had 13 different facts molded on the chassis from the very factual "Vacation volume trunk - 28 cu. ft" to the more fantastic "Enduring elegance with the power to please".

Commercial versions of the promos were also marketed and sold in retail stores like Zayre's and Murphy's. Differences from dealer promos were lack of manufacturing paint schemes and often the addition of a friction motor located on the front axle, noticeable by the studded white vinyl gear that protruded around the axle (and through the oil pan !)

Some model companies sold unassembled versions of the promo cars, which were typically simpler and easier to assemble than the annual kits (with engine and customizing parts available in the full blown kits left out). They were often molded in color (instead of the traditional white) and easily assembled without glue (thus no glue or paint was required).

When assembled they were almost identical to much more elite promotional models. What usually gives them away is that they were mostly molded in a brighter non metallic color and also they came with thin line white wall tires instead of the earlier (correct) wide white walls on pre-1962 models. Today these often command higher prices, especially AMT's "Craftsman" series of the early and mid sixties.

Interest in model cars began to wane in the mid-1970s as a result of builders growing older and moving on to other pursuits. By the early 1980s, model building had been largely replaced by video gaming as a favorite pastime of American youth. A resurgence was experienced in the late 1980s, due to many who had been involved in the hobby in past years rediscovering it. Monogram helped spark the revival with a series of replicas of NASCAR race cars, as did AMT with a kit of the 1966 Chevrolet Nova, which modelers had been requesting for years. Model specific magazines sprang up, such as Scale Auto Enthusiast, (now simply Scale Auto), Plastic Fanatic, and Car Modeler. These spread the word, helped advertisers, and brought modelers together from all across the country.

Today, many of the classic models from the golden age of modeling have been reissued. Not only does this allow modelers to build the cars they always wanted (but couldn't obtain or afford), but it tends to lower the prices of the originals. In some cases, the classic models have been issued with all-new tooling, which allows for even more detailing that comes with modern manufacturing/design methods. These include AMT's 1966 Fairlane and 1967 Impala SS, and Monogram's 1967 Chevelle and 1965 Impala Super Sport.

Today, these companies are still in business, fueled by a renewed interest in model car building and collecting. ERTL now owns both AMT and MPC. Revell and Monogram have merged, and Okey Spaulding has purchased once-defunct Jo-Han, which is producing a few of its original models in limited quantities, including the 1963 Chrysler Turbine Car, 1959 Rambler station wagon, and some of its original 1950s Oldsmobiles and Plymouths. Modelers today can take advantage of modern technology, which includes photo-etched details, adhesive chrome foil for chrome trim, wiring for engines, and billet-aluminum parts. Many builders today can take a basic kit and detail it so it resembles a real car, in miniature.

The internet has also fueled a growing modeling community through websites, bulletin boards, and sites that host photographs, allowing the hobby to expand internationally.

Kits from Asia/Far East

Japanese model kit manufacturers - Tamiya, Fujimi and Hasegawa, among them - also stepped up their presences in the U.S. market during the 1980s and 1990s. While many of their car kits have limited appeal to American modelers raised on "Detroit iron," the quality of their products is perhaps the finest in the industry.

Toy cars have metal, plastic, rubber and paint

Die cast model cars

1:24 scale die-cast cars
1:43 scale die-cast cars
Die cast model of a 1:18 Formula 1 car. This is a model of a Ferrari F2005 driven by Michael Schumacher in the Formula 1 2005 season

Fully built scale model cars made of die cast metal are very popular among collectors. These models are manufactured in various scales like 1:18, 1:24, 1:48, and 1:43, among others.

Larger-scale premium models today are generally made with attention to details which replicate a real model, such as a working steering which steers the wheels in larger models, doors, trunk/boot, and hood/bonnet that open (the latter showing a detailed engine complete with things such as an exhaust system and/or other items contained in a typical car engine), and tyres mounted on a workable suspension system. In smaller scales some of the details are often eliminated. So, e.g. in 1:32, 1:48, or 1:43 scale cars, the steering and wheels generally do not work. Likewise, only the front doors and hood might be functional, with non-opening rear doors and trunk. (There are exceptions to this, of course.)

However, the concept of these models generally began with far simpler toys in smaller scales, such as Dinky Toys (often 1:43), production of which began in 1934, and Matchbox cars (often approx. 1:64), introduced in the mid-'50s. Early die-cast toys featured no opening parts whatsoever. Affected by market forces and by improvements in production technology, companies began to improve the quality of the toys over time. The "best" improvements were often copied by the competition within 1–2 years of their appearance on the market. Examples of these would be plastic windows, interiors, separate wheel/tire assemblies, working suspensions, opening/moving parts, headlights, mask-spraying or tampo-printing, and low-friction wheel/suspension aggregates.

Organized collecting of toy car models developed quickly, particularly in the UK and the USA. At first, collectors seeking models and their variations (in a manner similar to stamp or coin collecting) began cataloguing the models, driving the value for rare items up. This led to a reaction by the market as well, as in the late 1970s at the latest, in a movement started by Matchbox, the wishes and perceived desires of collectors were intentionally catered to in an attempt to capture a higher-price market segment. This movement eventually gave rise to the premium segment of the market as we know it today.

The collectors market also led to licensing aspects not known until the '80s. Typically, companies that make die-cast model cars will have a licensing arrangement with real car manufacturers to make replicas of their cars, whether they be concepts, in current production, or of models no longer produced. Companies whose logos are printed onto the models also enter similar licensing agreements.

Examples die-cast model car brands and manufacturers include Maisto, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Corgi and Yat Ming. Those making premium models include the Franklin Mint, the Danbury Mint, and Fairfield Mint.

Powered model cars

Though most car models are static display items, individual model builders have sometimes powered their vehicles in various ways, including rubber bands, springs, inertia mechanisms, electric motors, internal combustion engines, air engines and steam engines. In order to make them less fragile, powered models are often somewhat simplified and not as detailed as the best static models. For this reason, some modelers dismiss nearly all powered miniature cars as toys; however many individual efforts and commercial products are sufficiently well-scaled and detailed that they deserve to be called models. The main types of commercially-produced powered car models include:

Uncontrolled powered models, which were developed in the 1930s and were common until the 1960s. Often guided by a rail between the wheels, or by a tether staked to the center of a circular course, most of these cars used small internal combustion glow plug engines and were known as tether cars.

Electrically powered slot cars which draw power from the track. They became extremely popular in the 1960s, and are still widely available today.

Spring-powered or "clockwork" car models, that are wound with a key or by a friction mechanism. These were common until slot cars largely replaced them in the 1960s. In fact, the first commercially successful slot cars, the Scalextric 1/32 line (originally 1:30) which debuted in 1957, were simply motorized versions of the earlier Scalex clockwork racers.

Radio-controlled cars, which can be bought assembled or built from kits. These are usually powered by electric motors or glow plug engines. Drivers can control the speed and steering of these cars remotely by a radio signal.

Brands of model cars

Italics indicate defunct brand or no longer in the market

  • Abrex - Czech firm, Škoda models
  • Academy Plastic Model - Korean plastic model maker.
  • Airfix
  • AMT
  • Aoshima - Japanese plastic model manufacturer
  • Arcade - Very early and primitive producer of cast vehicles
  • Arii
  • AUTOart - a popular high quality die-cast manufacturer form Hong Kong
  • Aurora Plastics Corporation
  • Bang - Italian manufacturer, specialising in 1:43
  • Bandai - now produces model cars if they relate to anime merchandising
  • Banthrico Early '50s die cast car banks in 1:25th scale
  • Base Toys
  • BBR Models - Italian 1:43 and 1:18 scale model manufacturer.
  • Bburago
  • Benbros
  • Biante - Australian 1:18, 1:43 and 1:64 scale model manufacturer.
  • Bing German manufacturer of tin-plate models
  • Brekina - German manufacturer for highly detailed plastic models of the 1940s - 1970s in 1:87 scale (H0)
  • Britbus - highly detailed bus models in 1:76 scale
  • Britains
  • Brooklin - handbuilt 1:43 white metal cars (incl. related brands Lansdowne, RobEddie, U.S. Model Mint, International Police, Buick Collection '34-'39)
  • Bruce Arnold Models (a.k.a BAM) - handbuilt 1:43 white metal / resin post-war American cars. Officially licensed by General Motors.
  • Bub - German toymakers since 1851
  • Busch - German manufacturer for plastic models in 1:87 and 1:160
  • C.C.C. - handbuilt 1:43 cars, mostly made of resin
  • Classic Carlectables - manufacturers of Australian Touring Cars and V8 Supercars
  • CMNL Creative Master Northcord Ltd - highly detailed die-cast bus models in 1:76 scale
  • Corgi Toys
  • Conquest- handbuilt 1:43 white metal cars (incl. related brand Madison)
  • Cox Model Cars - Manufactured by L.M. Cox Manufacturing Co, Inc.
  • Crown Premiums - manufacturers of mint die-cast collectibles
  • Danbury Mint - Intricate 1/24th scale die casts
  • Dinky Toys - the first brand of toy car to be collected widely
  • Doyusha
  • Durham Classics - handbuilt 1:43 white metal cars
  • EFE Exclusive First Editions (Gilbow) - model manufacturer, specializing in buses and trucks
  • Ertl Company
  • Fairfield Mint
  • Franklin Mint - Intricate 1/24th scale die casts
  • Fujimi Model - Japanese plastic model manufacturer
  • Great American Dream Machines - handbuilt 1:43 white metal models of mid-20th century Detroit showcars
  • Guisval - Spanish manufacturer of models in 1:64 and 1:43 scales.
  • Gunze Sangyo - Japanese plastic model manufacturer
  • Hasegawa - Japanese plastic model manufacturer.
  • Heco - handbuilt 1:43 resin cars (incl. various related brands such as Challenge), specializing in French cars of the classic streamlined era
  • Herpa - for railway modelling, primarily 1:87 plastic
  • High Speed - a Hong Kong based diecast vehicle maker.
  • Hongwell a.k.a. Cararama
  • Hot Wheels and Hot Wheels Elite - an upgraded version of 1:18 Hot Wheels, mostly replicas of Ferrari.
  • Italeri
  • Imai
  • IMC (Industro-Motive Corporation) - US manufacturer of competition and show car models, notably Ford products. This company was bought out by Hawk Models in the early seventies, which was then purchased by Testors, and later merged with Lindberg Models, owned by parent company RPM. RPM seems to have sold off the molds along with everything else previously owned by Lindberg or Hawk to the new Lindberg Models.
  • Ixo - part of a conglomerate of brands from the Far East, with Altaya, Atlas, del Prado, Yat Ming
  • Jada Toys
  • Jo-Han
  • Kaden - Czech firm, Škoda models
  • Kyosho
  • Lindberg Models
  • Lledo (Days Gone, Vanguards) - product line now absorbed into Corgi
  • Lone Star Toys
  • LS, bankrupted in 1992
  • Maclovell Huon Pine Racing Cars - Tasmanian hand carved wood models
  • Märklin - German manufacturer in various scales
  • Maisto
  • Marks - German manufacturer in 1:87 and 1:160
  • Marqueart - suppliers of high quality hand built 1:43 scale model cars
  • Matchbox
  • Minex - British, 1:76 plastic car models
  • Mebetoys - Italian
  • Minichamps - German manufacturer of highly detailed models, primarily 1:43
  • Miniatures du Mont-blanc - French manufacturer 1:43 (Berliet, Chevrolet, Saviem, Renault, Citroën, Jeep...)
  • Minimarque 43- handbuilt 1:43 white metal cars
  • Model Factory Hiro - Japanese resin kit manufacturer
  • MPC
  • Monogram models
  • Morestone-Budgie
  • Motor City USA - handbuilt 1:43 white metal cars (incl. related brands Design Studio, American Models, USA Models)
  • New-Ray
  • Norev - French manufacturer of models in 1:64, 1:43, 1:18 and 1:87 scales
  • One43 - collectible limited edition fine scale model cars in 1:43 scale
  • Otaki Model Toy Company - defunct Japanese plastic model manufacturer
  • Oxford Diecast - Swansea based UK company coming to prominence in early 3rd millennium.
  • PMC - Product Miniature Corporation
  • Protar, mostly specialise in Italian racing cars, absorbed into Italeri
  • Pocher Model Cars - Italian manufacturer, famous for its large sized (1:8) and highly detailed cars
  • Polistil - Italian
  • Provence Moulage - handbuilt 1:43 cars, most often made of resin
  • Revell
  • Rietze - German manufacturer of highly detailed plastic models mainly in 1:87 scale
  • Roco - Austrian manufacturer of model railways, model car brand went to Herpa
  • Roskopf - German manufacturer in 1:87 that was sold to Wiking
  • Rosso Corporation - Short lived high end plastic scale model manufacturer from Japan
  • Schabak - Made Ford and other German model cars in the 1990s mainly in 1:43 scale
  • Schuco - German
  • Siku - German model manufacturer
  • Solido - French manufacturer of good quality 1:43 and 1:18 scale models
  • Studio 27 - high end scale model and accessory manufacturer from Japan
  • Tameo - Italian 1:43 scale model manufacturer
  • Stahlberg Models - Finnish promos of Swedish Saabs and Volvos
  • Tamiya - high quality die-cast manufacturer, more famous for plastic models and RC cars
  • Testor Corporation
  • Tokyo Marui - Japanese manufacturer who made briefly plastic model car
  • Tomica - Japanese model manufacturer
  • Tootsie toys - American manufacturer of die-cast vehicles, produced their first model car in 1911
  • Trofeu - Portuguese manufacturer specialize in 1/43 scale rally cars
  • Trumpeter - Nicely detailed kits and models
  • UT Models - Retired brand name of AUTOart
  • V & V Model - From Czech Republic
  • Victory Models - handbuilt 1:43 resin cars (incl. related brand La Familia)
  • Vitesse Models - From Portugal
  • Wave Corporation - Japanese resin model manufacturer, notable for F1 models, no longer produce car kits
  • Welly - Chinese manufacturer exporting widely
  • Western - handbuilt 1:43 white metal cars (incl. related brand Small Wheels)
  • Wiking - primarily 1:87 plastic models
  • Gerald Wingrove

See also


External links

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