FIVE FACTS: A Brief History Of Model Cars

Model car collecting

Did you ever hold an exquisitely detailed scale model car in your hand and wonder, "How did it ever come to this?" Or is it just us? Whatever, here are five facts about the the history of scale model cars:
1. MODEL CARS ARE ALMOST AS OLD AS CARS THEMSELVES. The earliest examples were created by the legendary toymakers of Nuremberg, Germany at the dawn of the 20th century. Crafted from delicate, thin-walled tinplate, these first model cars were intended as playthings for the children of the wealthy, and were not truly accurate representations of specific "real" cars.
2. DIE-CAST MODEL CARS AS WE KNOW THEM TODAY WERE BORN IN THE CRUCIBLE OF WAR. Mass-production of weapons for World War I necessitated the development of techniques for die-casting metal components. Following the war's conclusion, enterprising toymakers repurposed this new die-cast technology to create accurately detailed minature cars. Among the earliest companies to adopt die-cast production methods were Chicago's Tootsietoys, England's Meccano (who sold 1:43-scale cars under the "Dinky" label) and French auto company Citroen, who offered a line of miniature promotional cars in the hope of converting children into lifelong Citroen customers.
3. LIKE 1:43 SCALE? THANK THE TRAIN GUYS. Those Dinky models? They were first marketed as accessories for Meccano's successful line of O-gauge railroad sets (1:43 roughly corresponds to O-gauge) but became so popular in their own right that Meccano soon split them off as a stand-alone product.
4. ADULT MODEL COLLECTORS HAVE ONLY BEEN AROUND SINCE THE 1950S. Not coincidentally, this was approximately the same time that the first great full-sized car collections were being amassed in Europe and the U.S. The earliest known retail shop dedicated exclusively to miniature cars appeared in the U.K. in 1952.
5. BEHIND EVERY 1:18-SCALE CAR IS A HOT WHEELS. That's right: the beloved 1:64-scale toys that are probably littering your kid's bedroom floor right now are indirectly responsible for the big, beautiful 1:18-scale showpieces on your mantle. Flush with capital in the wake of the seismic success of their Hot Wheels line in the late 1960s, Mattel acquired Italian model company Mebetoys in order to re-brand their 1:43-scale collectibles as Hot Wheels "Gran Toros." Out of a job, Mebetoys founder Mario Besana soon started a new model company that would focus on even larger models. He selected 1:18 scale to allow for maximum detail, and began production under the name Bburago. These upscale models quickly caught on with American collectors (we like 'em big!) and soon, 1:18 joined 1:43 as the dominant scales for accurately detailed miniature autos for adult collectors.

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