There are die cast model cars and then, well, there are toys. Where is the dividing line and how to serious collectors of die cast vehicles judge the quality of their collections? Like most things, there’s more to this collecting passion than meets the eye.
Die cast collectors must consider a number of factors that are shared by people in the larger collecting world. How common or rare is a piece they own, what’s the condition, who made the item, is it associated with an important event or person, is it part of a complete set or one-of-a kind?
Since the quality of die cast vehicles has evolved over the past century, the value of a car may be related to the year it was produced. Most of the cars manufactured in the early 1900s were made with metal alloys not nearly as durable as today’s metals and polymer plastics. They were simple shells, with painted exteriors and interior details such as steering wheels, seats and dashboards. In this case, owners of early die cast model cars might expect a little rust or hairline cracks on their collectible. However, the fact that they own an intact die cast car from this era is a rarity. Of course, the better the condition, the higher the value.
As die cast vehicles became more popular, they also became more detailed. Interiors of cars and trucks were faithfully reproduced. More innovations such as working steering wheels and doors were introduced. The industry became increasingly competitive and some die cast cars were treated like jewelry – polished and presented in the finest detail and packaging possible. Limited editions were introduced specifically to interest the growing number of serious collectors who could count on rarity to enhance their investment.
Getting Serious about Die Cast
A culture developed along with the number of casual and serious collectors. There were questions about how best to preserve and display die cast collections. People were interested in the value of their pieces and completing entire themed collections. For many people, die cast collecting moved from a hobby to a serious passion.
Like all collectors, the buyer is expected to be the ultimate judge of his or her die cast investment. The value of a model is often in its adherence to exact historical detail. Buyers purchase models from manufacturers they trust have done research and cut no corners when it comes to accuracy.
It’s said that a perfect model is one that looks like the real thing, displayed on a showroom floor and ready to be driven away. That means paint jobs and upholstery must reflect historical reality – not the whimsy of the manufacturer. For cars of appropriate eras, working doors, trunks, hoods and other moving parts should be operational. In these matters, an educated collector has the edge on the casual buyer. Collectors not only know the details of the cars, they know which manufacturers adhere to precise detail and deliver what’s promised.
Maintaining and Maturing
Collections also require care from the moment of purchase. Experts advise owners to apply a thin coat of wax to new die cast models using a very soft cloth and Q-Tips to get into the corners and crevasses. Only a light application of wax will help repel dust and clean up any hairline scratches that might mar the finish. They caution to not spray wax directly on the model because wax can build up and dry in places you can’t reach – a cotton cloth instead of a chamois is recommended. Once waxed, a quick buffing makes the model ready for brilliant display.
That said, it’s often the untouched die cast replica that commands the highest prices. In the collecting niche this is known as Mint in Box (MIB). All the packaging and foam that protects the model is untouched and the accompanying paperwork is saved. Some collectors find this level of “investment” isn’t quite as enjoyable as handling and arranging their collections so cars can be appreciated from all angles. Of course, these cars require careful dusting with soft cloths and small, soft bristled brushes from time to time.
There are several group websites and auction sites to help collectors assess the value of their die cast treasures. Whether for pleasure or profit – or perhaps both – die cast model collectors share a love of nostalgia and accuracy for vehicles that never have to stop at the pump to keep on providing pleasure.