Die-cast vehicles have been hugely popular in the toy market since 1947 when Lesney Products of England produced the first 1:64 cars.
After meeting success with the “Diesel Roadroller,” Lesney followed with the “Dumper” and the “Cement Mixer.” In 1968, the trend continued as Hot Wheels introduced its first set of 16 cars, followed in 1969 by a set of 24.
Nowadays, boys as young as two years old begin their collections with durable and inexpensive Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. For some, these collections can grow until entire rooms become dedicated showcases to these small die-cast cars. Obtaining the newest model, released annually by Jada Toys Inc. (ToyDirectory), Mattel, Playing Mantis and Corgi (ToyShow), can border on an obsession for the adult die-cast collector.
Tricked out street vehicles are at the height of the trend. John Riley, public relations spokesman for KB Toys, says Jada’s Dub City line is the top seller among die-cast cars in the boy’s pre-teen and mid-teen toy market. Many manufacturers are customizing their classic cars, offering shiny, chrome-filled, souped-up versions of these older models. The Dub City Hummer H2 model, as well as the Import Racer Mazda RX-8 and the HomieRollerz Chevy Fleetline, are the top sellers, according to Robert Chiang, marketing coordinator for Jada.
The 1967 Volkswagen Bus is on the 2004 Best Selling list of Mattel’s Matchbox collectibles in the “Coca Cola” series. In addition, Mattel makes Hot Wheels’ limited 2004 release of the “Larry Wood” holiday collection of Volkswagen Beetles in green, red, white and blue.
Craig Zulaf, manager of the Toys ’R Us store in Waterbury, Conn., says that Hot Wheels and Matchbox brand die-cast cars are still the favorite of local consumers. “Track systems are going to be really big this year, with a broad range of [die-cast] cars to race on them,” Zulaf said.
One of Corgi’s top selling die-cast models of all time is the 1966 Batmobile with the John Player Special Lotus Formula 1 race car. In 2004, Corgi released 11 different models of the Batmobile. Two of these, the Bat Cycle and the Bat Marine, had retractable wings. New releases for 2005 include the Robin Cycle and a 1940’s style of the Batmobile, according to marketing for Corgi. The James Bond series was also very popular with the company.
Die Cast Alley is a Web site that carries new releases of collectible die-cast vehicles in its online store. Russel Hughs, general manager of Die Cast Alley, states that the No. 1 selling die-cast vehicle is the Johnny Lightning Limited Editions by Playing Mantis. According to Hughs, the Grateful Dead and Holiday Classics series are currently the top-sellers. Greenlight manufactures the City Wheels Indy 500 racing line of pace cars, which is second on its list of best sellers.
Hot Wheels’ Holiday Coca-Cola Ornaments is third on the list. Larry Wood, chief designer for Hot Wheels cars, will release a set of four holiday Volkswagen Beetles in 2004 that coincides with “The Larry Wood World Tour.” A specially designed replica of the mobile home that Woods drove on the tour will be released in 2005.
New trends in die-cast are expanding to include the entertainment industry. RC2 has created replicas from the American Chopper Series of 1:10 and 1:18 scale die-cast motorcycles created by the Orange County Choppers´ father and son team, the Teutuls.
The popular television show featured on the Discovery Channel is one of the highest-rated cable TV shows of the season and has a wide audience attraction. The high quality choppers have been recreated in die cast and are hard to keep on the store shelves.
Formula Drift is also in RC2’s future, featuring an underground racing series. Drivers race around the tracks with the rear end of their fast cars sliding out from then, hence the “drift.” RC2 has a licensing deal in place with Formula Drift for 2005. Additionally, Corgi will be sending out new versions of the Batmobile and Robin Cycle just before the release of the new Batman movie for 2005.