Toy vehicles for children have been made of tinplate (sheet) metal almost since the first motorised vehicles made their appearance on the roads of the world.
From the early 1900's until the mid 1940's, sturdy toys made from cast iron became common, and although highly detailed, these toys were heavy and expensive to ship to the toy markets of the world. It is generally accepted that Tootsietoys of America produced the first diecast metal vehicle - a replica of the Model T Ford - in 1906. Diecast cars were lighter and less expensive to make and during the 1920's Tootsietoys had this section of the toy market to themselves. By the late 1940's, cast iron vehicles had all but been driven out by their diecast competition.
Following the lead of Tootsietoys, several European manufacturers began to issue diecast vehicles as part of their range. In Germany the firm of Ernst Plank made a series of diecast vehicles but it was not until the 1930s that other firms, such as Märklin of Germany and Solido of France, followed their lead. British manufacturers, such as Meccano, also entered the market, as early as 1930-31, with a range of model vehicles and accessories designed to compliment the scale model railways so popular at the time. Over time these British companies came to dominate this field until the late 60's and early vehicles by these manufacturers are most highly prized and sought after by collectors today.
Tootsietoys - Due to mergers, the originator of diecast toys manufactured under the name Dowst Manufacturing from 1926, and Stombecker from 1961. The last all-metal vehicles were produced in 1969, and now Tootsietoys combine plastic and metal parts on their highly detailed models. Pre-war pieces and those with metal wheels are the most popular with collectors.
Dinky - Originally made in the U.K. by Meccano, Dinky Toys were available as early as 1933. Vehicles from the 1950s and 60s are the most sought after on the secondary market now. Many Dinkys were also manufactured in France, and some appear to have been produced in Spain and Italy. Since 1979, none have been produced in England.
Corgi - These have been made in the U.K. since 1956, when they appeared marketed as "the ones with windows". A wide range of vehicles was produced then and now with the character related vehicles, such as James Bond's cars or Batman's cars being highly prized. Today the company continues to produce a wide range of character based toys, commercial vehicles and road vehicles although production is largely centred on the Chinese factories.
Matchbox - Matchbox Toys debuted in 1953. The British manufacturer, Lesney, didn't start putting dates on the base plates of models until the early 1970s and it should be recognised that these dates are NOT the year of manufacture but are more likely to be the year the design was registered, trademarked or copywritten. In 1982 the Lesney trademark was dropped when the company became Matchbox International. In 1988, the company manufactured a small range of replicas of early models, so a careful study is recommended before purchasing "older" vehicles. The Matchbox trademark is currently owned by Mattel who have successfully degraded the brand by dropping its international focus to one of almost solely American flavour. It appears to favour its own brand Hot Wheels, much to the dismay of many international colectors.
Solido - this firm was formed in 1932 and produced a large range of model vehicle cars and trucks. The company was bought by Majorette in 1980 and continues to issue accurate scale models to this day.
Märklin - First produced in the mid-1930s, the early issues from this company rarely survived the ravages of World War II. The company issued two series of diecast cars, trucks and military vehicles prior to the war and returned to production, post-war, with a new series of cars and trucks that continued until 1977. Since that time the company has concentrated on its scale model railway items.
Hot Wheels - Introduced by Mattel in 1968, Hot Wheels is said by some to have revolutionised the diecast market. Smaller and lighter than their British counterparts, Hot Wheels were built for speed. Children loved the bright colours and the range was an instant hit. Until 1971, the cars sported red sidewall tyres and these "Red Lines" are a favourite with collectors. (Some new models also have commemorative redlines, so study the line before purchasing). Over 2 billion Hot Wheels vehicles have been produced since their inception and the major collector market for these toys lies in the USA. The HotWheels series has found little favour with collectors in Europe and other countries due to their preceived "unrealistic" body shapes and garish colour schemes. The 2004 range was openly slated, even by US collectors, for its absurd vehicle shapes and oversized tyres.
Ertl - This American company initially focused on farm vehicles, and Ertl Toys are very well respected by die-hard diecast fans.