Rare Matchbox toy cars can fetch more than the cost of a real one, but there are still bargains to be found – so collecting them could set you on the road to a fortune.
Recently, a collection of 900 Matchbox cars went under the hammer for £281,000. Among the record-breaking prices achieved was £15,600 for a 1970s ultra-rare pre-production ‘Superfast’ Lincoln Continental.
Another toy that sold for a top price was a 1960s green refrigerator truck. Even with a scratched windscreen it was snapped up for a cool £9,600.
Other sales in this auction by toy specialist Vectis included a 1970s Ford GT40 that sold for £5,760 and a Mercedes 300 car that fetched £3,360.
Fortunately, for those who remember pushing their favourite cars around the carpet, they might still pick up Matchbox models for a few pounds.
For example, at the sale, an iconic 1970s Porsche 911 Turbo in top condition sold for £40. A real Porsche would cost you at least £45,000.
Vectis’s Louise Harker says: ‘There is currently a boom in demand for classic Matchbox models, fuelled by collectors nostalgic for vehicles that they remember when they grew up.
‘Not just the ones on the road at the time but those they used to play with at home when children.’ She adds: ‘The pandemic has also had an impact on demand with people exploring new ways to spend their money while working from home.’
For investors, condition is key. Ideally, the toys should never have been played with. Any chips or scratches to the paintwork will have a huge impact on price – a used model may fetch less than a tenth of a well-looked after example.
The same goes for the box. If you have original packaging, it can double the model’s value.
Another consideration is provenance – having a purchase history is particularly valuable for a serious toy car collector.
Graham Hamilton is the Matchbox enthusiast who sold his 900-strong collection through Vectis.
Graham runs his own collectables dealership called Rockertron Toys and as a result of his reputation as a highly regarded trader, he was able to sell the vehicles at premium prices.
He says: ‘Unfortunately, the market is flooded with fakes and unscrupulous sellers are keen to exploit innocent victims on auction websites.
‘The best forgeries can also be difficult to spot – crooks are not just doing resprays, but putting together bits of old cars or making new parts to trick buyers.’
Graham’s Matchbox collection was not just in pristine condition but backed with provenance that included details of the people who worked at the Matchbox Lesney Products factory in Hackney, East London, from whom he had directly purchased some toys.
Other information included copies of receipts and auction catalogues to provide details of past ownership – just like a real vehicle with logbook and car registration certificate.
He says: ‘Sadly, if you go into your attic and rummage around looking for a box of old toy cars you are most likely to be disappointed. If they are bashed about the chances are they will be worthless.’
He adds: ‘My interest began when I was growing up in the 1970s. I had a particularly strict upbringing and unlike many other children I would take care of my vehicles because if I broke anything I would be punished.
‘Not only were they well looked after but often kept in their original box.’
He estimates he has spent about £100,000 building his collection of 1,800 Matchbox cars over decades. He intends selling the remaining 900 cars in September via Vectis.
The Matchbox car name was coined in 1952 when engineer Jack Odell tried to stop his daughter Anne from carrying around creepy-crawlies such as spiders in a matchbox.
Her school had forbidden pupils from taking in toys that could not be fitted inside a matchbox. Her father therefore promised to make a vehicle small enough to sit inside the box if she agreed to stop collecting insects – so he designed a small steamroller that fitted.
The next year, Matchbox sold more than one million Royal coaches pulled by eight horses to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II under the Lesney name.
Today, because so many were manufactured, you can still buy these with their original box for £200. Matchbox brought out its first official range the same year – an ‘Aveling-Barford’ road roller, a ‘Muir Hill’ dumper truck, a cement mixer and a ‘Massey Harris’ tractor.
You can now pay £160 for the first model in this range – the ‘1a green road roller. If battered, it might cost just £20.
Over the years Matchbox has manufactured 12,000 different models and three billion vehicles. During its heyday in the 1960s, Matchbox was the biggest toy car manufacturer in the world with vehicles costing from seven-and-a-half old pence (about 3p).
But like the British car industry it struggled to survive and it stopped making die-cast cars in England in 1985.
Matchbox was inspired to make toy cars because of the success of another earlier British manufacturer Dinky, which began life as a Meccano spin-off in 1934.
Dinky toys were originally sold as accessories for railway kits offered by parent company Hornby. Vectis’s Harker says: ‘Dinky collectors tend to be older. But die-cast toy car enthusiasts of all ages appreciate their value.’
The first Dinky cars were the Modelled Miniatures range ’22’, comprising six vehicles.
They captured the imagination of a pre-Second World War generation who had never enjoyed quality metal toy cars before.
Find a pre-war ’22a’ range open-top sports car in the attic in great condition and it may be worth £1,300, while a ’22c’ truck can change hands for £1,000.
Dinky toy manufacturing was suspended during the war and only resumed in 1949. Afterwards, there was an explosion in model choice.
Later vehicles made in the 1950s and 60s tend to be more affordable as more cars were made but there are still rarities.
For example, a 1950s Dinky ‘Guy Van’ with iconic livery selling ‘Spratts’ dog biscuits can fetch £400 but if it has a ‘Weetabix’ logo you can pay as much as £2,200. Dinky closed its Liverpool factory in 1979.
Another collectable manufacturer of toy cars is Corgi. Popular models include those made as movie spinoffs such as a 1960s Batman Batmobile that can sell for £500, and a late 1960s boxed James Bond Aston Martin DB5 going for up to £800.