Dinky Toys are die-cast miniature model cars and trucks. They first appeared in early 1934 when Meccano Ltd of Liverpool, England introduced a new line of "modelled miniatures" under the trade mark "Meccano Dinky Toys". The first announcement for the new line was made in the April 1934 issue of Meccano Magazine.
In 1931 Meccano Ltd issued a series of railway and trackside accessories to compliment their O scale Hornby Railways model train sets. Six model cars were produced alongside model track workers, passengers, station staff and other trackside accessories. The cars were basic representations and had die-cast metal bodies, tin plate bases and wheels with rubber tyres. By 1934 Frank Hornby, who owned Meccano Ltd, had expanded the range to include die-cast model ships and aeroplanes, and the range was christened 'Meccano Dinky Toys', the first set of 'Dinky Cars' being released in 1934. The set of vehicles was designated No. 22, comprised of six 1:43 scale models and retailed at 4 shillings:
Pre-war Dinky Toys were cast from an unstable alloy and today suffer from zinc pest making them very rare. The first model car that was to be made available individually was numbered 23a which was a sports car based on an early MG, and by December 1935 there were around 200 different products in the Dinky range even including dolls house furniture. The first model cars were generic representations of vehicle types and were available individually from trade packs of 6. Models would not be available in individual boxes until 1952. In 1935 a new series was introduced which featured accurate likenesses of specific vehicles. Series 30 included :
The number of commercial vehicles expanded with the addition of Series 28 which included a series of delivery vans. Liveries of well known companies began to decorate these vehicles lending them a period charm which collectors today find irresistible, leading to extraordinarily high auction prices being reached for rare examples. Production was halted for the duration of the Second World War and the Binns Road factory in Liverpool was given over to the Allied War effort.
The first significant releases from Dinky Toys after production had resumed in the late 1940s were the 40 series of vehicles, which were all British Saloons. These were very much the opening chapter of the 'golden age' of Dinky Toys and represented far greater accuracy than their pre-war counterparts. They became very popular and today are often considered to be the quintissential Dinky Toys models, heralding a new post-war era. The 40 series cars were manufactured from better quality alloy meaning that the survival rate is higher and although originally sold from trade packs of six, they were re-coloured in two-tone paintwork and renumbered in 1954 becoming some of the first models sold with their own unique box. The series included:
By the early 1950s Dinky Toys had become very popular in the United Kingdom and it seemed that all boys (and some adults) had collections. Their dual role as toy and model had no peers at the time. Most of the models were in a scale of approximately 1:48, which blended in with O scale railway sets, but many buses and lorries were scaled down further so that they were around 4 inches long. In 1954 the Dinky Toys range was reorganized and cars were now sold in individual boxes and there were no series of models differentiated by a letter, each model having its own unique catalogue number. The Dinky Toys range became more sophisticated throughout the 1950s but due to the lack of any real competition development of the models was perhaps slower than it could have been. That was until July 1956 when Mettoy introduced a rival line of models under the Corgi brand name. The most obvious difference was the addition of clear plastic 'glazing', and the new range was sold with the slogan 'The Ones With Windows'. Once Meccano Ltd had direct competition they were able to respond by updating their Dinky Toys range accordingly and the models from both companies rapidly became more and more sophisticated featuring working suspension, 'fingertip steering' and detailed interiors.
A rival third range of model cars also appeared in 1959 called "Spot-on" which were manufactured in Northern Ireland and produced by Tri-ang, a division of Lines Brothers. This range were kept to one scale, 1:42, and were comparatively more expensive, never managing to sell as many units as Corgi and Dinky. In 1964 Tri-ang took over the parent Meccano company (which included Hornby trains as well as Meccano itself) and since Dinky Toys were more popular than Spot-On, the latter were phased out in 1967, although a few cars originally designed for Spot-On were made in Hong Kong and marketed as Dinky Toys. However from this point Dinky used the 1:42 scale for many of the English made cars and trucks, although the French factory stuck to the more common 1:43 scale, which was already popular in Europe.
In the late 1960s a new competitor entered the U.K. model car market. This was Hot Wheels from U.S. toymaker Mattel. Their low-friction axles gave them play value that Dinky and the other major British brands including Corgi and Matchbox could not match. Each manufacturer responded with its own version of this innovation - Dinky's name for its wheel/axle assembly was "Speedwheels". The company continued to make some wonderful models, with all four doors opening (a first in British toy cars), retractable radio aerials (another first), Speedwheels, high quality metallic paint, and jewelled headlights. However, these models were expensive to manufacture and the price could only be kept down if the quantities were sufficiently high enough. Changing fashions in the toy industry, international competition and the switch to cheap labour in lower wage countries meant that the British made Dinky Toys days were numbered, and after attempts at simplifying the products as a means of saving costs, the famous Binns Road factory in Liverpool finally closed its doors in November 1979. Corgi Toys managed to struggle on until 1983. Thus ended the dominant era of British-made die-cast toy models.
The Dinky trade-name was a valuable one, and changed hands many times before ending up as part of Matchbox International Ltd in the late '80s. This seemed to be a logical and perhaps synergistic development, uniting two of the most valuable and venerated names in the British and world die-cast model car market under one roof. Matchbox began issuing model cars of the 1950s through the 'Dinky Collection' in the late 1980s, but these were models intentionally designed for adult collectors. The models were attractive and honoured the tradition of the Dinky name in terms of both quality and scale, and were popular with collectors for the short time that they were available, before production stopped after only a few years. The 'Dinky Collection' then became absorbed into the themed series offered by Matchbox Collectibles Inc, owned by US giants Mattel, who have shown little interest in or understanding of the Dinky brand preferring nowadays to rebadge normal Matchbox models as Dinky for some editions of their models in certain markets, or to reissue 1:43 models from the Matchbox era. No new "dedicated" Dinky castings have been created in the Mattel era since Matchbox Collectibles was shut down in 2000.
In the early days of the Dinky Toys range aeroplanes and ships formed a considerable part of the output of the Binns Road factory alongside models of cars and vans. Both civilian and military aircraft were subjects for the Dinky modellers, and the model of the Spitfire was also sold in a special presentation box between 1939 and 1941 as part of The Spitfire Fund in order to raise money for the production of real Spitfires. Some planes were clearly identified whereas others had generic names such as Heavy Bomber (66a) and Two Seater Fighter (66c). The reason for this is not clear and it may have been that these were not true representations of particular planes, but there were rumours that some models of planes and ships were disguised so that enemy agents would not be able to recognise allied aircraft and shipping from the Dinky models. This was of particular importance in the production of French Dinky models due to the political friction in Europe before the war and the fact that France was occupied by the Nazis during hostilities.
Production of model planes continued after the war with a mixture of civilian airliners and new jet powered planes. Production of Dinky planes tailed off in the 1950s and 1960s but was resurgent in the 1970s with a range of World War II planes to coincide with the release of the film The Battle of Britain, complete with battery powered propellers, modern jet fighters and even a helicopter. These are some examples of the sizeable range:
Although the production of aircraft models continued after the war, the heyday of Dinky ships was between 1934 and 1939. The models were cast from the same unstable alloy that was used across the entire pre-war Dinky range and have therefore also suffered from metal fatigue that makes survivors all the more rare. Small metal wheels were also included in the design and concealed in the underside of the hull so that the models could be moved smoothly across surfaces. Mirroring the aircraft range, both civilian and military ships were issued, and again, some were disguised for the reason already mentioned. It was not until the 1970s that any further models were added to the long line of maritime releases from Dinky Toys. Models included in the pre-war range include:
As part of the post-war development and expansion of the range, in 1947 Meccano Ltd introduced a series of model lorries also modelled to the usual Dinky scale of 1:48, and called the range Dinky Supertoys. Some of the most cherished models produced under the Dinky banner were issued in this line, including:
In 1950 Dinky Supertoys introduced a number of Guy Vans finished in period liveries which have become among the most recognised and desirable the company have produced. Each model was an identical all metal box van with opening rear doors. The Guy cab was replaced by a Bedford S cab in 1955 and a Guy Warrior cab was introduced in 1960.
Dinky Supertoys continued producing beautifully detailed commercials through the fifties and sixties, including such diverse subjects as a Mobile Television Control Room and Camera Van in both BBC Television and ABC Television liveries, a Leyland test chassis with removable 5 ton weights, a series of military vehicles including a Corporel Erector Vehicle and rocket (a subject also modelled by Corgi Toys at the same time), a range of Mighty Antar heavy haulage transporters complete with loads and a Horse Transporter in British Railways livery. As with the Corgi Majors range of commercial vehicles, the Dinky Supertoys range has become sought after amongst collectors today with some desirable pieces reaching impressively high prices.
In the mid-1950s, Meccano Ltd shipped to South Africa a limited edition set of military vehicles for the South African Defence Force. They were all painted military green and included a Motor Truck, a Covered Wagon, an Ambulance, a Dispatch Rider and a Van.
When South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth in 1961, it imposed a luxury goods import tax, making Dinky Toys very expensive – a potential loss for Meccano Ltd. To resolve this problem, in 1962 Meccano Ltd began shipping Dinky Toy parts to South Africa where models were assembled and painted locally. The importing of unfinished goods was not subject to import tax. These models were sold in South Africa between 1962 and 1963 and it is believed that only one batch of each model was produced, making South African Dinky Toys very rare. South Africa also imported Dinky Toy parts from the French factory in 1966 and six models were assembled and painted locally. See and for lists of South African Dinky Toys.
Some of the distinguishing features of South African Dinky Toys are:
In 1912 Frank Hornby set up an office in Paris on Rue Ambroise Thomas to import Meccano into France. By 1921 the French market had proved so successful that production of Meccano began in Paris at the newly opened factory on Rue Rebeval, with another plant opening in 1929 at Bobigny where production of the Dinky Toys range would be based. In the early days production consisted mainly of model ships and aeroplanes, with vehicles gradually increasing in number. During the Second World War the Meccano factories were commandered by the invading Germans and used in the Nazi war effort, as well as production of model vehicles in the German Märklin range. In the early post-war years the model vehicles were forced to be shod with metal wheels due to Nazi activity during the war which had virtually cut off supplies of rubber to France, rubber tyres not being fitted on models until 1950. In 1951 the old factory at Rue Rebeval closed and Dinky Toys production was now solely based at Bobigny.
By the 1950s the French Dinky Toys range had began to diversify from that of the British parent company, concentrating on the products of the French motor manufacturers; Citroën, Renault, Peugeot and Simca, along with examples of American cars which were popular at that time on mainland Europe. Some models such as the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia were produced both in France as 24m and in Great Britain at the Binns Road plant in Liverpool as 187. By the 1960s there was virtually no crossover of products between the two countries resulting in a fascinating range that complemented the better known UK models. The vast majority of the French Dinky range were only available in the home market although a few models did make it across the English Channel to be sold in Britain. The factory at Bobigny closed in 1970 and production moved to Calais where the range continued to be manufactured until closure in 1971, although the Spanish company Pilen produced some models which were originally sold as French Dinky Toys until the end of the decade.
Between 1965 and 1967 six model cars were produced for Dinky Toys in Hong Kong for the lucrative US market. Originally intended to be produced by Spot-On, but re-branded as Dinky Toys when the Spot-On parent company (Tri-ang) bought Meccano Ltd, they were built to the usual Spot-On scale of 1:42. These were all American vehicles:
Limited numbers and availability at the time have meant that this range of models are hard to find today.
In 1958 Meccano Ltd introduced the Dublo Dinky range of models in 1:76 scale which were designed to be used with Hornby OO scale model railways, hence the name of the new range, being a play on words of 'double-O'. They were relatively cheap to produce having a basic die-cast metal body and baseplate and one piece plastic wheels, and had the added bonus of being able to compete in the small scale toy car market which was dominated by Lesney's Matchbox range. A diverse range of vehicles were available despite the small number of models in the range, including saloon cars of the period such as the Ford Prefect, small delivery vans such as the Commer Van, a Volkswagen Delivery Van in Dublo Dinky livery and a Morris Minor Van in Royal Mail livery. Amongst others, a Land Rover and trailer formed part of the range as did an AEC Mercury Fuel Tanker in BP livery. Unfortunately, Dublo Dinkys met with only limited success and after failing to make any impression on Matchbox sales the range was withdrawn in 1964.
A second series of small scale models was introduced four years later in 1968, this time to a similar scale as the Matchbox range at 1:65. Mini-Dinky Toys, as the range was called, were of a high quality and featured opening bonnets, doors and boots and were produced in Hong Kong and Holland, with some construction models designed in Italy by Mercury to a 1:130 scale. In a bid to make this series stand out in toy shops each model was supplied in a plastic garage, complete with opening door, rather than the usual cardboard box. This novel feature did not help sales, particularly as the range was forced to compete with Mattel's revolutionary Hot Wheels before long.
Although Dinky Toys were not known as widely for producing television related models as Corgi Toys, they still made a number of intriguing vehicles widely known from the small screen. Many of these models were the result of beating Corgi Toys to the signing of a licensing deal with Gerry Anderson's 21st Century Productions, whose programmes are immensely popular in Britain.
As with all television and film related models from the era they are now rare and valuable items complete and in their original packaging, and like the models of rival Corgi Toys, many of these TV related toys had ingenious special features.