Collecting from A to Z

A small glossary providing background information about model cars and their manufacturers, useful hints and references to literature. Special terms used by model car collectors are also explained.

The most important books, magazines, and internet resources used when creating this page can be found in the reference list.

Code system for special edition model cars, in the beginning mainly used for Matchbox models. A Code 1 model was totally built by the model car company itself, a Code 2 model was altered with permission of the maker and a Code 3 model was modified without permission.

There are widely used terms to indicate whether a model is in good or bad shape. The most important of them are:

  • mint and boxed (MB): The model is in the original box, it is in excellent condition and looks like a new one. There isn't any damage on paint and small parts. Value: 100%.

  • mint (M): The model is in excellent condition as well, but the box is missing. Value: 50-80%.

  • near mint (NM): You can see that somebody played with the model. There are slight damages on paint (up to 2% of the painted surface), but no small parts are missing. Sometimes the chrome parts have lost their shine. Value: 40-50%.

  • slightly chipped (SC): larger, distinctive parts of the paintwork are scratched (up to 5%), small parts and decals may be damaged. But the model is complete, no parts are missing. Value: 25-40%.

  • almost trash: Missing parts, broken wheels, bended fenders - such models can only be used as providers of spare parts. Value: 0-25%.

The terms near mint & boxed (NMB), very slightly chipped (VSC; between NM and SC) and chipped (C) are quite common, too. Sometimes a rating ranging from C1 (very poor) to C10 (perfect) is also used to describe the condition of a model car.

Mass-produced pressure cast ready made models. They are made of an alloy of zinc (predominating), magnesium and aluminium, sometimes with the addition of copper. The moulds are made of hard steel and very expensive. So producers of diecast models have to sell a high number of pieces of each model, otherwise they won't get enough profit. For the same reason, additional parts of diecast models are normally made of plastic in order to keep production costs low.

This problem also exists in the model car scene. For an individual or a small group of persons, it would normally be too costly and expensive to completely rebuild a detailed model car as a fake and to sell it with profit. However, since rare variants of models - especially from Matchbox and Bburago - were sold at very high prices among collectors in the 1990s, some people made money by changing paint or decals of cheaper variants. The value of a faked model is zero.

faked Bburago models
faked Bburago models: Bugatti and Ferrari with cigarette advertizements, Porsche 356 police (source: Rollo's Modellautohomepage)

In most cases repainted older Bburago models are easy to be discovered. Since Bburago sprayed their models with doors, bonnet and luggage hood closed, there is only little paint on the body surface covered by the opening parts. This effect is very hard to imitate when the model is resprayed.

Experts often identify faked Matchbox Yesteryear models by manipulated rivets. Furthermore, some specialist retailers offer literature about Yesteryears that can help when there's the possibility a model is faked.

Faked early Yesteryear boxes made with colour photocopiers can often be identified by the wrong cardboard (too solid and much too bright on the inside), and while the dark surfaces on the original boxes are dark violet, on the faked boxes they're often black.

Artisan-produced models made for collectors only. Only a limited number is produced, and mostly they are made of resin or white metal. Most handbuilt models are made in 1/43rd scale, but there are also models in 1/24th scale and bigger, as well as 1/76th scale and smaller. One of the first 1/43rd scale handbuilt white metal models was the Ferrari 250 GTO released in the Marc Europa range, of which Englishman Brian Jewell manufactured about 100 items in 1964. Other pioneers in this field were some more English model makers such as John Day or Mike and Sue Richardson (Mikansue) in the early 1970s. Manufacturers in France and Italy started production of handbuilt models soon afterwards.

It may happen that diecast models get cracks caused by corrosion. Sometimes they break into pieces. The reason for this metal fatigue is bad quality of the diecast alloy. In most cases, models made before 1970 are concerned. Later, the manufacturers used better alloys. However, there are some exceptions - Russian model cars from the 1990s, and even some detailed Chinese-made models from the 1990s and 2000s, e.g. by Schuco, may also get metal fatigue. There is no cure for this kind of corrosion. But it is recommended to look for cracks when buying older models and to avoid extreme temperatures and sunlight.

metal fatigue
Opel Rekord by Schuco in 1/43rd scale destroyed due to metal fatigue (source: Modelcarforum)

A fine and soft brush is the best tool to clean a dusty model. This method makes sure that small parts and decals are not damaged. Dirty models can be cleaned with a soft cloth. If they are very dirty, the cloth can be moistened with a few drops of lukewarm suds. Use q-tips to clean places which are difficult to reach. But never wipe over decals! The German company Momira has developped specialized cleaning systems for the cleaning of model cars, which obtain satisfying results according to test reports. However, model cars with delicate small parts are less suitable for such systems and must be handled with extreme care.

Partworks are periodical, mostly bi-weekly publications sold at newsagents or by subscription which include a collectors' item with each part of a series. There are several advantages of this way of distribution: First of all, it is a marketing strategy to bring collectors to buy a whole series of items, and in most cases the publishers offer special gifts to subscribers in order to make it particularly attractive to get all items. Secondly, the items can be sold at comparatively low prices because the lower VAT rates for print media are applicable: Officially only the magazine is sold and the collectors' item which is attached to the magazine is considered as a "free gift". Finally, selling collectors' items at newsagents instead of specialized shops can be a strategy to introduce new collectors to a hobby. The first issue of a partwork is usually sold at a loss-leader price, the second issue is already more expensive, and from the third issue, the regular price has to be paid.

Partworks include all kinds of collectibles, e.g. movies on DVD, figurines, toys, and of course also model cars. The first partworks including model cars were released in the late 1990s and soon became particularly popular in France, Spain and Italy, later also in Eastern Europe and Latin America. In Northern Europe and other parts of the world, however, model car series sold at newsagents have remained quite rare. The most important publishers of partwork series thus come from the South-West of Europe: Altaya (in Spain and France), Del Prado and Salvat (in Spain), Atlas and Hachette (in france), De Agostini and Fabbri (in Italy).

"Collection Peugeot" by Hachette
"Auto della Polizia" by Fabbri
Partwork magazine covers: Peugeot 201 Coupé by Hachette ("Collection Peugeot", No. 19, November 2006) and Volvo S80 Icelandic police by Fabbri ("Auto della Polizia", No. 42, January 2005). Click on the cover to see a picture of the model car.

Model car partworks deal with many different collection themes: road cars from a particular country or car make, police and fire vehicles, rally or racing cars, cars known from movies or comic strips, vans or tractors. One partwork usually consists of 30 to 80 different models, but there are partworks with more than 200 issues. On the other hand, some series are stopped after a few issues if they aren't successful. Most series include 1/43rd scale models, but models in other scales, even in 1/18th, have also been attached to magazines. The most important manufacturers of model cars for partwork series are Norev, Solido, Ixo and Universal Hobbies, other models in partwork series have been made by Hongwell Cararama, Starline Models and other companies. Many partworks include a mix of models from existing moulds and newly developped issues, some of them will be included later in the manufacturer's regular range. The partwork models are often slightly less detailed than the regular models from the same manufacturer (fewer decorations, plastic instead of photo-etched parts for details such as wire wheels or windscreen wipers, less detailed baseplates), but as they are much cheaper they might still be attractive for collectors.<

Links to websites providing further information about partworks are available on my links page.

Sometimes small parts for details such as radiator grilles, wire wheels, door handles, window frames or windscreen wipers are photo-etched. The parts are drawn in a bigger scale and the pattern is scaled down and is copied photographically on fine sheet metal (steel or brass, 0.15 to 0.3 millimetres thick). Then the parts are etched in acid out of the metal. Using photo-etched parts allows to form better details, but the technology is expensive and was limited to handbuilt models for a long time. Since the mid-1990s mass-producers more and more apply photo-etched parts to their scale models for collectors, too.

photo-etched parts
photo-etched parts
Photo-etched parts made by Sprint 43 from Switzerland

Models made for a customer, mostly not available in model shops. Promotionals are often used as a means of advertising by car companies - e.g. the 1/25th scale plastic promotional models made by manufacturers such as AMT, MPC and Jo-Han, and later Ertl and Brookfield, from the late 1940s until the 1990s and available from the dealers of US car companies. But model vans and trucks with special printings advertising various products and brands are also popular.

Synthetic material used for handbuilt models. Two-part polyurethane (less often polyester) resin is cast in soft rubber moulds mostly lasting only 50 to 100 castings. Compared to white metal or diecast, this material allows the production of less expensive and more complicated castings, but only for a limited number of models.

Model cars in scales smaller than 1/87th are only considered as accessories for model railways today. In Germany models in 1/87th scale (matching with the H0-gauge model railway) are predominating (well-known manufacturers: Wiking, Herpa, Brekina, Rietze). Models of cars in this scale are about 5 centimetres long. A lot of toy cars have been made in various rather small scales between 1/55th and 1/76th ("3 inch models", about 7,5 centimetres long: Matchbox, Hot Wheels, Siku, Majorette), but there is also an increasing number of rather detailed diecast models in scales such as 1/64th (very popular in the USA), 1/72nd and 1/76th (models in the latter scale are popular in the United Kingdom, since they match with the British 00-gauge model railways). But most widely spread all around the world is 1/43rd scale (length: about 10 centimetres). Models of this size match with the 0-gauge model railway which was very popular in former times. Models of trucks, buses and construction vehicles are often made in 1/50th scale. Models in 1/35th and 1/36th scale were made by the British companies Corgi and Dinky Toys in the 1970s and 1980s (and Mercedes-Benz sold promotionals in the same size), whereas 1/32th scale - formerly a common size for model kits - is only important for slot racing cars and for models of agricultural vehicles today. In the 1970s and 1980s 1/24th or 1/25th (length: about 18 centimetres) was popular for bigger scale models. This size is still important for plastic model kits, handbuilt models and in America. But the success of model cars in 1/18th scale (length: about 25 centimetres) produced by the Italian manufacturer Bburago induced other brands to make models of the same size. Only a few ready-made scale models for collectors have been produced yet in scales bigger than 1/18th.

Spare parts for model cars can often be ordered directly from the manufacturer or from the distributor in your country. On the links page page, there are links to the official websites of many model car manufacturers, a lot of these websites include some contact information. Addresses of model car distributors are regularly updated in model car magazines; in Switzerland, the most important distributors of model cars made by various manufacturers are Arwico and Tek-Hoby. Replica parts and spare tyres for obsolete model cars are sold by some specialized companies, e.g. MK Modelcarparts in the Netherlands.

A model car collector has got at least three problems: dust, sunlight and the question what to do with the model boxes. Showcases provide some protection from dust. They can be bought in most furniture shops, but there are also some specialized shops, e.g. Adro, b+m Vitrinen, Presents Vitrinen, Vitrinenladen, Mancherlei-Vitrinen, and Sora. Sunlight is another problem that mainly concerns plastic model cars: Heat and light may fade colours and distort plastic parts. Finally there is the problem with the boxes. I think you should keep them because a box makes the model complete and increases its value (see condition). A good solution to store a large number of model cars in smaller scales (for which there was no place in a showcase) and their boxes could be cupboards with flat drawers as used for drawing paper or blueprints.

White metal models are made of pewter or a similar low temperature metal alloy (consisting of tin, lead and antimony) cast in low-volume hard rubber moulds. White metal models are handbuilt models. They are heavier than diecast models and are only made in small series.