What are your toy cars worth now? Rare diecast models and iconic vintage collectables valued
Many of us used to receive model cars at Christmas as kids. We discover the big business of buying and selling these toys today
There’s no time of the year that evokes memories quite like Christmas. Few of us will ever forget, for example, cherished presents from childhood. And if you’re anything like me, many of these will have been automotive-related. The gifting of diecast models and toy cars, in particular, sparked a passion for motoring that has endured for decades.
The loft at my mum’s house contains multiple cases of model cars that, frankly, I can’t bear to get rid of. I’m sure some of you are familiar with that predicament.
But maybe I should look more closely at what’s in those cases. Because business for used diecast models in the UK continues to thrive. One of the leading traders in the country is Little Wheels, a family-owned online operation based in Kingston Bagpuize, Oxfordshire.
Run by Andrew Wood, ably assisted by son Phil, it has established itself as a major player by eschewing the toyfairs that were once a staple for model car sellers and instead developing a professional, process-driven business that is focused on online sales via its little-wheels.net site. A sister site, chezbois.com, acts as an online museum for celebrated models.
The company’s stock, which comprises used models only, comes from across the country: from families of collectors who have passed on; collectors who have run out of space; even those who have exhausted a collecting theme and want to embark on a new one.
But it all ends up on the site, which is updated daily, with an E-mail going out every 24 hours to a global database of more than 10,000 potential customers.
For the (relatively) uninitiated like me – and possibly you, too – the diecast model world can be daunting. There are different scales available, different brands – some more respected than others – and values can vary wildly. Andrew has sold models ranging from a couple of quid to more than £1,000.
But ultimately, nostalgia is at the heart of it all: we’re smitten by memories of cars we played with when young, or recognise from the roads or even television programmes. Andrew and Phil get that completely, which is why Little Wheels does so well.
Below, they talk us through some fascinating models that you might well recognise and that would enhance any collection. If you fancy one, check out the company’s site to see if it’s still available. Don’t be surprised if it’s not, though – the good stuff tends to get snapped up fast!
How much are your old Christmas presents worth now?
Classic RS Fords
- Price: £100
Produced by Corgi as part of its Vanguards series, this pristine set features three iconic RS Fords from the seventies and eighties in 1:43 scale: an Olympic Blue Mk1 Escort RS2000 from 1974, a Mk1 Capri RS3100 in Diamond White, also from 1974, and an Escort Mk2 RS2000 in Java Green from 1980. This set was produced in a limited edition of 1,400 examples and has proven to be extremely popular. “They’re getting a lot of traction. People love them. They are beautifully presented,” says Andrew. If you fancy getting your hands on these, expect to pay around £100 – much cheaper than the real thing!
- Price: £30 - £40
Released by Dinky in 1956, this Mk1 version of the blue oval’s Zephyr executive car has aged well. “It’s unusual to come across one that’s been played with, but is in such nice condition,” says Andrew. “It would have cost maybe two shillings and six pence when new – the equivalent of 10 or 20 pence these days. But, of course, it now has a value; it will probably sell for around £30 to £40.” It’s noticeable that there are some light scratches on the light-blue/mid-blue paintwork, but this is not a major concern. “There are some collectors who don’t mind a little bit of light play work because it shows it’s had a life,” Andrew adds. “If they’re too perfect, you can often think they’ve been restored.”
- Price: £10-15
Sometimes the appeal of a model is dictated by purely personal reasons, as is the case for Andrew with this Hillman Minx. “I quite like this because my grandad used to drive one,” he tells us. Another Dinky production from the fifties, this dark tan Minx 1:43 model features a bodyshell that was only in production on the actual car for a short time, with the grille swiftly replaced by Hillman. “It is fairly typical of Dinky toys that they would go and get the early production model, and then the manufacturer would change it, Andrew explains. “But Dinky would stick with the old one.” Values are lower than for the Zephyr, at £10-£15, because “nobody knows what a Hillman is anymore”.
Green Hornet Black Beauty
- Price: £80
A bit of an oddity, this one. The Green Hornet was a TV action series that premiered in the US in 1966, but was never actually broadcast in the UK. Undeterred, Corgi released this 1:43 model of the series’ Black Beauty car, which was a modified Chrysler Imperial, and it actually sold pretty well despite the lack of UK airtime. Kids loved the fact that it provided the same sort of fun as the hugely popular Batmobile of the same era, particularly the ability to fire ‘missiles’ from the front or back. A good-condition Black Beauty can now command £70 or £80.
James Bond Lotus Esprit
- Price: £10
James Bond is always popular with collectors, and this 1:43 Lotus Esprit, made by Universal Hobbies and released in 2007, hails from a part-work series of 007 cars that were sold on a monthly basis accompanied by a magazine. The series stretched to a barely believable 135 vehicles, with the Jamaican Austin A55 taxi from Dr No and the baddie’s Lada Niva driven fleetingly in The World Is Not Enough somehow qualifying as ‘Bond cars’ to keep collectors buying. These obscure cars now tend to be more coveted because they were so rarely modelled! This much-more-recognizable Esprit, which went underwater in The Spy Who Loved Me, was number 16 in the series and is worth around a tenner.
- Price: £30
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. That really is a figurine of David Hasselhoff. “One of the better Corgi renderings of a human,” observes Phil; Marilyn Monroe and the Ford Thunderbird from Some Like It Hot, and cops Starsky and Hutch with their Ford Gran Torino, are among Corgi’s other TV and film creations. Alongside the Hoff is, of course, KITT, the modified Pontiac Firebird TransAm from Knight Rider. The 1:36 model was released in the early noughties, and goes for around £30. “There’s a lot of them around, so that drives the price down a bit,” says Andrew.
- Price: £15
This cute 1:43 VW Golf Mk1, produced by French brand Solido in 1984, is classed as a “toy” in the collectors’ world rather than a “model”, as is the case with the Corgi Ford RS collection. There’s an important distinction, says Andrew. Where the RS cars are “fragile and highly detailed,” the Golf is “more robust and designed to be played with”. This Solido car is a rare survivor in such good condition, but you can pick one up for around £15.
- Price: £56.99
This 1:18 model of the Lotus 49B raced in the 1968 US Grand Prix by Mario Andretti is particularly interesting, because it features tobacco sponsorship – specifically the ‘Gold Leaf’ brand. With cigarette advertising now banned in F1, it’s also been removed from new models of old cars. But according to Andrew: “Collectors want the tobacco sponsors. And there are now people who provide aftermarket transfers to stick the likes of Rothmans on their models.” Authenticity is all-important in this world, reflected in the £56.99 asking price for the Lotus. The 1968 US GP marked Andretti’s F1 debut, but the future world champion didn’t finish the race.
Austin Healey 3000
- Price: £100+
Austin-Healey cars were made in Abingdon, so have a local connection to Little Wheels. And as Andrew points out, the firm represents “everything a British sports car should be: hairy, fast, dangerous and unsophisticated!” The high-end 1:18 model is made by Chinese company AUTOart, and comes in the classic blend of Healey blue and Old English White. Some slight cracking in the paint was virtually indiscernible to us, but would be picked up by collectors, reducing the value to around £100. “If it wasn’t in that condition, it would be worth much more,” says Andrew.
Chevrolet El Camino
- Price: £160
As you might expect, there’s a big UK following for North American models – and this 1968 Chevrolet El Camino SS-396 is a great example of why. “The El Camino is so exotic; a utility vehicle that is so good-looking and nicely finished, too,” says Andrew. “In the UK, we had Austin A40s.” Not quite the same, is it? This 1:24 model was made for the Danbury Mint and has a certificate of authentication; it’s on offer for just under £160 on the Little Wheels website. If it looks familiar, you may have seen a more modern version of the Chevy in the Breaking Bad movie El Camino.
- Price: £30
The VW bus is a hardy perennial in the model-collecting world. “The prices of the real thing just never come down and people want to collect them all the time,” says Phil. This version is a 2020 1:43 ‘rat-look’ model, designed to look old, with rust and lowered suspension complementing its Mango Green and Seagull Grey finish. Another product of the Corgi Vanguards series, it was joined by flower power and surfer-themed Campers as testament to the model’s enduring popularity. This usually shifts for £30 or so.
Del Boy’s Reliant
- Price: £15
Lovely jubbly! Fans of Del Boy from TV’s Only Fools and Horses will be delighted to know his iconic Reliant Regal Super Van III has been lovingly preserved in 1:43 scale in the Corgi Vanguards series (a larger 1:36 model, with an opening door and suitcase in the back, was also available, as was a twin pack with Boycie’s Ford Capri). Despite the programme being first broadcast back in 1981, models of the three-wheeler “always sell”, says Andrew, who has shipped more than 100 through Little Wheels. The ubiquity probably explains why prices are low, at around £15.
Caffrey Int. Scania Truck
- Price: £30
It’s not all about cars. “Truck collecting is amazing,” says Andrew. “There are all sorts of fashions. The curtain-side trailer is basically the bog standard. As the trailers get more interesting, the price goes up. If the operators are high profile, and you see them every day on the road, they will really sell.” The common scale is 1:50 and this Scania Caffrey International truck, made by Universal Hobbies, would sell for around £30. More detailed trucks, such as those made by Dutch firm WSI, can command hundreds.
Valentino Rossi motorbike
- Price: £150
Two-wheeled machines also have a following. This 1:12 Yamaha YZR-M1 motorcycle is made by German company Minichamps and shows the bike raced by Valentino Rossi in MotoGP in 2004. It arrived at Little Wheels as part of a healthy Rossi-themed collection. It’s beautifully detailed, with side panels that can be removed to show the engine. Values of Rossi bikes vary depending on demand and scarcity, stretching from £40 up to £150.
It’s not just diecast car models that collectors snap up...
Diecast models not your thing? There are plenty more automotive-themed toys and games to evoke memories of Christmases past. These are among the finest available – and some of them are now even worth a few bob!
- Price: £1,800
The classic slot-car game is still a real draw for wannabe racers, young and old alike. Since its launch in 1957, it’s spawned an unbelievable number of cars and sets, from timeless Formula One and Le Mans machines to TV favourites. There’s real value in well preserved old sets, too; this 1967 James Bond kit featuring a special ‘007 Aston Martin GT’ (with an ejector seat, naturally) and Mercedes 190SL went up for auction at Bonhams in 2019 for £1,800.
- Price: £2
It wouldn’t be the festive season without a Boxing Day session of Top Trumps. This was the card game launched in 1978 that promoted one-upmanship by allowing you to gloat in the fact that the 6,500cc of your Bentley Mulsanne Turbo made the 1,948cc of the Alfetta Turbodelta thoroughly inconsequential. While Top Trumps is still going strong, covering an array of topics aside from motoring, there are some wonderful vintage packs and even individual cards available on eBay, focusing on the likes of early eighties rally legends, vintage racers and even Japanese cars (which includes an astonishing number of Datsuns). Starting at a couple of quid, they’re eminently affordable, too.
- Price: £595
Launched by Palitoy in the UK in 1966, following the success of the similar GI Joe in the US, Action Man – essentially a soldier doll initially targeted at young boys – holds a special place in the hearts of millions of British blokes. Over the course of 18 years, a vast range of accessories was made available, including many desirable vehicles. Visit the website eagleeyesactionstation.co.uk for a comprehensive selection, where one that caught our eye in particular was this blow-moulded German Staff Car, ideally suited to Action Man’s Afrika Korps figures, and only available for a short period in 1978 and 1979. Now extremely rare, it is on offer to collectors for £595.
- Price: £500
There’s many an engineer in the auto industry whose interest in working on cars was first sparked by a Meccano set gifted to them over Christmas. The brand has been around since 1898, when it was formed by Frank Hornby (also responsible for Dinky cars and, of course, Hornby model railways). The longevity of Meccano is perhaps best illustrated by the prices now fetched by older items. This 21cm classic wind-up two-seater sports car (below), with a clockwork motor, was sold for a healthy £500 by C&T Auctions, based in Ramsgate, Kent, in 2021.
Formula One Motor Car Racing board game
- Price: £120
Getting bogged down in a marathon session of Monopoly with the family is a staple of Christmas for many. However, petrolheads are sure to prefer this alternative board game, also from Monopoly’s maker, Waddingtons. Arguably the finest F1 strategy game ever, it challenged players to complete as many ‘laps’ as they can – circuits of the board – while employing ‘Tactic’ cards and negotiating surprises thrown up by ‘Pit’ cards. If you have a copy of the game gathering dust in a cupboard, you might be surprised at how much it is now worth. We found a pristine first-edition game from 1962 available on curios website tomsk3000.com for £120.
- Price: £700
A big Lego construction project is always a good way to eat up the festive break, and this Batmobile set (code number 76139), released in 2019, was a challenge of epic proportions. Building the iconic vehicle from Tim Burton’s 1989 movie required negotiating a 404-page manual, and assembling 3,306 pieces. The result? A faithful Batmobile recreation that measured 60cm long and was accompanied by Batman, Vicki Vale and Joker minifigures. Now discontinued, the kit sold for £219.99 when new and is already being offered for up to £700 in unopened condition on some websites. It was voted the fourth best Lego kit ever by a fan site this year.
- Price: £1,330
The Montana-born daredevil was one of the most recognisable figures of the seventies, and lent his name to a range of playthings that were immensely popular, including a Formula One dragster, a road and trail adventure set and, most famously a stunt cycle which could perform wheelies and leaps via a wind-up launcher. It was America’s best-selling toy for a number of years, and is still available for £34 from California Creations, which uses the original moulds supplied by US toy industry legend Jay Horowitz. But if you want a really rare piece of Evel Knievel nostalgia, how about this fantastic ‘CB’ van produced by Ideal Toys in 1977? We found one on offer from West Point Buy Sell Trade in Georgia for £1,330.
- Price: £3,330
Okay, these were before your time. But if a grandparent has left one lying around in an attic, you could be quids in. Lightweight tinplate toys or models became hugely popular with manufacturers at the start of the 20th century, due to the fact that they could be shipped more easily than their cast-iron predecessors, and they quickly found fans among Britain’s kids. Many of the models were clockwork operated, and some of the detailing on them is fantastic – as seen on this rare Burnett B Type London double-decker bus, which fetched a whopping £3,300 when it went under the hammer at Ramsgate’s C&T Auctions in early 2022.
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