Dinky Die Cast: A Brief History of Toys

Dinky die cast toy car

When you think about classic model toy cars, the name Dinky probably isn’t far from your mind. But do you know the story behind this brand of high quality die cast vehicles? Well, here it is…

1) Dinky started as railside accessories for Hornby Train Sets

In 1933, Frank Hornby’s company Meccano Ltd started producing trackside accessories for Horby Train Sets, to start adding more realism. They produced a series of accessories called Meccano Dinky Toys. They soon dropped the ‘Meccano.’

2) There are 2 stories for where the name ‘Dinky’ comes from

There are two possible stories explaining how the brand got its name. The first is that ‘Dinky’ is a nickname that Frank Hornby’s friend gave to his daughter. Another is that, when one of Frank’s daughter-in-laws first saw the new series, she called them ‘Dinky,’ which is a Scottish term that translates to ‘neat’.

3) Lots of earlier models fell apart due to zinc pest

Lots of the earlier models suffered from zinc pest, where the metal would crack and the carts would simply crumble apart. Some believe this may have been caused by the lead in the factory seeping into the metal. This makes good quality pre-war models very rare, and very valuable.

4) The factory was commodeered in WWII

From 1941, production in Liverpool was put on hiatus due to World War II. The factory was drafted to produce a multitude of items to aid in the war effort. Production ramped up again, though, after 1945. The first models they released following the war were military jeeps.

5) Holey bottoms to save money

To help their materials go a little bit further, many of the earlier Dinky models had holes underneath. They figured kids didn’t need the underside of the car to be whole.

6) Corgi drove Dinky to make better models

Corgi, a Mettoy brand, started producing model cars in 1956. They used clear plastic to give the appearance of windows, whereas Dinky had open holes. This prompted Dinky to add more realism to many of its releases such as detailed interiors and fingertip steering.

7) The company saw great success with TV shows

From 1967 onwards, Dinky began producing models of vehicles from popular TV shows and films, such as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, The Prisoner, The Pink Panther Show and Star Trek.

8) Huge competition from Hot Wheels

In 1969, giant toy company Mattel brought its Hot Wheels brand into the UK, with its bright colours and exciting new designs; instantly appealing to children. This immediately hit the sales of Dinky, Matchbox and Corgi.

9) Dinky closed its doors in 1979

Countries such as Hong Kong, which offered cheap labor on account of its lower wages, meant that British-made toy vehicles were an endangered species and, one by one, they became extinct. The Dinky factory in Liverpool closed its doors in November 1979.

10) The brand ended up in Mattel’s hands

After the factory closed down, the Dinky brand was sold to Matchbox, which was acquired by Mattel in 1997. Mattel would occassionally re-release normal everyday Matchbox vehicles under the Dinky brand. In 2000, it stopped using the Dinky name altogether.

11) Licensed to French publishers

In 2008, Atlas Editions – a French publisher owned by DeAgostini – acquired a license from Mattel to use the Dinky name, and began a fortnightly release in parts of Europe. Each issue featured a Dinky Toy model, complete with a certification and a leaflet on the history of the original Dinky model.

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