Stories From the Stacks: Toy Cars

A regular series about the museum’s motoring memorabilia and behind-the-scenes activities, compiled and written by FMM’s Assistant Curator Sian Theron. This month, it’s all about miniatures… 

As with many possessions, our toys imitate various aspects of our lives. Toy cars have sprung out of the desire to provide children with realistic playthings. Not only would dad and mum have a vehicle but so too could the children… Toy cars are very much a 20th century invention:  after all, there were no motor vehicles prior to this time! 

Toy cars started out as wooden and tin creations that upgraded to metal die-cast models, and have since also included further materials such as plastic. Whilst the terms toy and model can be used somewhat interchangeably, in essence, a model car is more an item that is self-built from pre-shaped parts and a toy car is just that – a kid’s toy. 

Most children of the 20th and 21st centuries have grown up with toy cars in one form or another, from basic matchbox-sized items, to battery operated toy cars to larger more intricate models that include in-depth detailing. 

Toy cars were a staple in the design process and then also became popular as children’s toys. Starting in the 1940s, many became adult collectors’ items and the movement really took off in the 1970s. Today, many adults still enjoy accumulating these cars, with some individuals amassing massive collections. 

FMM has a sizeable collection of these ‘miniature motor cars’ of varying types thanks to a number of donations that have been received over the years. They can be viewed in Hall C.