Toy cars—they’re not just for kids anymore! At least that’s what I keep telling my girlfriend in a campaign to replace her family photos with this sweet Hot Wheels diorama I’ve got going on our mantle. If you have a friend like me, I can help you get creative with this holiday gift guide for people who love little toy cars.
We will start with the most obvious answer: if you’re shopping for somebody who likes toy cars, then hey, how about a toy car? I mean, we could wrap this list up there but the boss says he wants “effort” for once, so you’re going to be subject to a few hundred words of my pontification.
You see, one does not simply “buy a toy car” for a true collector. What brand do you get? Real-car replica or fantastical space car? But most importantly, what scale are you working with?
Generally speaking die-cast dorks like myself tend to favor one particular scale or size of toy. I prefer the “1:64” scale size because it’s right around where Hot Wheels and Matchbox models are. These are the most readily-available toy cars, you can find them hiding in almost every grocery and convenience store where they’re displayed to entice/placate angry kids. If you can’t find them, try looking around the eye-level of a 5-year-old.
Also, 1:18, 1:24 and 1:36 are also pretty common car-toy sizes. These “scales” of course mean that, in 1:18 for example; 1 inch on a model is equal to 18 inches on the real car it’s replicating . If you don’t feel like getting out your micrometer, most toy cars have the scale stamped on the belly someplace.
So when you’re visiting your model-car obsessed friend, flip some of their toys over (watch out for fingerprints!) and get and idea of what to shop for.
There are so many different display cases for sale for various sizes of toy cars, but this one is particularly awesome because little freaking lights!
This is some next-level nerdiness, which is kind of what makes it a perfect present. Somebody might not be ready to pay for this themselves, but secretly really want it. That’s where you come in!
If some people in the house are, let’s say, bigger die-cast fans than others, running little tiny road-tape all over the place is sure to cause some friction. Hilarious for you, gift-giver and obsession-enabler.
This “road” lays down just like tape (it is tape) so you can pave your floors, walls and framed family heirlooms quickly and easily. You might want to order some of this to mitigate the fallout when somebody gets tired of the track-tape.
For the small-scale cars that need a little more room to run, you can still buy that plastic orange track you remember loving as kid
Now whatever collector you’re shopping for might not be into this, because crashing can be a little rough on these toys, but everybody has at least a handful of Hot Wheels that are tough enough for a little jump, right?
Organizing your die-cast cars on a desk is fun and neat, but if you want to get your display game to the next level (and you’ve already got the showroom-light case) you need little accessories size-matched to your toys!
Probably avoid this one for young kids since it involves lots of edible-looking parts, but otherwise how cute are these little accouterment kits?
The value of anything is precisely “what somebody is willing to pay for it,” but this guide to ID-ing and evaluating some of the most sought-after model cars might be some fun casual reading.
There are many books like this, I’d say find the oldest and weirdest looking one you can for maximum collector value.
As fun as the accessories I’ve collected for you in this post are, I suspect most people shopping for a die-cast car fan are going to want to keep it simple and end with the first thing on the list: an actual die-cast car.
While every collector is bound to have their own personal preferences, I can give you some general ideas as to what’s good and how to hunt.
Start with the right scale and genre.
As I mentioned above, finding out what size and general type of toy car your friend likes is the easiest way to get something they’ll at least easily pretend to be stoked about. If you want to be sneakier than asking directly, snoop around their house and/or ask their significant other/roommate what size toy cars they have the most of.
Your next move is to figure out if they exclusively collect realistic toy cars or if they’re down with the weird fantasy ones. Paring your search down to “real cars only” isn’t that hard even if you don’t know jack about cars. The real ones will have normal names like 2012 Toyota Camry or 2000 Dodge Viper, while the fantasy ones will be more like Scorpionsaw Wildebeest or Mondo Burgermobile. The absence of a year is also a good identifier.
Flea markets and Rite-Aid are gold mines.
Grocery stores are great places to find toy cars since you’re probably there anyway, but the really good stuff is always hiding at some garage sale and you can usually buy a handful for the price of a gallon of gasoline.
I’ve also noticed that Rite-Aid convenience stores in particular almost always have a surprisingly awesome tower of extremely random toy cars in 1:18 to 1:24-scales.
The older the better.
“They don’t make ’em like they used to.” But for real. the Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars of yesteryear were made much more robustly and with better detail. And as you might have guessed, ones you can’t easily acquire in a store are more valuable online.
The heavier the better.
Don’t know how to discern the build quality of a model? Heavier means higher quality, usually. Bonus tip: this often also applies to tools and appliances.
Where it’s made matters.
Most of the toy cars you’re going to come across will probably be made in China. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but European and American-made models tend to be rarer and constructed in smaller batches ergo more collectible.
Don’t worry about getting one they’ve already got.
If one breaks they’ve got a spare! And sometimes you can make really cool displays with multiple copies of the same car.