Die-cast and tin model cars have been the prized possessions of automobile memorabilia collectors since the first Model Ts came off the Ford assembly line. Anyone who is a serious collector of old miniature replicas knows that it’s not unusual to see a 1950s tin friction car that was made in Japan and bought in a U.S. 5-and-dime store sell for several hundred dollars today on an online auction site.
The value of a model vehicle is determined by its scarcity and its condition. The very old models manufactured before World War II, usually made of an alloy of zinc and aluminum, often cracked and fell apart as a result of metal fatigue. Since the tiny cars and motorcycles made in the mid 20th century were designed to be play things for kids, most suffered the bumps and bruises that come with being a child’s favorite toy. When these toys broke, they were thrown away. The few that have survived in pristine condition are worth a lot to the collector who longs to call one his own.
Several manufacturers used to make model motorcycles. Over the years, some companies went out of business and others merged or were bought up by competitors. Sometime during the 1980s, coincidentally to the time that video games gained tremendous popularity with kids of all ages, sales of small wheeled toys slowed down. More boys became interested in racing motorcycles via an electronic joy stick. And others took up the real sport and raced mini bikes on dirt tracks. Today, just a handful of companies produce the bulk of quality motorcycle miniatures. The price of a newly minted model varies widely. A mass-produced 1:64 scale bike that’s about 3 inches long and mostly made of plastic can be bought for under $2. At the high end, a pewter, limited edition of the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic that is built to 1:5 scale and is 19 inches long is being offered by the Franklin Mint at $1,000. Only 1,000 of the latter, which is definitely an eye-catching showpiece that comes complete with a leather seat, and a hardwood base with a customized nameplate, are being produced.
If you are just taking up model motorcycle collecting as a hobby, the best advice is to buy what you like and what you can afford. Unlike yesteryear, when owners of objects like toys and baseball cards actually played with these items and discarded them when their condition deteriorated or their owner’s interest waned, everyone today knows that certain things can increase in value over time. But the glut of unopened toys in their original packaging that has been stashed away in closets over the last 30 years keeps the overall value down. When millions of Hot Wheels Harleys are produced, it’s highly unlikely that your collection of a few hundred would reap riches down the road.
For the adventurous motorcycle miniature collector who is in it for the thrill of the hunt, there is some good news. While marketplace prices for old and rare specimens can be out of reach, you can get lucky. By going to garage sales and checking out flea markets, you just might come across a real gem for just a buck or two.