Suppose you were a young person who is thinking of becoming a “collector”. You would wonder which scale you should start collecting.

“Which scale would fulfill my needs?”

Summary for Busy People: We define 6 criteria someone might consider to choose a scale as a foundation to begin a collection of scale model cars. The principal scales meet the criteria to different levels. To better apply these criteria, we give a flash summary of the evolution of these scales to the present day.


“Brilliant” 1934 Duesenberg J Graber by Automodello in 1:24 

One of the more bone-headed decisions made in planning the launch of the Creative Masters line of precision diecast car models had to do with the choice of scale. This is in the early nineties. The Revell line was expected to compete with Franklin Mint and Danbury Mint. Those two market leaders both produced their replicas in 1:24 scale.

Revell thought “more is better” so their new line came out a bigger 1:20 line. The fallacy was that “more isn’t always better” when a collector is pursuing a collection based on uniformity of scale.

So offering a different scale (however close the difference) than what was already established in their customers collections screwed up the line before it left the starting line. It was a bad move.

Scale matters.

Sure there are rebels out there who have a collection of mixed scales. But for the most part, collections focus on a single scale. At least at any given period of their life.

If you were about to start collecting, you might ask yourself…

What are the best scale models to collect in 2016 based on criteria of breadth of subject matter, detail and precision, quality and cost?

That would be a hell of a question. One we’ve tasked ourselves to bandy about, if not fully answer.

Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport 1948 Hardtop Saoutchik by Ilario

1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Hardtop Saoutchik in 1:43

We’re going to look at 3 scales.

• 1:43 most popular around the world

• 1:24 called the “Mint” scale for when Franklin and Danbury Mint rocked

• 1:18 GMP legitimized it for the 1:24 set, then its popularity took off

I know you get the arithmetic of scales being expressed as ratios: If a model is 1:43, that means every dimension on the model should be exactly 1:43 in size compared to the original. So 1:43 is actually very small [Corvette is 4 inches long] At 1:18 scale, a Corvette is about 10 inches long [overall 14x larger than 1:43 scale].

Diecast Model Scale Comparison

What does it say about you, your personality and your tastes when you select a specific scale?  Let’s ask that question at the end of this post.


Breadth of Subjects: If you have a preferred marque or category of cars, you will want to avoid devotion to a scale for which that preference is barren. For example, if you’re into Grand Prix racing, 1:24 is not a good choice. If you love Corvettes and Mustangs – thanks to the Mints – 1:24 offers almost an endless variety. Love muscle cars? 1:18 scale is highly recommended.

Here are some categories to help you investigate breadth within the different scales (at a price point you’re willing to pay). Antique, Pre-War Classics, Fabulous Fifties, Muscle Cars, Pony Cars, European Sports Cars, Japanese, Contemporary, Supercars, Racing, Hot Rods/Dragsters, Off-Road, and Working Vehicles.  The World’s Model Car Database may have the largest directory of models released in past 15 years and the Diecast Zone has an extensive directory as well.  Neither is organized by type of vehicle, but you can burn through some enjoyable hours poking around to see if your favorite cars have been replicated, and in what scale.

Operability: of doors and hoods is tied into the question of detail and precision – discussed more below. If a collector can’t open a hood to inspect an engine, the modeler is (obviously) not going to replicate the engine at all. In some collectors’ eyes, this constraint diminishes the precision of the model.

1:43 models are rarely operable because they are usually resin-cast or white metal. While operable diecast 1:43 models are not unheard of, they are rare. [AUTOart issues them every now and again].  Resin-cast models are referred to as curbside, meaning what you see of the model is what you would be able to observe from the curb as you walk by the actual car.

The larger scales always used to offer diecast operability, but by 2016 that is not a given. It’s the consequence of the leap in cost of Chinese manufacture that began around 2008.

Detail & Precision: What should be your expectation in terms of accuracy and modeling finesse for most models within a specific scale?

With 1:43 scale, there is just less to “play with” in terms of material. It’s so much more challenging to precisely render a rearview mirror when it’s less than 2/10 of an inch. In 1:18 scale, you have 14x more volume to work with.

When the larger models are diecast, the modelers will build detail into every cavity you can gain access to, like the engine bay, interior and trunk.

Within the larger scales, the more they cost = the more detail, even in suspension, wheels and brakes. Accuracy can extend down to the correct scale for the pattern on a flocked carpet or the bevel on a chrome strip. Also the higher costs can allow modelers to show their innovation in use of materials to replicate non-metal components like hoses and wires and convertible tops.

Quality Consistency & Cost: Manufacturers certainly suffer occasional lapses in design and production quality. They can make mistakes. Most editions are too limited to correct those mistakes.

No particular scale is more prone than another to such lapses.  It can happen even in really expensive scale models.  Although if in expensive models, the level of rage and controversy on scale model forums is that much more ferocious.

Errors are of course more noticeable the more otherwise ambitious, precise, and thus expensive, the model. Model prices rise precipitously with the precision of the model. Collectors will be able to generally appreciate more precision, the bigger the model. But that sure doesn’t mean that bigger scales are more precise. If a model is cheap, you get what you pay for.

Display: If you are going to collect lots of models, and you lean toward the larger scales; you are going to be perfecting your carpentry skills or declaring eminent domain on rooms formerly occupied by your teenagers.

Price Appreciation: Two factors determine whether a model appreciates in value or depreciates faster than a 60’s Plymouth Valiant. a) Rarity of a model in a particular scale and b) quality of modeling.

Here is why wise collectors do not depend on appreciating values: while the first model that is issued may have a stated maximum edition size, there is nothing to prevent the same manufacturer from coming out with additional [and equally worthwhile] variants. Also other manufacturers may later get hold of the license and build a better model.

You would think the very first CMC model would command a big premium, wouldn’t you? That would be M-001, the 1930 Mercedes-Benz SSK Trossi “Black Prince” which cost $175 USD upon release in 1995. You can still get it for that price MIB at auction.

Conclusion: investment quality should not be a criteria in choosing which scale to collect.

1:24 SCALE

1:24 is often referred to as the Mint scale in reference to the devotion by both Franklin and Danbury Mint, fierce competitors, to that very same scale. Both were the early leaders of an always devoted, sometime cult-like base of collectors at this scale.

Danbury Mint 1:24 1963 Corvette Stingray Convertible

1963 Corvette Stingray Convertible in diecast 1:24 by Danbury Mint 

Danbury seemed to have the upper hand in terms of quality craftsmanship and pioneering operability. But Franklin Mint offered many subjects collectors had to have. Both modelers excelled at imaginative ideas for adorning the models and advancing model detail.

Both modelers were big crowd pleasers, with lots of Corvettes, Mustangs, the fifties, muscle cars, stately European luxury, Thunderbirds, dragsters and more.

ONE MAN’S OPINION! Few manufacturers make 1:24 diecast anymore.  Today’s cost of precision diecast manufacture requires a selling price deemed outlandish even to the companies.  Yet this scale seems to be the right size for a serious piece of modeling. You see everything you need to see and you can also clearly see something has been omitted you wanted to see.

HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: Demonstrating that precision 1:24 did not have to be made of diecast and operable was the idiosyncratic founder of Motor City USA – Alan Novak. In 2001, Alan issued a 1:24 high precision model of a 1937 Talbot-Lago T150 Teardrop, in a very limited edition only available through the Diecast Zone. This would be a pioneering crossover for resin-based modeling technique from the small scale 1:43 to a superbly finished, but inoperable, 1:24 replica.  Only 300 collectors subscribed to the edition, which soared in value upon issue.

1:24 Motor City USA 1937 Talbot-Lago T-150 Coupe w/ Body by Falaschi et Figoni

1937 Talbot-Lago T-150 Coupe resin-cast 1:24 model issued by Motor City USA in 2001

Today, with the Mints out of business, there is but one manufacturer still devoted to precision 1:24: Automodello. The models are resin-cast rather than diecast but artfully rendered. The modeler makes up for lack of operability with removable tops, convertibles and often amazing adornment on the bodies.

1:18 SCALE

The first diecast metal cars appeared around 1970. The only brands you might recognize are Schuco from Germany and later Bburago from Italy, and later still Maisto first from Asia and now headquartered in California. During the 90’s, the number of brands in this larger scale exploded, aided by low-cost Chinese manufacturing.

By 2000, 1:18 brands were taking over. There were Ertl, Yat Ming, Sun Star and a fledgling brand called UT, that would later evolve into the premium AUTOart brand.

Besides AUTOart, other premium brands established themselves: Highway 61, GMP, Precision Miniatures and Lane Exact Detail. Each new model announcement signaled a quantum leap in quality and accuracy. Prices creeped up. Collectors adrenalin soared.

GMP 1:18 1967 Ford Fairlane GT 390 Hard Top

1967 Ford Fairlane GT 390 Hard Top in diecast 1:18 by GMP

Anything seemed possible in 1:18. Engine wiring and plumbing, carpeting with correctly scaled patterns, detailed instrument panels, and more photo-etched details.

Three brands deserve special attention for their creativity and ingenuity. GMP, lead by Tom Long, delighted in adding unexpected character and back stories to their muscle cars and hot rods. Another was Exoto, with an almost polar opposite in terms of subject focus. Exoto invested almost obsessive detail into its line of Grand Prix legends.

Then there was CMC, a German company headed by a Chinese woman, whose Bavarian husband was the consummate modeler with pioneering standards.

Today, in 2016, the only 1:18 brands still made in diecast are these three brands. AUTOart has gone to a hybrid composition to keep costs within the realm of most collectors’ wallets.

1:43 SCALE

According to Wikipedia, 1:43 is the first scale in which models were made as precision ‘blueprint’ reproductions. It originates from British O scale for model trains.

The first official 1:43 was a Peugeot issued by the French Dinky Toy company in 1951. The early makers were all European and produced their models in Europe until the great exodus to China in the early 90s.

1:43 scale is distinguished by the near cosmic selection of subjects to choose from. This bounty is due to a) the relatively low cost of manufacture encouraging diversity; b) the number of countries from which the makers operate; and c) the esoteric interests of the 1:43 collector.

Mercedes-Benz 770K by Ilario

1931 Mercedes-Benz 770K Cabriolet in precision resin 1:43 scale by Ilario 

If you want the best chance to find and afford a model of a subject you desire – racing, classic, concept, public transit… you name it, no matter how specific or eccentric… then you should turn to the treasure trove of 1:43.

ONE MAN’S OPINION! What’s the difference between a 1:43 collector and a 1:18 collector? 1:43 collector will tell you the social and business reasons why a particular car was built. 1:18 collector will point out the cool grille pattern that debuted in a particular model year.

In the past decade, ambitious new lines of 1:43 have appeared. Of particular note is that American subjects from the 70s and 80s have begun to appear.  Previously these cars were thought unworthy of replication, as they were dismissed as the sad mediocrity forced on American carmakers by government regulation and oil crises and bad disco music.  But today’s car guys grew up with these cars, and the 1980 Cadillac deVille is their Duesenberg!


Does the scale you collect say something about you above and beyond what the subject cars in your collection say about you?  Answer: MAYBE!  Look for a future installment where this statement is defended or refuted.  Thanks for reading.  Please leave comments on our Facebook Page.