Automotive Collectibles: What to Watch Out For

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Automotive collectibles were nuts in the 1990s, and values were off the charts. That’s different now, and if you’re interested in collecting especially die-cast cars, you need to be aware of what some of the prices are.

Q: Hello Greg and Happy New Year. I really enjoy your articles on cars and auto nostalgia and am wondering your feelings on automobile collectibles that we see out there today. I have purchased many models and die cast cars in the past that even said the word collectible on the box, and through all the years, very few have increased in value and most have dropped.
What are your feelings on auto collectibles, especially die cast cars in all sizes? Thank you very much, Mitch L., Illinois.
A: Mitch, I guess I’ve learned the hard way, like you, that anything labeled these days as a collectible is usually on its way to NOT being a collectible.
Let’s take baseball cards as an example.  When you look back at what happened with baseball cards in the 1980s to now, it became painfully clear to many collectors that the baseball card companies ran the presses days and night to keep up with demand.  Simply put, everyone thought that somewhere in that box of new cards was a future “1956 Topps Mickey Mantle” card that today fetches thousands of dollars on the open market.
Greg's Collectibles Texaco
Sadly, even the companies that tried to limit production weren’t able to come through with a card that grew like a Mantle card in value.
This all fits right in with the car collectibles available nowadays with die cast and models. I own many Franklin Mint 1/24 cars, even more 1/18 Ertl NASCAR and Action Collectibles club cars, and a slew of models from AMT, Monogram, Revell, and others.  Granted, I do have a few items worth more today than before, but they are few and far between. And even the one’s I own, like a Franklin Mint 1/24 Checker Cab, are priced at about what I bought it for back then. Today, you can buy many Franklin Mint 1/24 creations (and they really are very nice) for much less than they were released for.
Greg's models
The true auto collectibles are those that were released in the 1970 decade and earlier, as by 1980 the art of collecting started to get crazy. I remember joining many of the clubs out there to assure I would receive “first priority” on NASCAR and Drag Racing die cast, many of which liters up my cellar and are worth pennies on the dollar of what I paid.
Now with all this said, when you see what some of the early Hess trucks are fetching, along with model car kits from the 1950s, you can get a little excited. But these prices are today’s true collectible items which were produced decades ago in limited numbers. From Remco tanks to Barbie and Ken to ventriloquist dummies, the market for yesteryear is a big one.  I am currently finishing up a Texaco Tanker Truck collection (see photo) with some good success and surprisingly low prices.
Greg's models Crop
Today, production numbers on items are usually based on generating demand before a toy or item is released instead of allowing “demand” to occur naturally.  Feature length movies are released before the accompanying toys, games and action figures/dolls for obvious profit motive reasons. It’s a backward type of item promotion, with the end user purchasing “in demand” toys/collectibles that have been carefully nurtured for a demand way before the actual release of the item.
In contrast, true Franklin Mint 1/24 die cast cars that were “limited” in production do bring some nice dollars today, but most of the others do not.  The auction sites like eBay is where you go to find the true value of an item as something is only worth what a buyer and seller agree on. Other than that, disregard collectible “professionals” or books that say this or that about a “collectible,” and first check the prices real people pay real sellers. This is where you’ll find if something really is collectible.
Now with this all said, I still enjoy purchasing die cast cars and model cars, but I do so not with delusions of it becoming a valuable collectible. I do so because I like it and want to display it. And, with my retirement looming, I expect to spend many an hour going through a lifelong love affair with cars and all the things I’ve been able to accumulate over the years. I may even open my own online store to help reduce the inventory! As for my next purchase, it’s a Gilbert (American Flyer) figure eight AutoRama road race set that I got for Christmas in 1959. (So I guess I’m still a big hooked, no?)
If you enjoy buying something that says collectible on the box, go ahead and buy it.  Just don’t expect these items to be worth more in the future.  Thanks for your letter, and enjoy the collection you have by displaying it and not keeping it all hidden in your cellar.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist and welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and old time racing at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at
Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla