1) Dinky Toys
A British icon, Dinky Toys was the miniature-car division of Frank Hornby’s Meccano empire. Introduced in 1934, the pre-World War II cars are now especially rare, due to most of them being made out of a dodgy zamac-zinc alloy that crumbled to dust as it aged. As early as 1935, there were 200 vehicles in Dinky’s range.
The company survived the war despite its factory ceasing toy production and building items for the war effort, and continued as a household name until 1979, when declining popularity saw it swallowed up by rival brand Matchbox. Far from the only British car company not to survive the ’70s and see most of its heritage rust away, then...
Arriving in 1953, Matchbox was a British brand that focused on highly detailed toy cars that could fit inside a matchbox, because one of the creators’ daughters was allowed to bring only small toy vehicles into school. Matchbox survives to this day with a vast range of toy cars, though it’s now owned by American giant Mattel, which also gave the world Matchbox’s most sworn enemy: Hot Wheels.
3) Hot Wheels
Going strong since 1968 when it stormed the toy market with brightly colored hot-rod miniatures before moving into more accurate models of sports cars and supercars, Hot Wheels is perhaps the most iconic small push-along car of all time. Its genius was to fit all model cars with free-rolling hard plastic tires and produce a track system for them to run on. Surely everyone has spent a day or two seeing how big a ramp they can build going down the stairs and out into the garden, for a Hot Wheels car to complete a death-defying leap?
4) Corgi Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5
In 1965, British toymaker Corgi won Toy of the Year for its Goldfinger-inspired Aston Martin DB5. The car wasn’t just a recognizable miniature of James Bond’s car—it had secret gadgets, too. The ‘bulletproof’ pop-up rear screen was included, as were hidden machine guns and the ejector seat, which sprung Goldfinger’s hapless henchman through the flip-top roof. Choking hazard, anyone? It’s unlikely any four-wheeled toy ever packed so much excitement—and so many health and safety fails—into such a small package. Ahh, the ’60s.
Over 2.5 million were sold in the toy’s first year on sale, despite it being the wrong color. Apparently, executives were worried that Bond’s famed silver DB5 would simply look like bare unpainted metal in toy form, so they had the models daubed metallic gold, in a nod to the film’s title infamous villain.
A couple of years ago, a retro rerun of the much-loved toy in old-school packaging was comissioned, and finally, the car was painted a correct shade of gray, as you can see above.
5) Little Tikes Cozy Coupe
One of the best-selling cars in America, with over five million homed since 1979. The classic red-and-yellow Cozy Coupe took advantage of plastic injection molding, and the result was a lightweight yet robust little car that did away with complicated pedal mechanisms, favoring a cunning hole in the floor so toddlers could kick their car along, Fred Flintstone-style.
These days, you can buy dinosaur- and fairy-themed versions, police- and fire-rescue-liveried examples, and, like every other car in the world, a rufty-tufty SUV form. How very modern.
All hail British toy inventor Fred Francis, who, noting the downturn in popularity of his previously well-liked ‘Scalex’ clockwork toy cars, started experimenting with fitting electric motors, and running them on a modified model railway track. This electrified version of Scalex was unveiled to rave reviews at the 1957 Harrogate Toy Fair as ‘Scalextric.’
Now owned by Hornby, Scalextric produces the classic figure-eight starter sets, movie-chase tie-ins, and highly detailed bonsai racing cars that can all compete on the same extendable tracks. You can even drive your racer via a smartphone app, and simulate tire wear and pit stops. Essentially, you can have more fun racing Formula 1 cars on your bedroom floor than watching the real thing. No single toy is responsible for more damage to innocent skirting boards than this legend of playtime. And as for the smell of hard-worked motors after a hard-fought endurance race against your little sister: Mmm, carbon brushes.
7) Micro Machines
Through the ’90s, Micro Machines became a phenomenon, thanks to the clever idea of the portable playset. All of a sudden, you could take a whole city with you on your travels for tiny cars to tear around in, causing motoring mayhem. By the mid-2000s, Micro Machines had declined and largely been wound up, but it was at least immortalized in Home Alone as a useful way to dispatch would-be burglars who tread on the miniscule cars.
8) Tamiya Hornet
In 1984, Japanese model-kit maker and remote-control-car wizards Tamiya came up with one of the all-time RC hall-of-fame classics: the Hornet.
The rear-wheel-drive buggy had enough traction to tackle off-road courses and enough suspension travel to shrug off gnarly jumps, and with its upgradable motor and relatively easy construction, it was adaptable and tough enough to survive the most demanding customers of all: bored teenagers. It’s recently been revived for a new generation of RC drivers as well as nostalgic adults looking to recapture a slice of their childhood.
9) Lego Technic Bugatti Chiron
The biggest car kit offered by Lego is the 3,599-piece, 56-cm-long Bugatti Chiron. It features working steering, a W16 engine with reciprocating pistons, and even a functioning paddle-shift gearbox. The ‘speed key’ operates a pop-up rear wing, and there’s even bespoke fitted luggage designed to fit in the nose compartment. Not so much a toy car and more a sort of trial-by-plastic, with an instruction manual longer and more detailed than the one you get in a life-size subcompact. Wonder if they’ll do a Super Sport version?
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.