Within diecast circles there’s one topic of discussion which is never far at hand: what makes a model different from a toy?

Now, some would argue that diecast are all toys, just some for older kids and some for younger kids. In that case, what constitutes a manufacturer’s premium toy (for adults) as opposed to a basic toy (for children)?

Well, first off, let’s take a look at a few castings which I would consider basic toys aimed at younger children.

Here we have two BMW 3 Series models, an unspecified E36 by Realtoy (red) and Welly’s E90 330i (white).

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Now, the humble BMW 3 Series is hardly a standard choice for a children’s toy. The M3, yes, but not many children want to play with three-inch renditions of middle-management-mobiles. That’s probably why there hasn’t been a normal 3 Series in the Mattel line since Matchbox’s E46 coupe and why the market for 1:64 3 Series has ended up with lesser-known brands such as Realtoy and Welly.

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Of these two, the Realtoy is definitely more toy-like. It even has ‘toy’ in the name! It lacks detail in the form of tampos (the lights are a marker job by me) and the BMW emblem is no more than a silver circle. The wheels are generic but very sturdy, and this particular model was bought used with already many miles on it (and many more added by a young me!) There’s a bit of axle stance and camber in the rear but it still rolls like a dream and could take on any orange track in a heartbeat.

On the other hand, the Welly is inching towards a more realistic territory. It has nicely sorted tampos, BMW badging and emblems all around, and well cast creases and lines which mimic the real car rather well.

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In my opinion, though, it’s still meant to be a toy; generic plastic wheels, no detailing besides the front and rear, and a light, plasticky/thin metal casting feel give it away. A nice toy to be sure, but still meant to be played with and perhaps thrown away.

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Squarely straddling the line between toy and model and marketed as both is Hongwell’s E36 Estate, a 325i Touring to be exact. The only E36 Touring known to mankind in approximately three inch scale, this Cararama casting abides by Hongwell’s standards and is closer to 1:72 than 1:64. Still, Hongwell is pretty lax on scale and the car doesn’t look too far from any other three incher.

Up front, the Hongwell is totally adult-model status. Nicely detailed headlights, grill, and emblem, a well cast lower bumper dam, and model-specific wheels on rubber tires give it a lovely premium feel. Round the back, though, the car falls down a bit. Red applied unabashedly all over the taillight area which should contain some amber and white lenses in reality. No license plate despite one up front. A far too tall stance.

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A shame, really then, that Hongwell took their part-model part-toy concept a bit too literally and ended up with neither. Display it with the front forwards, though, and everyone will think it cost more than $2. Also, today I learned that certain E36s came with just one front wiper. Odd, but it’s accurately represented here!

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Finally, we have the king of 1:64 diecast: Tomica Limited Vintage Neo. Long name, impeccable models. This is their white E30 325i, made in China to very exacting standards. Separate bits for the bumpers; carefully cast and bespoke wheels and tires; near-perfect application of tampos; a metal base; the list goes on and on!

There really isn’t much to say about this model since it’s absolutely perfect. However, because it is a perfect model, that makes it a very poor toy. Sure it rolls well, but the suspension (which yes, works) is rather delicate, not to mention the myriad of separately assembled parts.

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In fact, clumsy me has already managed to lose one of the side wing mirrors even though I handle it with absolute care (read: reckless abandon) and always leave it on display (ahem, constantly fondle it). Still, I quite like the look it has now as it accurately represents a base-model E30 of that era with the optional side mirrors!

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So what do I like best, toy or model? That would be like me asking if I like the sun or the moon more, if we’re honest. The toys are like the sun: they are the bread and butter of the diecast world and provide most of the profit margin for many of these companies. They’re elegantly simple, ruggedly durable, and endearingly inexpensive and there’s no way you can’t appreciate them for what they are.

On the other hand, the models are a bit more like the moon: beautiful, ethereal, expensive, and sometimes hard to find, they are a great extension of the diecast world but we can never forget that the light always comes from the sun and that these are originally meant to be toys.

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So then, in battle between toys and models everyone wins. The kids win because they have something awesome to play with and get them interested in cars. The adults win because we get both charming toys and amazing models. The companies win because they can make money off of both kids and adults. The car manufacturers win too, as they can make their name known across the entire age range. There really is no downside in the 1:64/three inch world, and that is why I love this scale so much. It is amazingly versatile, infinitely tangible, and provides the perfect balance between detail and fun. Thanks for reading, and see you around LaLD!

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