The Big Picture in Little Cars or the 30 Years Greatest Cars Cycle Theory

January 25, 2020 – by Doug Breithaupt

Those of us who are part of the world-wide toy car collecting community recognize the names of many of our fellow collectors. We are most likely to have connected electronically through forums, blogs, or webzine comments. Some have traveled in Europe, the U.S., Asia, or elsewhere and met face-to-face to view private collections, attend meets or toy shows, or to share joint shopping adventures. While most of you reading this have not met me in person, we have likely made a connection of some kind as we share our common interest in the celebration of cars, trucks and all things automotive in miniature. Whether you have known me for 30 years or are seeing my name and comments for the first time, welcome to a new phase in my toy car world.

You may be aware that since 1998, I have published ‘Tales of Toy Cars’, first as a monthly online webzine (the original 1998-2006 stories can again be found online at, and then as a daily Facebook blog for the past ten years. Over my 35 years of collecting, I have also contributed to a variety of magazines and books about the toy car hobby. All of this has allowed me to do what I love: share my collection and thoughts on our hobby with fellow enthusiasts around the globe. Now, in addition to my daily blog, John Lambert has invited me to provide a regular contribution to the stories that make up The Lamley Group offerings.

If you have followed my toy car stories over the years, you know that one of my favorite subjects is to select a new or old model and identify other models that create a common theme. As we now push past the 65 year mark since Matchbox gave birth to their earliest toy vehicles in 1953, the tens of thousands of small-scale toy cars that have followed have created a diverse and delightful universe to explore. Small-scale (roughly 1:55 to 1:72 scale) models can actually be traced back to 1911 and Tootsietoy’s Limousine so it is possible to follow some themes back more than 100 years. Finding and sharing these themes will be my contribution to The Lamley Group. I hope you will join me in exploring how our little cars can lead to big picture themes and be part of the conversation.

To kick things off, allow me to share one of my big picture theories about automobiles and illustrate it with some selected toy cars. Let’s call this the “30-year greatest cars cycle theory”. At the dawn of the history of the automobile, what became the Brass Era, a considerable amount of chaos existed. Over the next several decades, motor vehicles moved from inventors’ garages and basements to industrial factories and international sales. This culminated in the years around 1930 with the creation of the grand classics from Europe and the U.S. These are still considered by many to be some of the greatest and most collectible automobiles. Fast forward another 30 years to the era surrounding 1960. This golden age of sports cars, muscle cars and luxury cars still provides some of the most desirable and valuable collector cars. Now we move another three decades to the years surrounding 1990. These youngtimer cars from Japan, Europe and the U.S. are the current rising stars in collector circles. Exotics, sport/GTs, and a new breed of muscle cars are commanding top dollar and rising rapidly. We have now reached 2020, another 30-year jump. A combination of unprecedented horsepower and rapidly evolving new technology are bringing dramatic changes to automobiles. Will this produce the next generation of highly desirable motor vehicles? I guess we won’t know for another 30 years.

Let me illustrate my theory with three automotive marques that have been with us for the 1930’s, 1960’s, 1990’s and are still here today. Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Cadillac have produced some amazing cars and are all moving to be at the forefront of the automotive industry. All three are also well represented in small-scale toy cars. The variety of toy cars actually allowed me to not only find examples to illustrate my theme but to represent each marque with a single color.

Cadillac is represented by a 1931 Cabriolet V12 from Racing Champions/Johnny Lightning. This model was first offered in black in the Mint Edition series from Racing Champions but was later released under the Johnny Lightning brand in several colors, including red. The engine cover lifts off to show the Cadillac V12. The second example is a 1967 Fleetwood Eldorado by Auto World that includes an opening hood and a V8 powered FWD configuration. Values for these elegant personal luxury coupes are finally on the rise. The Allante was introduced in 1987 and continued into the 1990’s. This example is from Majorette. While the Allante is still undervalued by collectors, top condition cars with the Northstar engine are beginning to receive more attention. While Cadillacs of the 2020’s are still to be seen, this 2016 ATS-V R from Hot Wheels represents the current focus on horsepower, racing and styling that have brought new interest and buyers to GM’s luxury brand.

Jaguar has long been one of the most desirable British car makers. British Racing Green is closely associated with their sports cars and I found four to represent my theme. The SS100 was Jaguar’s first sports car, so named because it could reach 100mph. Matchbox made this circa 1937 SS100 which is in a larger scale and was done in this unique two-tone with the red bonnet. Among British sports cars of the 1930’s, the SS100 has long been a favorite. The Jaguar ‘E’ type has become a ’60’s icon and was produced from 1961-1973. This lovely convertible is from Johnny Lightning. Considered by many to be one of the greatest automotive designs, quality ‘E’ types have become blue chip collector cars. Financial success convinced Jaguar to produce the exotic mid-engine XJ220 in the 1990’s. After slow sales it has now become a serious collector favorite with rising values. The current ‘F’ type is an impressive sports car and worthy successor to the C, D and E types. Hot Wheels offers this F-Type Project Seven model in racing trim. Jaguar and their Indian owner Tata seem committed to a strong, innovative model line in future.

Few would question the 1936-40 Mercedes-Benz 540K as being a worthy representative of one the best of the grand classics of that era. Hot Wheels produced this chromed example on the occasion of their 25th anniversary. Siku offered this lovely 280SL from the 1960’s. These Pagoda Roof models have opening doors and a lovely satin finish. They are prized collector cars today. In the 1990’s Mercedes-Benz created a new 500SL and Majorette prepared this example for their wonderful Deluxe Edition line. It has an opening hood. It is gaining in popularity as an affordable youngtimer collector car. Tomica produced this excellent SLS AMG model in 2011 and while it does not really show design themes into 2020, it illustrates a direction pursued by Mercedes-Benz of late. The retro styling cues and gull-wing doors create a clear homage to the original 300SL classics of the 1950’s. Current models from Mercedes-Benz while recognizing the unique heritage of the brand, are also moving quickly to embrace new engineering and style concepts for the 2020’s.

Now it’s your turn to let me know what you think of my 30-year theory and the models I selected to represent this theme. Feel free to be candid – I like a spirited discussion.

8 Replies to “The Big Picture in Little Cars or the 30 Years Greatest Cars Cycle Theory”

  1. That was a really nice–and punchy (thank you)–presentation of your theory. I like it, and it neatly skips over the largely forgettable 1980s! But it also skips the 1970s, which actually produced some really cool car shapes. We can only hope the 2020s see a resurgence of style–there were some really ugly cars in the 2000-2010s (Nissan Juke, I’m looking at you!)

  2. Hi. Very interesting article and theory. Loved it.
    I think that ugliest cars were made in 2000’s.
    Looking forward to next chronicles.

  3. Dear all

    I’m one of those who have never met Doug in the flesh, yet. But we have met on various screens over the years. We are of a similar age and some aspects of our lives have run in parallel.

    I too have collected model cars for years, as toys, railway layout accessories, collectibles and models. Most of mine are Matchbox sizes. (I got my first Matchbox around 60 years ago)

    What is commonly on sale, and so what we are able to collect, is related to out own memories, nostalgia, past and current motoring desires.

    Matchbox’s models of Yesteryear are an interesting example. Initially they were of the brass era, as collectors then are likely to have grown up knowing what a Simplex or Bullnose Morris was. As time went by they produced models from later eras – such as the 1938 Lincoln Zephyr. Now 30 years from that model’s introduction there are few who will remember what a Lincoln Zephyr was.

    30-40 years ago Japanese cars, in the UK at least, were seen as either flash trash, ie Toyota Celica, struggling to keep up with the market leader ie the Ford Capri. Or a sensible buy, a reliable well equipped competitor to, say, an Austin Allegro. A car that would start every morning, not drip oil, that came with a radio and heated rear screen as standard.

    Now we see Japanese cars every day, both on the road or as desirable Matchbox or Hotwheels models.

    Matchbox would never have made a Datsun Bluebird all those years ago – they would have not sold. But now……..

    My neighbour has a Chinese SUV, I wonder when Matchbox et al will consider Chinese cars to be suitable additions to their range.

    I also wonder what makers of cars, both real and models, will add to their products to make them more desirable, faster, interesting. Changes appeal to boys of all ages.*

    My own i3, like any electric car, has no need for a super charger sticking through the bonnet, external oil coolers, turbos, fat exhausts etc. If electric cars are to be tuned the changes will be internal, motor rewinds, bigger batteries, thicker wires and computer upgrades. How will makers, of both 1:1 and 1:64 models indicate extra performance, added desirability? Will a model of a Tesla emerge as a classic when I’m 90?

    The current Matchbox range and direction is interesting, a real mix of classics, every day cars, motoring exotica as well as a Subaru Sambar and a toilet truck!

    * I think the market is biased and aimed towards males – both young and older. However my adult daughter has her Matchbox Mercedes rally car out on display along with a tuk-tuk.

    1. That is the one reason why the Mercedes rally car was cast. I am glad your daughter has taken to it. Hopefully it opens her world to the rest of the world of die cast cars, truck, etc.

      1. Probably not! She’s 33 and more interested in Dogs and avoiding diabetic hypos!

        She liked the car though.

  4. Great article. After looking at my list of cars it mirrors this article. One era i would like to develop more is the 1970 era. That is the era i really started grow up with cars to the point i would starting to drive. The cars where well…interesting!? Not too great in quality and dull but it was my era. There some i like the dodge Monaco from geenlight. It is ad close i am getting to my dads Plymouth fury 3 family car. The cars made like this are mostly police based. But that ok.

    There are cars being made from this era but there is not too much love of them either for the most part. Maybe some day this will change.

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