The release of a new scale model of a famous Australian Mini has made us wonder, “what makes model Minis so collectable?”
There are many reasons why people collect. It may be for investment, to preserve something of value or historical significance, or simply for their own personal pleasure. There are no limits to what people collect, and what one person finds of value another may see as a waste of time, effort or money.
For many people, collecting model cars is a waste of time and money. For the dedicated collector, though, who sees value in the smallest nuance or finds personal enjoyment from the display of a collection, or finding new additions, there is value far beyond merely dollars and cents.
That’s not to say that model cars cannot be worth big money. Far from it. Some of the most sought after models bring very high prices at auction or through private sale.
Like any collectible item, the discerning collector will find value in the investment, buying some models with the intention of holding onto them until the value increases substantially enough to sell, or in passing on a valuable collection as part of an estate.
Model Minis, in fact, are often some of the more sought after model cars. This often translates into record-setting prices at toy auctions.
As Minis themselves have established an almost cult following, the appeal of the unique character and charm of the real cars has, for some, flowed over to their scale model counterparts. With so many variations, brands, and sub-themes to focus on, model Mini collecting is something all Mini fans can enjoy, often as an extension of enjoying their full sized Minis, or remembering the cars of their youth.
The earliest released ‘models’ of minis were children’s toys, as with most model cars, mass produced from die-cast, tin-plate or plastic. First appearing in 1960, over the years hundreds of different manufacturers have produced thousands of different models of the Mini.
The first model Minis made for collectors rather than as toys didn’t appear until the mid 1970’s, and it wasn’t until the 1990’s and later that the models aimed at collectors became more common.
With all collectables, sub-cultures and specialised languages evolve. For example, philatelists (stamp collectors) will refer to perforations, frankings, backstamps, double rates, missing colours, inverted impressions, kings, kangaroos, KGV and the like.
Similarly, model car collectors talk of Codes 1, 2 or 3, MIMB and of course scale.
Code 1 refers to a model that is an original factory production in its original form, livery, etc. Where a factory produces the same model in a variety of liveries or colours, these are all still Code 1.
Code 2 refers to models that are modified by another party, with the permission or sanction of the original manufacturing company. A couple of good examples are the re-released Dinky Police Mini (001) and Dinky 13C Bathurst Mini (003), based on the re-released DY-21 Dinky Factory model a few years ago.
Code 3 refers to any model that is modified, repainted, given a different livery or otherwise changed from the original production, without the knowledge or consent of the manufacturer.
This includes one-off custom models and small volume runs, often for special events, although most collectors consider a true Code 3 to consist of a number of the same models being produced, and made available for sale.
Some Code 3 modellers are well known and have developed a reputation, like Ron Peace and Minian in the UK, which in most cases actually increases the value of the modified model over the original.
MIMB is a term to describe the best quality, and stands for Mint In Mint Box. Literally, an as-new from the factory example. Condition is often a subjective and relative component. What one person describes as “fair” another may describe as “poor”, while a third sees the same model as “good”.
MIMB is fairly unambiguous, as is Mint, but beyond that condition really needs to be seen to be appreciated.
The factors that make model cars of value to collectors are much the same as with any other collectable, whether it be stamps, coins, teapots or full-size cars.
These are, and in no particular order:
Rarity – How many were originally made.
Scarcity – How many still exist, or are at least known to still be available on the market. For example, there were 250,000 or so of the Corgi #317 released in 1964, yet very few remain in MIMB condition today as it was only ever sold as a cheap child’s toy, so it is now a scarce model. Generally the more scarce a model is in the market, the more desirable.
Many of the models that were originally released in large numbers as toys have become very scarce in MIMB condition. Most of them would have been buried in the sandpit or chipped and broken in the toy-box within a day or two, the boxes from the models going in the bin within minutes.
The scarcity also depends on the way the models were originally distributed. In 1997 Corgi released a 5,000-limited run of the Mini 7 racecar of Stephen King. This was exclusive to a Christmas mail-order company and not included in the Corgi Catalogues. Most of the “collecting public” simply never heard of this model until years later. Since they were mostly sold as cheap presents for the kids at Christmas, it seems almost all of them have suffered from Sandpit Syndrome, and this model is now very scarce – often commanding ten to twenty times the value of other Mini 7 racecar models released in the same number at the same time.
Variation – Related to rarity, some models may have been produced in smaller numbers in a particular colour, with different interiors or different liveries.
A good example is the Corgi #227 Mini-Cooper from the mid 1960’s, which was available in light green or blue, with red or lemon interior, white or body coloured bonnet and a variety of numbers on the doors. The rarest variant is the blue model with 1 or 7 on the doors, body-coloured bonnet and with a lemon interior, while the most common is the light green, number 3 with white bonnet and red interior.
Condition – Generally speaking, the better the condition, the greater the value. This also goes to include the packaging. Some early models from Corgi, Dinky, Spot-On and others came with leaflets advertising collector clubs, or detailing care instructions, etc., and these are quite desirable, especially in mint condition.
Age – Again a generality, but not always true, is that the older the model the greater the value.
Place of origin – Many model manufacturers used to make models in their home countries, England, Italy, Spain, Japan etc. and have now moved production to China. In these cases, the models from the same manufacturer, made in their home country are often more desirable to collectors.
However, with current manufacturing and computer accuracy the modern models, even those made in China, are generally much more accurate in detail than models of old.
This is also a reflection of the models now being made to focus on collectors rather than simply as toys.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 26 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>45</plumshop> <plumshop>46</plumshop>