Building a spectacular compilation or using the collectables as toys was not the initial purpose for die-cast car models. Models were made for marketing purposes. To plan for new cars, manufacturers would make scale and full-sized replicas of the real vehicles. Clay or wood was used for some of these models. In others, the material that the real vehicles were made from, was sometimes the same as that which the replicas were made from. Another purpose for the die-cast cars was to add realism to train sets.
During the first 30 years of the 20th Century, car models were made from basic slush cast plaster and iron. The 20 years following, cars, trucks, and military replicas were formed from tin and pressed steel, better quality materials. After World War II models made in different kinds of alloys became prevalent.
Europe became the place where these alloys established an enormous presence. In the United States, there was a demand for plastic cars, but not so much for the die-cast metal cars, as they were rudimentary in form. Japan became privy to the tin and pressed steel models by the 1950s. The nation continued its production during the 1960s. When the 1970s creeped around, Japan was producing die-cast cars. The chief producers of die-cast metal cars presently, include China and countries from southeast Asia.
The size of the models depended on the particular niche companies were attracting. Because railroad layouts already established a basic universal scale, before World War II, car and truck models from Europe had to conform to that size in order to be included in the display. Additionally, in order to appeal to children some companies concentrated on small scaled replicas.
Precision was the name of the game for European model vehicles, featuring the complexities of doors, trunks, and hoods opening up. This occurred because in Europe the labor market increased after the war. Consequently, there was a greater pool of laborers available to manufacturer the vehicles. In contrast, in America, the labor force was not as large, therefore, the replicas were made from simple cast iron or plastic, and consisted of very few parts.
In Europe, the doors, trunks, axles, wheels, and hoods were all separate parts in the manufacturing process. In the United States, all of these items would be included in one large, unimpressive piece. However, after some time, American automotive dealerships were in need of promoting their new arrivals, so the models became more sophisticated. This complexity was aided by technological advances. Additionally, adults have become more interested in collecting the models since the 1980s, therefore manufacturers have been producing less toy-like renditions. Today because of the high cost of production, moving parts are becoming less prevalent.
Licensing arrangements have been made between the real car manufacturers and the manufacturers of the die-cast models. There was a time back in the 1950s and 1960s such agreements were not necessary because the real car manufacturers welcomed the popularity of the models because they provided free advertising. This is not the case anymore, as the real car manufacturers seek legal ways to protect the originality of their vehicles.