All too often, we hear non-collectors asking why are model cars so expensive? They’re just toys, right? Wrong! They are engineered and handcrafted collectibles. Each model requires an incredible amount of time, investment and expertise to complete.
In general, high-end model cars from brands like premium brands CMC, BBR Models, LookSmart and FrontiArt can go for anything between a couple hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars. And, of course, there are some antique and vintage collectibles, as well as occasional one-off jeweller’s pieces, that command prices in the hundreds of thousands or even millions.
Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, and model cars are no exception. So let’s have a look at why these premium models command the prices they do.
The finest model brands are licensed and authorised by actual vehicle manufacturers. These are most often prestigious makers of luxury vehicles, race cars and supercars like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Mercedes-Benz. And in some cases the model design is a collaborative effort between the model maker and the actual vehicle manufacturer. As you might imagine, entering into a licensing agreement with these luxury brands isn’t cheap.
The design process for each model is also a complex and intricate process. The model designers tend to work from original CAD drawings from the vehicle manufacturer, in the case of contemporary vehicle models, and photos and digital scans of actual vehicles, in the case of classic cars. The designers must then scale these drawings down and work out how to bring the details to life in miniature. This can be particularly challenging for classic or older vehicles with a lot of externally engineered features.
All this information is used to create perfect scale replicas that are physically identical to the original vehicle in all respects. That means not just engineering the exterior of the vehicle, but creating a detailed scale version of all aspects of the car including the engine, suspension and steering, chassis and undercarriage and tiny details like brake calipers, door handles and more. Each of these complex components must be precisely designed and produced to create the necessary parts for each model kit.
In the case of models of contemporary supercars or F1 cars, we’re talking about scale replicas of some of the most sophisticated pieces of design and engineering on the planet. So, as you might imagine, it takes some serious investment and expertise just to complete the model designs.
Unlike mass-produced model cars, premium high-end models are assembled by hand by a team of specialist model builders. Some kits can have upwards of 800 pieces and are meticulously handcrafted with precise attention to detail. Each model can take several hundred hours of expert labour to complete. The best models will also be painted using paints and application methods similar to those used by real vehicle manufacturers. Each model is then hand polished before it’s packaged and prepared for shipping.
As a result, a huge amount of time and expert labour is put into the assembly of every model. And the results speak for themselves!
Rather than just plastic or simple diecast metal, high-end models use a wide range of premium materials to bring to life even the smallest details of the vehicle. Materials used to create vehicle components can be digitally printed, photo-etched or handcrafted. The vehicle interiors often include specialist fabrics for seating and upholstery, leather, carpeting, wood paneling and other genuine materials to capture the luxury, design and styling of the original. Other materials can include a range of metals and semi-precious metals, wiring, chrome foil and plastics. Since so many different materials are used, this increases the complexity of assembly, which requires a wide range of modelling and assembly skills to complete.
Most premium model cars are produced in extremely short production runs and limited edition releases. Production runs could be limited to 1,000, a couple hundred or, in the case of special limited editions, just a handful. Limited production runs will generally be individually numbered and will often come with certificates of authenticity. The rarity of these models, combined with the demand from collectors, contributes to the cost of these very special model cars. As you might imagine, collectors are willing to pay much more if they know that there are only 50 of a particular model in existence. Additionally, these kinds of models will often appreciate in value as time passes, turning them into a good investment.
Finally, high-end model cars aren’t toys. They are luxury collectibles aimed at an extremely high-end and discerning market of collectors and hobbyists. As with any luxury item, cost can often be equated to exclusivity and prestige, both of which these models have in spades.
For the non-collector, it may seem perplexing why someone would be willing to pay several thousand dollars for a 30cm model car. But the serious collector understands that these vehicles are absolute works of art and will only grow in value over time.