Dinky toy cars are die-cast miniature model cars, trucks & vans and first appeared in early 1934 when Meccano Ltd. introduced a new line of "modelled miniatures" under the trade mark "Meccano Dinky Toys". The first announcement for the new line was made in the April 1934 issue of Meccano Magazine.
In the early 1950s a Dinky Toys craze hit the United Kingdom and it seemed that all boys (and some adults) had collections. Their dual role as toy and model had no peers at the time. Most of the models were in a scale of approximately 1:48, which blended in with O gauge railway sets, but many buses and trucks were scaled down further so that they were around 4 inches long.
Larger models, like the Dinky Super Toys, were not scaled down, and started to have more action features. Notable favourites are the Coles Mobile Crane and the Horse Box (with opening doors). In 1954, the line was reorganized: models were now sold in individual boxes, and there were no series of cars differentiated by a letter. A separate line of car models were also made in France. Both English and French Dinkies were exported to the United States.
Nowadays there is a healthy trade in old Dinky cars, particularly the earlier models. Condition is extremely important. A mint-in-box car from around 1960 can easily fetch 10 times the price of a played with (used) one. The post-war Dinky models themselves are all but indestructible, although the tires disintegrate with age and the paint chips. Pre-war vehicles used a weaker alloy and can suffer from metal-fatigue, and thus models from the 1930s in good condition are particularly rare and sought after.
Having the original box increases the value considerably - the boxes by themselves sometimes fetch prices comparable to the models. Some collectors even collect the "trade boxes" that were never meant for customers, but were the packing for the models to go in to the shop.
In the mid-1950s, a limited edition set of South African military vehicles were shipped to South Africa by Meccano Ltd. for the South African Defence Force. They were painted (military) green and included a Covered Wagon, a Motor Truck, a Dispatch Rider, an Ambulance, and a Van.
After South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth in 1961, they imposed a luxury goods import tax, which made Dinky Toys very expensive, and a potential loss for Meccano. To resolve this problem Meccano began shipping parts to South Africa in 1962 where models were put together and painted locally.
The importing of unfinished goods were not subject to import tax. These models were sold in South Africa between 1962 and 1963 and it is believed that only one batch of each model was produced, making South African Dinky Toys very rare. South Africa also imported parts from the French factory in 1966 and six models were assembled and painted locally.
Some of the disguising features of South African cars are: