There’s a bit of myth around Dinky vehicles. 1:43 vehicles are the standard size, the story goes, because Meccano made Dinky-brand 1:43 vehicles to go with its Hornby-brand trains. But that’s part of the story. Dinky models of American vehicles were 1:48, to go with American O scale trains.
Dinky produced 1:48 diecast models of American cars from the late 1940s well into the 1960s. While they can be expensive, they hold their value well. Model railroaders who don’t want to pay collector prices can buy beat-up Dinky models and paint and detail them as they like.
Not all Dinky vehicles are 1:43
A collector who is familiar with Dinky read my blog post about 1:48 vehicles and asked about Dinky. What about Dinky? I asked. He asked if I knew most of its American cars were 1:48. I was unaware of this, but I looked it up. Indeed they are, and we’ve known this since at least 1981. The book Dinky Toys and Modelled Miniatures by Mike and Sue Richardson reprints original Meccano datasheets on pages 293-294. Meccano produced a line of 86 1:48 scale models, perfect for O scale trains. Not all of them were automobiles and some of them weren’t American autos. But many were, and would be perfectly suitable for an O scale layout.
Better yet, many of them are ordinary cars from bygone brands like Studebaker, Rambler, and Hudson. It wasn’t all Ford and GM in the 1950s. You can get a swanky Bentley and Packard if you want too, but Dinky is a veritable gold mine of 4-door sedans that you may not even be able to find in 1:43 scale.
The odd thing is, I’ve been listening to O scalers howl for the last 15 years about how nobody ever made vehicles for them. Meanwhile, others have been happily buying up Dinkys and using them on their layouts. So this has been some kind of an open secret. I’ll make it less of a secret.
Most Ebay listings will call these 1:43, but that’s because most people assume all 4-inch diecasts are 1:43.
Advantages and disadvantages of Dinky 1:48 vehicles for O scale
While Dinky is an untapped resource, it may be a turnoff for some hobbyists. First, these were toys, so they weren’t super-detailed. Early Dinky vehicles didn’t have windows and interiors. If you want windows and interiors, you may have to do some kitbashing using parts you plunder from cheap 1:43 cars, modifying them to fit.
Second, the scale may not be perfect. But even if they missed 1:48 by a touch, these vehicles will be smaller than 1:43s so they will be a better match.
Cost is a mixed blessing. Pristine Dinky vehicles in boxes are expensive. For some hobbyists that’s a problem. Not for all. Some hobbyists happily pay $100 for Franklin Mint models of cars they must have. The long-term prospects of Dinkys holding their value is greater than that of modern 1:43 vehicles, since they were toys. Pristine examples of them are rare, while when it comes to modern vehicles marketed as collectibles, it’s the not-pristine examples that are rare.
You can always buy beater models and customize them to your heart’s content. That’s a disadvantage to people who just want to take things out of the box, but many advanced hobbyists buy and customize their 1:43s anyway. If you buy and customize Dinkys, you’ll have something virtually no one else has.
That’s how you get an outstanding layout. Find untapped resources that few others know about, then adopt and adapt them to your needs and taste. If it’s possible to tell the difference between 1:43 and 1:48 in a picture, the people who can will be impressed.
What about era?
The era can be a problem, since Dinkys date mostly to the 1950s and 60s. If you model the steam-diesel transition era, most of these vehicles work fine. If you model more recent eras, these are the right scale but the wrong time period. You can use them in a more recent setting, but you’ll have to use them sparingly. A shiny, unweathered one can pass for a hobby car in any era from the 1980s onward. Tired, weathered examples can work too on later layouts, used sparingly.
Although Dinky normally made British vehicles 1:43 scale, its Bentley Series S coupe is 1:48 scale. It dates from 1961 to 1965. It’s upscale and a convertible, which is two strikes against it, but it’s 1:48 scale.
I promise we’ll get to more pedestrian brands in a minute. Dinky made fairly ordinary cars but they made a lot of upscale ones too. Dinky’s Cadillac 62 dates to 1962-68, and its Eldorado dates to 1956-63. The Eldorado is a convertible, and most layouts have more of those than they need anyway. The ’62 is a four-door hardtop with tailfins. It doesn’t stand out as much as a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce, so it’s tempting to use regardless.
Additionally, Dinky produced a 1:48 Cadillac Criterion Ambulance, a standard 1960s ambulance that will look familiar to fans of the movie Ghostbusters.
Ironically, the only Chevy I can verify was 1:48 scale from Dinky is an El Camino. This model dates from 1961-1968 and came in two versions, alone or with a trailer. It came in two-tone blue-green and cream.
Even if you don’t model the 50s or 60s, a 1:48 O scale El Camino is a useful vehicle. I remember seeing beat-up rustbucket El Caminos still roaming the roads well into the 1990s.
Dinky has the De Funct De Soto brand covered with a 1:48 model of the De Soto Fireflite, which it produced from 1958 to 1964. The tailfins date the vehicle even for people who have no idea what De Soto was.
Dinky’s Dodge Royal Sedan has been reproduced, so you can get recent re-issues of this one fairly inexpensively, often for less than $20. Be careful about paying a premium price for this one. But if you can get one of the reissues inexpensively, this is one you don’t have to feel the least bit guilty about opening up, adding passengers, and weathering a bit.
Dinky also made a version of this as a police car.
Dinky made a Ford sedan and a Ford Fairlane, with an ironic catalog number of 148. The sedan dates to 1949-59 and the Fairlane dates to 1962-65. There was a big hubub when Atlas considered producing a Ford sedan in 1:48 and then cancelled it. The Dinky version doesn’t come cheap, but it exists.
Dinky made two Hudson vehicles in 1:48, a Hornet and a Commodore sedan. The Hornet dates to 1958-1963 and the Commodore from 1950-58. Be careful, catalog# 139a is a Ford sedan, though it’s still 1:48.
Most of Dinky’s German vehicles were 1:45 scale, which matches European O scale, but the Mercedes Benz 220SE is 1:48, for whatever reason. It dates to 1961-1966 and came in blue.
You’ll have to decide if Dinky’s Volkswagens are close enough to use. At 1:45, they’re a touch closer than a modern 1:43 version would be.
The Rambler is a great late 50s/early 60s vehicle to use to set your layout apart from the rest. Dinky accommodates with a station wagon in two versions: the cross country, with a luggage rack, from 1958-62, and an unadorned Rambler wagon, which stayed in production from 1961-68.
Dinky’s selection of Plymouths includes some variety. The Plymouth Plaza is a 4-door sedan that should be a familiar theme by now, but it also came in the Plymouth Taxi variant. More interesting, however, is the Plymouth Estate Car – an old-time woody station wagon. Yes, in 1:48.
Dinky made 1:48 scale versions of the Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith and Phantom V. You know you want to park one or the other in front of a 5-and-10 store. Why these are 1:48 while most other British vehicles were 1:43 is anyone’s guess. Maybe they wouldn’t fit in the box at 1:43.
I saw a Rolls parked in front of a Dollar Tree a couple of years ago. Scout’s honor.
Dinky made a Volvo Amazon, and yes, it was sold in the United States, so you can use it on a US-themed O scale layout. This one has also been reproduced, so you can get a repro relatively inexpensively.
Dinky started introducing other American vehicles in 1969, and unfortunately the reference book I have stops at 1968. So I can’t confirm if those post-1968 cars are 1:48 or not. According to some references I can find, the later Dinky vehicles, even the ones representing American cars, may be 1:42 scale.
But even if you limit yourself to the pre-1969 vehicles, Dinky offers a compelling selection of 1:48 vehicles for O scale.