Japanese tinplate vehicle toys gave a preview of future automobiles


Before World War II almost everything was constructed of metal or wood. After the war, plastic was more popular because it was lower in cost, more accessible, easy to mold and more durable. It also didn’t have to be cast like metal.

For more than 100 years, toys were tinplate with a lithograph finish. After World War II, however, when plastic was the normal medium, the Japanese opted to manufacture toy vehicles using tinplate.

These were approximately 4-30 inches and used the tab and slot joining, which had been used for many previous decades.

These were not reissues of older-style vehicles but were a new product. The cars were equipped with wind-up or battery-operated mechanisms.

Large numbers of these were produced at many Japanese plants.

Domination. During the occupation of Japan and for about 20 years afterwards (approximately 1950-1970), the Japanese dominated the toy business throughout the world.

By extreme mass production, avid attention to marketing and dedication to the finest details on their new tinplate toy vehicles, the sales were successful. This is the same approach the Japanese used to rebuilt their nation’s economy.

Nevertheless, all the expenses for such undertakings far overstepped the profit and the Japanese could no longer sell the toys profitably at a competitive price.

Also the manufacturers worldwide preferred plastic children’s toys due to the danger of cuts by tinplate.

Therefore, an era of tinplate toys came to an end in 1970.

High production. During those 20 years of high production, Japan also produced tinplate robots, airplanes, rockets, animated animal characters, trains and ships.

Their lithographed tinplate automobiles were the finest not only in mechanical operation, but were quite realistic in detail, paint finish, interiors and clear windows.

Most of the automobile replica toys were American makes and a few were futuristic designs.

Due to the use of plastic, these Japanese tinplate toy automobiles will always remain the best constructed in the last half of the 20th century. Undoubtedly such quality will rarely, if ever, be seen again – especially in tinplate and also in this price range.

During those two decades, Japan produced some of the most delightful looking toys of any era. Toy manufacturers used their vivid imaginations in every facet of the toy business.

Look to future. The toy automobile production procedures were later emulated in their full-sized automobile businesses – a miniature beginning to larger successes.

An example of these toy automobiles was the ATC 1962 Chrysler Imperial sedan, which is now rare but a fine specimen of the Japanese toy manufacturers.

It was loaded with many extras especially the two individually mounted tail lights, similar to the actual car.

It also had outside rear view mirrors, recessed dual grille head lights, a completely detailed interior and all the extras that Detroit manufacturers made in the original automobile.

This example sold for five figures in early 1990. This toy car was 16 inches long.

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.