Matchbox, Hotwheels and Tonka: What's the difference?
November 27, 2005 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Matchbox, Hotwheels, Tonka: What's the difference?

I mean in terms of Christmas buying for boys of 3 and 5, but also in general. Can anyone give me the quick rundown so I can keep these three straight? I'm something of a collector myself already (though of course not of car toys) so I'm also interested in knowing where the three miniature/toy makers stand in the eyes of the collecting world.
posted by melixxa600 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total)
Tonka is big stuff, Matchbox and Hotwheels are pocket-sized.

Matchbox is more realistic, Hotwheels is more goofy and over-the-top.

Is that what you mean?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:04 AM on November 27, 2005

As a kid, I used to love Matchbox cars more than Hotwheels, because the Matchbox were better made, looked closer to the real models, and were faster on the racing tracks.

Tonka is great for little kids, they are virtually indestructible, it takes a *lot* of effort to destory Tonka toys. They are a lot of fun.

The great thing about boys and cars is that mixing and matching brands is fine. In my collection of 100 odd cars, I had 70% or so Matchbox cars, 20% or so Hotwheels, the rest were made up of Corgi, Suku, etc. Oh yeah and 3 Tonka trucks.

Looking at today's Matchbox selection, I am not too pleased about what they have to offer. The less said the better about Hotwheels. I don't know why the cars are all mods and weird looking, as a kid I prefered my cars to look like the real cars.

If the kids were older, I'd also recommend buying them some classic Dinky, Matchbox and Hotwheels from eBay.
posted by riffola at 11:06 AM on November 27, 2005

Matchbox was the foremost maker of tiny toy cars up until Hot Wheels came along. MB started as a British company. Based on Matchbox's success, Hot Wheels came along in the late 60s and made tiny hot rods and "concept" cars. MB's cars were usually faithful reproductions of real cars. Hot Wheels are part of Mattel, an American company. Tonka toys are usually much larger and rugid. Some Tonka's are large enough for a child to ride on.
posted by wsg at 11:10 AM on November 27, 2005

3-5 is a rough age for collectables, as the toys will get brutally used and have drastically reduced future value. At this age I prefer to buy what they’ll play with. Tonka toys are mostly trucks. Hot Wheels were designed for tracks and can include some crazy looking vehicles, while Matchbox are typically more realistic (and often have moving parts that are subject to destruction by active tots). All three are collected, but with mass-merchandizing most have little short/medium-term residual value.

There are a bunch of car/truck/equipment manufacturers out there to consider other than the three you listed (Corgi comes immediately to mind). I’ve collected ERTL toys with my boys, which are wonderfully detailed with many moving parts. They’re mostly construction and farming toys, a bit expensive, and better suited for ages 7 and up.
posted by F Mackenzie at 11:19 AM on November 27, 2005

Hot Wheels are cool and they scream on their track.

Matchbox go slow and lack pizzazz, although they do make pretty faithful replicas.

Tonkas used to be made of thick steel and indestructible, now they are made of plastic. They are still strong, but no longer indestructible.
posted by caddis at 11:19 AM on November 27, 2005

Please disregard the extraneous apostrophe in my previous post.
posted by wsg at 11:25 AM on November 27, 2005

If you're a little kid who likes to play with cars, chances are you're not going to care about manufacturer, except insofar as you'll remember who your favourite cars were made by. Matchbox, as far as I know, doesn't do the crazy custom hot rod kinds of cars so much (if at all). Hot Wheels does do normal-looking cars, but tends to leave the really boring cars to Matchbox (I had a Mercury Sable station wagon... with a working tailgate, man!).

Another alternative is Majorette, a French company; back when I was a little kid, those were my favourites because they had working (front) doors and tailgates. Plus European models are cooler, whether in toy car form or in real life. But the best judge will be the kids you're buying for; if they like the crazy cars with the faces on the front or the impossibly huge rear wheels, get 'em toy cars like that; if they like smashing together cars that look like mom's SUV, get 'em cars like that.

A site that may help you out: the Toy Car Webzine. I wish this was around when I was five. If they still like toy cars when they're older, you might also think about railroad-scale car models. I discovered these when I was 10, and even though I busted up a lot of them they're really something special. The Wiking ones in particular are extremely detailed for their size; they honestly look better than any diecast metal toy car I've ever seen.
posted by chrominance at 11:51 AM on November 27, 2005

if they have a sandpit, tonkas for sure!

and yes, it is a huge disappointment they are now made of plastic. a cousin of mine got some when he was young and used them heaps, and now he's 28 the tonkas are at his parents house and the only thing wrong with them are a few dents and some rust.
posted by a. at 5:32 PM on November 27, 2005

Oh man, I had a Majorette car when I was was silver and I thought it looked just like the car from "Back to the Future." Those were great.

I was always a fan of Hot Wheels, though, especially the ones that changed color in hot/cold water, the ones that looked like Camaros and other sexy cars, and suchlike.

But yeah, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars are certainly different from Tonka toys, which mostly consist of larger trucks, as I recall.
posted by limeonaire at 6:15 PM on November 27, 2005

Note that Matchbox has also been owned by Mattel since 1996. The division still exists somewhat that Matchbox is replica-oriented and Hot Wheels are racing toys, but there seem to be collectors concerned that the brand differentiation is being diluted. But Matchbox is still the premier collectible versus either of the others.

At age 3-5 I doubt this makes much difference. As a collector, of course, you know that only items which are exceptionally rare, or kept in original packaging, are really worth any money.

Tyco makes trucks that compete with Tonka, but I've also noticed a couple of new Chinese (?) brands competing at the low end in chain stores.
posted by dhartung at 10:36 PM on November 27, 2005

Current Mass Market Overview

Tonka definitely more at the junior end of the market : They still have metal as the core part of the range. In the last few years have launch an even bigger scale truck (TV Ad) All the metals are still sold by Hasbro. They are developing a larger range more contemporary vehicles of mainly plastics , presumably to compete with the Rugged Riggz Range from Little Tikes.

As a footnote there is a large Tonka plastics range made under license by a Hong Kong Company Funrise.

Matchbox (MATTEL) is currently positioned between Tonka and HotWheels in the market. With products ( more traditional type vehicles) designed to a more junior age group. Playsets follow Simple Pirate/Haunted house/Dinosaur themes than for more roleplay rather than cool looks & speed as per HotWheels. Their plastics tend to be of a smaller scale and with light & sound. That said Matchbox has one of the largest vehicle items for purchase is clearly in the "Tonka" market.

HotWheels (MATTEL) is in the older end of the market , with street machines (the bling range is currently on sale). They also produce many speed focussed sets through the year. Gorilla Attack a Key Focus for Xmas 2005. A number of sub-brands are available including Acceleracers , BattleX, Crash Test Dummies , Formula Fuellers, Rev-Ups , Monster Jam & Tech Trax

Under heavy competition from Jada Toys . They are producing ranges that are aimed at the ever growing boy racer market .. Dropstars

Of course all have their collector base in addition to the main toy market.
posted by doogyrev at 10:58 PM on November 27, 2005

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