Until around 1980, the Japanese gems known as Tomica Pocket Cars were widely distributed in the US, even available in grocery stores. But because their high quality and accurate scale meant that they cost a little more than Hot Wheels and Matchbox, they were unable to compete with the lower-priced and better-known brands. The normal price for Pocket Cars was around $1.50 to $1.75 each. Their current value reflects the growing interest from collectors who discovered these terrific little toys too late to save them from disappearing from the US market. Another reason for a lack of popularity is their focus on Japanese vehicles such as Mazda, Hino, Mitsubishi and Fuso. Now, models of Japanese vehicles are more desirable because they are Japanese. New models are still being produced but are not generally available in the US, as the Tomica series retreated to European and Asian markets where Pocket Cars still hold a better market share.
TOMICA POCKET CARS: The numbering system for Pocket Cars is not particularly consistent, so the preferred method of listing them is alphabetically by description. Most models are well-marked on the base, and are heavier than usual for their size, due to more metal and less plastic. Other companies, in an attempt to capture some of the Pocket Car market, produced cheap copies of many of these models. A major difference is that these generic knock-offs had plastic bases and other components, and lighter-weight metal parts, and are generally unmarked. The generic versions are considered essentially worthless to collectors, except as an oddity. The new premier source for current and older Tomicas is Bob Blum, 8 Leto Road, Albany NY 12203, phone 518-456-0608.
Matchbox used to be able to compete with Tomica back in the 70's and 80's, but their takeover ensured its demise. They no longer sell on the open market in Hong Kong, although vintage Matchboxes fetch US$50+ for pristine examples. Hot Wheels are ONLY sold in Toys 'R Us simply because no other retailer is willing to carry their range here.
There is a current craze over Japanese-made Tomicas, since during the early 90's , Tomy Japan began to move production to lower-cost China. This business move was to lower their costs so Tomy could compete again in the European market (it was a failure due to lack of new models). Japan made models were dwindling in numbers, so collectors are now rushing to buy them. Retailers noticed this trend, and some unruly ones jacked up prices, but customers stayed away. Prices have now returned to US$3 , down from a high of US$5.
The Chinese made Tomicas vary in quality as compared to their Japanese-made cousins. Some models. such as the Range Rover are very well-detailed and have a fine metallic coat. Others like the Lexus LS400 (called the Toyota Celsior) are draped in a horrible off-white colour with uneven paint thickness and paint runs. Chinese made NEW models targeted at the European market includes the Mazda Miata, Range Rover, Nissan Primera (aka Infiniti G20), Mercedes C-class and Toyota RAV4. Their quality all vary.
All Tomicas are sold in red and white packaging in Asia, in both boxes (like Matchbox) and blisters packaging. The short lived European range were all sold in blisters with an extremely tasteless design.......
There are also Tomica Town playsets available. They are figurines, toy buildings and road, along with accessories like trees, mailboxes and trash cans. Sets include a Fire Station with a 4-car garage, fireman, hoses, ladder and battery-operated siren. Another is the Construction site set, which includes a base, girders, a wind-up construction crane, construction worker, site wall and trees....... Each set sells for US$12-35. My favorite is the 7-Eleven set with a convenience store and two-car parking lot, along with a 7-Eleven attendant, trees, sign posts, etc.
A new item (available in Japan from 1993) is the Battery-Operated Tomica range (called B/O Tomica). They are slightly larger versions of existing Tomicas, running on a small battery which can be replaced. Models include 300ZX, Toyota Crown and Previa, Mitsubishi Pajero (aka Montero) and Honda CR-V. they run on special B/O Tomica tracks, and diorama sets are available , much like the Tomica Town sets, except they offer moveable features. Crossroads stop cars and need the owner to 'release' the cars by changing the 'light' mechanism to green. Gas stations stop cars at the 'Pump' mechanism, and owners need to release the car as well.......
**This is more than I ever knew about Tomicas! Thanks for the info Danny!!
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