Although diecast vehicles are extremely popular as a hobby with a wide range of items, many people are actually ignorant as to the origin of diecast vehicles. This is made worse by the fact there are actually very little materials written about this subject on the internet. Many articles tend to regard diecast vehicles more as toys or display models and trace their origin back to 1947 when the British Company, Lensey, first produced the 'MATCHBOX' series of diecast vehicles. In fact, diecast vehicles have a richer history and more important and sinister role than most of us would expect.
Diecast vehicles were actually widely produced and used during the 2nd World War by both Allied and Axis forces as recognition models or ID models. Ground troops, sailors and pilots were all trained to recognize vehicles from both sides in order to help distinguish between friend and foe. Diecast vehicles were especially to pilots and gunners in helping to determine the range of the enemy vehicle with their gun-sights.
By knowing the approximate range, the pilots or gunners could adjust their firing rate to accommodate the distance. For example, these diecast vehicles were produced to 1:108 scale, with one inch representing nine feet. This allowed a pilot looking at 15 feet away at an ID model of tank to know how large the actual tank on the ground will look like a mile away.
The main company that produces these diecast vehicles during the 2nd World War was H.A Framburg & Co. The company was and is still a manufacturer of lighting products. Due to the scarcity of raw material during the war, the company switched to producing diecast vehicles as recognition models for the US military in order to stay afloat. The models produced then, were crude and had no moving parts. After the war, the dies for these recognition models were sold to an ex-employee who started the Dale line of diecast vehicles. The Dale line of diecast vehicles were also an improvement over the Framburg range as wheels and movable turrets were added to the vehicles allowing them to function as toys.
Another notable manufacturer of diecast vehicles during the 2nd World War was the Comet Metal Products. It was reported that this company produced over 10 million pieces of diecast items as recognition models from 1941 to 1945 for the military. One of their most famous products was the 'Willy Jeep' and 'Seep', the Ford amphibious jeep. These two diecast vehicles were later released to the general public and market under the 'Authenticast' label. The Comet Metal Products remained in business until 1962. The molds were later sold to collectors who produce these diecast vehicles under the 'Superior' brand. Today, these jeeps are still produced in limited quantity by Quality Castings, Inc. in Virginia. Collectors interested in these antique diecast vehicles can still also look for them at auctions and antique toy stores.