Tomica (トミカ) is the line of die-cast toy vehicles produced since 1970 by Takara Tomy Co. of Japan (formerly known as Tomiyama and Tomy Kogyo Incorporated)(Rixon 2005, 99). Ostensibly, Tomica diecast were an outgrowth of Tomica World, an autonomous toy line of motorized train accessories that Tomy had created based on Plarail and produced since 1959 (About Tomica 2013). Similar in concept, Tomica can thought of as the Matchbox Toys of Japan - but focuses mainly on Japanese brands.
Tomy Co. of Japan was founded in 1924 by Eijira Tomiyama in Tokyo (Robinson 2010). The company has produced a variety of toys, but in 1970 started production of the Tomica line of diecast vehicles as a result of the surge of interest in the global market in toy cars which was led mainly by Matchbox and Mattel's Hot Wheels (About Tomica 2013). Although models of various scales have been made, the name "Tomica" normally refers to the 3-inch sized mainstream vehicles most commonly produced by the company. Originally, the name "Pocket Cars" was given to Tomicas sold in the 1970s in the United States. After four decades, Tomy Corporation again entered the North American and European markets with the Tomica name in 2010.
Initially, Tomica only produced Japanese brand cars and trucks. This started with the release of six models in 1970. The seventh was issued later in the year. From that time, the Tomica line grew until there was a total of 109 concurrent models by 1978 — nos. 1 through 108 and also no. 110 (109 was proposed, but never released). The variety of models also expanded from the initial coupes and saloons to taxis, buses, trucks, construction and other commercial vehicles. Even a steam engine and an ocean liner were offered. As new models were issued, each was assigned a number up to 110, replacing an existing model.
In the early 1980s, Tomy experienced financial difficulties, and in 1983 the domestic model line was reduced to only 80 models (nos. 1 – 80). These models were mainly packaged in picture boxes that had black background with yellow flaps. Later, new models came in a box with a red and white background (Rixon 2005, 99). Existing models issued before 1984 kept using the older style box with black background until 1988, when all boxes were updated to the new style. Hence, domestic models are commonly referred to as the "black box" or "red and white Box" models.
To compete in the global toy car market, Tomy early on, had plans of exporting its models. This was done starting in 1974 with the appearance of "Tomy Pocket Cars" in Canada and the United States of America. The marketing ploy was a blister package designed like a denim jeans 'pocket' with yellow 'stitching' around the outside of the card and the vehicle. Since Japanese cars were not yet booming sellers overseas, in 1976 Tomy started producing 'foreign' (non-Japanese) models. Present were American, German, Italian, British, and French cars, among others, making the Tomica product line more global.
Partly because Pocket Cars were more expensive than Hot Wheels or Matchboxes in the American market, this blister pack series was not seen much after 1979 (Johnson 1998, 233). Tomica continued successfully, however, in the home market, where each foreign car was packaged in a picture box that showed a flag of the country of origin of that particular car. The boxes often did not show the number of the car, but it could be seen on the base. Since these boxes have the base colors of blue and white, they are also called the "blue-and-white box" models. At any one time, a total of 70 models were produced under the foreign line, numbered F1 to F70.
Marketing approaches used by Tomica have thus been curious in several ways. The company tried to sell Japanese brand vehicles in the American market and did not introduce American vehicles in their Pocket Cars line until 1977. American children were generally unfamiliar with many of these Japanese cars, vans, and trucks. In Japan, as well, the Tomica model selection often was distinct compared to American and European toy producers. In America and Europe, companies like Hot Wheels (and now Matchbox, too) generally sold the sports, racing or other colorful models that they hoped little hands would reach for. Tomica seemed to produce many more variations of buses, construction vehicles and normal every day car brands. An examination of the list of offerings below shows models that would not normally be seen in miniature in the U.S. market. How often are models of plain Chevrolet Cruzes or Ford Escorts sold as toys in the US? The reason for this sort of out-Matchboxing the traditional Matchbox is perhaps because there have been more promotional deals with real car manufacturers in Japan, so Tomica doesn't see a need to pander to the children's market in more imaginative ways. Probably the closest equivalent producer in the western hemisphere might be the German Siku which has a similar array of all kinds of vehicles - not normally decked out in flashy colors and fantastic styles.
These cars from the 1970s and 1980s hold their value well. Often they sell for between $15 and $20 US on eBay and other on-line sales sites. Perhaps because of their greater scarcity as well as realism, these values hold up much better than most Matchbox vehicles from the same time period.
In 1988, Tomy combined its foreign models into the domestic series. Most of the first 40 models from the foreign series were added to the 80 domestic models. Those foreign models that got transferred were assigned a number that was its F series number plus 80. A handful of these foreign models were discontinued after a few months’ appearance under the new line. Overall about half of them had been discontinued after two years.
From 2001 to 2013, Tomy produced the TL series targeted for the collector. These models are made with higher details, and one of their biggest features is realistic-looking wheels with rubberized plastic tyres. Although many of them are based on existing or discontinued regular Tomica models, some are new castings made exclusively for the TL line, namely, Nissan Skyline GTB, Toyoda AA, and new MINI Cooper. In the case of the new MINI Cooper, the model was first released for the TL series in 2004 but in 2006 included in the regular line as no. 43. Model numbers started at 0001. Each model is produced for a limited period of time, so models with smaller numbers are discontinued while new models with higher numbers continue to appear. These models are packaged in open cardboard boxes surrounded on four sides with a transparent plastic sleeve.
Tomica has produced a number of special models over the years. These are unique models that are not found in the regular line or the Limited Series. There are four types of special model:
Until 1993, Tomica models were almost exclusively produced in Tomy's local factory in Tokyo, Japan. One exception was that six of the models issued in 1971 and 1972 were made in Hong Kong:
Another exception was that a few existing models had their production moved to China in 1990, like the no. 35 DOME Toyota Celica. These were the first made-in-China Tomica models, and are considered quite rare and highly sought after by collectors. All newly issued models, however, were still produced in Japan.
In 1993, Tomy Company of UK contracted Tomy of Japan to produce a line of 36 Tomica cars (the 'British Line') using existing tooling. To save on production costs, these were produced in China. After 1994, Tomy used the China facility to produce new models, and in May 1995, the production of many regular models was moved from Japan to China. This was done in phases and by July 1997, all regular line Tomica cars were made in China. Old castings not used for mass production of the British line, regular models, or gift sets remained in Japan. Special releases and promotional issues using these older castings were thus still made in Japan. There were a few exceptions, for different reasons:
Production of Tomicas started to move to Vietnam in 2009. At this time, a new attempt to enter the American market was made with Tomica Hypercity, which introduced a limited number of vehicles (about 15) together with varied toy train sets and Lego-like Tomikid figures that are not in scale with the vehicles.
The earliest Tomica cars had one-piece chrome-plated wheels. Starting in 1971, models were produced with two-piece wheels of various styles, with the one-piece chrome-plated wheels being phased out in 1972 (except that all the models made in Hong Kong had the one-piece wheel design). The two-piece wheels were used until 1977, while newer one-piece wheels of various styles have been adopted since 1976, and are still used today.
The most common design is a five-spoke chrome on black plastic form that appears to have five 'slots' around the edge of the wheel. This design has even been continued with the newer vehicles made in Vietnam. Another common style is a black plastic wheel with a single chrome ring and no other outstanding detail.
Lengthier buses and semi-trailer trucks were models not suitable for the regular small boxes, so Tomy also started the "Long Tomica" series in 1977. Castings such as trucks, double-decker buses or Shinkansen trains were produced as single models until 1993. However, some of these long models can still be found in gift sets, such as the JAL Airport Vehicles Set. Many of these were specifically for foreign markets, like the Trathen's Skyliner bus which made the Plymouth to London trek in the U.K. (Rixon 2005, 102).
Earlier, Tomy produced the 1/87 diecast Combat Tomica series. The line started with the model M-60 U.S. Army Medium Tank, and later on, models such as the U.S. M-60A-1E-1, the German TIGER-I, the Japanese Type 61 and the Russian SU-85 were produced. There were two types of Combat Tomica but they both contained exactly the same models. The first one was like regular Tomica models; the models came in a paper box, there were some soldier figures for decoration and a set of wheels because the tracks were fixed and did not actually function. The second type was the metal model kits that required manual assembly. These came in larger boxes inside containing the parts for assembly. Production of the Combat Tomicas lasted only a few years, however Tomy continued producing military vehicles such as rocket launcher trucks, troop trucks, and jeeps, for its regular "3-inch" line-up.
Tomica Dandy cars are larger - about 1:43 scale and were produced from 1972 until 1993. At first they were all Japanese domestic models, but similar to the common Tomicas, the Dandy line also began to offer foreign brand vehicles in 1977 (for example, a Lotus Europa). The numbering system was changed in 1984 based on the nature of the vehicles (e.g. emergency, police, or foreign models). In 2001, Tomy reissued six Tomica Dandy models in limited quantities.
Dandys were diecast metal and also had metal bases. Wheels looked authentic, but were hard black plastic and not rubber, which was normal for 1:43 diecast cars in the 1980s. Some Dandy cars had special features like the Mazda Savanna with "pop-up" headlights operated from a lever inside the car (Gardiner and O'Neill 1996, 77). Packaging colors varied and some were promotional models, but commonly, boxes were blue or red showing a perforated license plate shape with 'Dandy' written on the plate. Tomica Dandy castings have also been used in gift sets and the Limited S Series, but these models have the "Dandy" name on their base plates removed.
Tomy started producing motorized cars in 1980s beginning with the Power Tomica series. This series did not last long. In 1992, it released a new series called B/O Tomica (stands for battery-operated Tomica). They were produced and sold as single models until 2003. All the B/O Tomica are made in Japan, while all the Motor Tomica (including the Animated Motor Tomica) are made in China. To fit on the motorized base, these castings often have altered scales. In general, sport utility vehicles appear in their proper scales, saloons appear a bit bulky, and buses and lorries are disproportionately short. In 2005, a new series for motorized Tomica was released containing generic vehicles such as a police patrol car. This late series targets toddlers and is made of ABS plastic.
These first appeared in the 1980s and there were six models at that time. In the year 2002, Tomy again produced pullback models
Starting from 2004, Tomytec, a branch of Tomy, started producing realistic models - more for the collector market. They are marketed as the Tomica Limited Vintage Tomytec series and are mostly 1950s and 1960s classic Japanese vehicles such as the Honda S800, Nissan Cedric, Prince Gloria and Toyopet Crown. More details are evident on these compared to the regular Tomica models or even the Tomica Limited models.
In 2006 the Tomica Limited Vintage - Neo [TLV-N] line was created and currently includes vehicles from the 1970s and 1980s. As with the Limited Vintage series, the focus of the Limited Vintage - Neo series is on adult collectors. These models have a high level of realism, with more attention to details such as wheels, tires, paint, trim and emblems versus functions like opening parts or moving features but still has the suspension of the basic Tomica models. All the models are a consistent scale of 1/64 (Tomica Fan Club).
The Tomica Limited Vintage Neo line focuses mostly on cars manufactured in the late 1970s and onwards, but movie and TV drama vehicles and special race cars have also been introduced.
In 2013, the TLV-N line started featuring the vehicles from TV Asahi's well known police drama series Seibu Keisatsu. The models released for this lineup are either the cars prominently featured in the show, or certain vehicles that end up getting destroyed during the course of the show. Future releases for this lineup will include a 1/64 replica of a TU-89 Ladybird; an armored military vehicle that was the first bad guy vehicle that Daimon Force faced (in the very first episode of the show). The models for this lineup are licensed by Nissan as well as Ishihara Promotion.
In the 1970s, Tomica had a special line of models with figures of characters from the cartoon Snoopy sitting on or in the vehicles. Tomica later also produced models with Disney characters on them and also started an utterly new series called Putica for these Disney characters. Circa 1990s, when Tomy created a cartoon called "Tomica Rescue", it started another series using regular Tomica models and some Matchbox models with some add-ons such as cannons, armors and water hoses. In 1996, a series specially designed for the Japanese comic or cartoon "Bakuso Kyodai Let's & Go !!" (爆走兄弟レッツ&ゴー) was initiated. Then came the "Mach Go Go Go" ("マッハＧｏＧｏＧｏ", localized as "Speed Racer" in the West) series in 1998. In 2002 a series called Magnum Rescue was launched, and designed very much like today's Hyper Rescue and Hyper Blue Police. Unfortunately, due to safety issues, the Magnum Rescue Police Cruiser was recalled soon after its release.
In 2005, to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the renowned Thomas and Friends, Tomy started a Thomas the Tank Engine series. Other recent specialized character Tomica series include "Hyper Rescue", "Hyper Blue Police", the Cars (Disney/Pixar animation) series, Pokémon, Ridge Racer, and the Disney Motors series.
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