Model Cars, Trucks and Other Vehicles

An Urban layout needs vehicles, and modern N-scale vehicles can be hard to come by. The best-known models are of European manufacture, and aside from the fact that they’re 1:160 scale models of mostly European prototypes (like Mercedes) rather than the Japanese vehicles I want, they’re also sold individually and at fairly high prices. That said, these can be very good models from scenes where the vehicle is prominently on display. And there are certainly imported European cars in Japan.

But an urban layout needs a huge number of vehicles, and nobody can afford to spend ten or more dollars on each. I’d rather buy trains. Thankfully there are some more cost-effective options.

Some representative Japanese N-scale vehicles (the Tomix shown here is one of their older designs)

Older Kato and Tomix Vehicles

Kato and Tomix have both sold sets (still available in U.S. hobby stores today) of relatively low-quality vehicles. I’m not going to detail those here (Well, I did list the Kato), but you can see two representative examples in the photo above.

Tomytec Car Collection Sets

Tomytec sells “collectible” models of cars typical of Japan, some of which are vehicles sold internationally, in bulk sets of 12 packages, each package usually containing two cars. You can also buy the individual packages from some hobby stores. These are normally sold “blind”, as you don’t know what’s in an individual package until it is opened except that it will be one of the listed models for the set or a “surprise” variant collectible one. Some stores will open the boxes and mark them, but those stores typically sell the collectible variants at higher prices. The vehicles are apparently licensed designs, as the boxes name the specific prototype (although sometimes in Japanese).

These models are typically well-detailed, although not as good as European models costing five times as much, and represent specific prototype designs. All have windows and at least some molded interior detail and (unless noted) the wheels rotate. While some have (Japanese) writing on the sides, they are not equipped with license plates, although there are flat spaces to add these if you want to make your own. Each model typically has a three-digit number stamped on the underside, although I’m not aware of any index of these online.

The downside to these are that they’re “limited edition” sets that often become unavailable immediately upon release, so preordering is essential. However, they are apparently sometimes re-run (perhaps only if initial demand was very high). Some of these models are later released separately in small sets of ~4 vehicles where you know what you’re getting, see the description of those “Small Sets” further down the page.

Note that although this is the “car collection”, and there is a separate series of “truck collections”, these sets include light commercial vehicles as well as ordinary passenger vehicles. The “truck” collections are oriented to heavy vehicles.

As of Summer 2013, Tomix has release 15 collections (all are sold out as I write this), each containing 12 packs, with each pack typically containing two cars. These aren’t always contemporary vehicles, for example sets 9 and 13 were of cars typical of 1975 and set 11 was typical of 1955 (in Japan), however there seems to be a strong bias towards cars found on the road today.

Typical price for a set of 24 vehicles is US$63 (before shipping), so the cost works out to $2.64 per vehicle. However, there will be many identical duplicates, and a typical set only contains four different designs (although each will be in several colors). And, for some reason, police cars and ambulances are popular, so you’re going to end up with more of those than anyone needs. Buying a number of sets over time and mixing them up will provide hundreds of high-quality vehicles at moderate cost in dozens of designs. This is probably the best way to acquire models for use in foreground locations, if you need a lot of them.

Representative models

In the photo above, the vehicles range from c. 1975 to contemporary, and from relatively small (the Mitsubishi i-MiEV at far right) to large (the c. 2002 Nissan Elgrand minivan at far left). Set 8, long out of production unfortunately, was particularly good for North American modelers as all of the vehicles were minivans sold internationally. For Japanese modelers set 13 (also out of production) is particularly nice because it contains a larger number of the open-bed trucks commonly used as commercial vehicles in Japan. I haven’t itemized the older sets below as I don’t own any and they’re likely to be very hard to find.

Note: in the following, reference to “open deck” trucks does not mean “flatbed”, but something closer to a pickup truck designed for commercial use, with low sides and rear gate. The sides may be slats or solid (and on the prototype at least some are apparently removable, although on these models are all molded on).

I don’t have the older sets, so I’m going mainly from hobby store information.

Set 1 (Oct., 2004):
These appear to be 1950’s - 1960’s autos. Variations include police, fire and taxi vehicles.
- Nissan Cedric (First Model
- Nissan Gloria (Second Model)
- Nissan Bluebird (First Model)
- Toyota Corona (Second Model)

Set 2 (Mar., 2005): 1980’s Cars
These seem to lack the emergency vehicle variants.
- Nissan 430 Cedric
- Nissan Skyline
- Toyota Celica
- Toyota MarkII

Car Collection Fairlady Z History
Although not identified as Set 3, I think this was. See the later “D” sets for more information.
- Nissan 432Z
- Nissan 340Z
- Nissan 300ZX
- Nissan 350Z

Set 4 (Feb., 2007): 1960’s Vehicles
- Datsun pickup with covered bed
- Toyota Crown
- Esquire Station Wagon (with police and fire variants)
- Crown Delux (I think) sedan (with police and yellow taxi variants)

Set 5 (Jan., 2008):
Although part of the Car Collection, this set contained light trucks.
- Isuzu Elf truck
- Toyota Hiace van
- Mitsubishi Canter box truck
- “Dutro” open-bed truck

Set 6 (Sep., 2008): Compact Cars
I don’t have this set. And that really annoys me as this would have been the ideal one to have bought several of for populating a city. Unfortunately it came out before I was planning a large layout.
- Mazda Demio (c. 1996 - 2002)
- Nissan March (aka Micra, c. 2007)
- Honda Fit (c. 2001 - 2008)
- Toyota Vitz (c. 1998+)

Set 7 (Jun., 2009): Commercial Vehicles Past and Present
I don’t have this set either, for the same reasons. And while it’s not as great as set 6, I still wish I had bought one.
- Nissan Caravan (c. 1973 - 1980)
- Honda TN7 (1975 - 1977)
- Mazda Bongo (c. 1999)
- Subaru Sambar open-deck truck (c. 1998 - 2009)

Set 8 (2009): Minivans
- Honda Odyssey (c. 1994)
- Nissan Elgrand (c. 2002)
- Toyota Estima (c. 2003) (aka Previa)
- Toyota Alphard (c. 2008)

Special vehicles include a police-car version of the Estima and a “Firefighter Command Vehicle” version of the Elgrand (red with lightbar and lettering).

Set 9 (2010): 1975 Commercial Vehicles
- Mazda K360 three-wheel truck (production ended 1968)
- Subaru Sambar Light Van
- Daihatsu CO8 (apparently an older version of the K360)
- Toyoace open-bed truck (likely third-generation design, similar to modern)

Of these, the Sambar is still in production and doesn’t look much different and the Toyoace third-gen design from the 1970’s is nearly identical to the current fith-gen design (and in any case the older ones are likely still in use). Unfortunately the set is dominated by three-wheel trucks which aren’t at all typical of modern Japan, although it’s possible some are still in use even if the newest are now 45 years old. All three trucks came in open-back and awning-covered versions.

Set 10 (2010): Old and New Luxury Sedans
I don’t have this set. The Teana and Crown appear to be modern designs (Teana was introduced in 2003, and the Crown could represent any of several post-1991 models, but looks like the 2003 design or perhaps the later 2008 design; it can’t be the 2012 design, as this set was produced in 2010).

- Nissan Gloria (c. 1967 - 1971)
- Nissan Teana (c. 2003+)
- Nissan Cedric (c. 1965 - 1971)
- Toyota Crown (c. 2003??)

Set 11 (2010): 1955 Vehicles
I don’t have this set. The vehicles aren’t named in English, and I don’t have translatable text of the Japanese names (the Midget is mentioned in a note that its front wheel does not rotate; it’s one of those three-wheel vehicle designs).

- Daihatsu Midget and three others

Special vehicles included a yellow-taxi version of one sedan and a white ambulance version of what looks to be a station wagon. The Midget came in both open-back and awning-covered versions.

Set 12 (2010): “Four models to reproduce the current city”
- AD (c. 2006)
- Toyota Crown (older design)
- Toyota Prius (c. 2003)
- Paramedia Van

The Crown appears to be mainly aimed at Taxi models (two of the three variations in the set are taxis), while a full quarter of the set is paramedic vans (more than any single layout could possibly need). I think Tomytec was running out of ideas after a very busy 2010 at this point.

Set 13 (2011): 1975 Vehicles
- Toyota Corolla “Van” (station wagon)
- Toyota Land Cruiser (4WD) (c. 1967 - 1980)
- Toyota Dyna (c. 1968 - 1977)
- Mitsubishi Fuso Canter

The Canter is an open-bed truck (the yellow on in the photo above) typical of the kind used in Japan, but sold world-wide. I can’t figure out which model-year this is supposed to represent, but presumably it is a 1970’s design. The Dyna is similar to the Toyoace from set 9. The Land Cruiser appears to be the 55 series, and Wikipedia implies that the U.S. and Australian versions were stretched versions of the Japanese model, so this won’t be an exact match for such use. One truck came in an awning-covered version, while the other had one variant equipped with a crane, otherwise both were open-deck trucks.

Set 14 (2011): “Recent Mini”
- Honda Today (c. 1985)
- Suzuki Wagon R (c. 1993)
- Daihatsu Hijet Cargo (c. 1999+)
- Mitsubishi i-MiEV (c. 2009)

These are small cars (hence the “mini”) of recent design. The i-MiEV is an electric (not hybrid) car introduced in 2009, sold internationally as the Peugeot iOn and Citroën C-Zero. The silver car to the far right in the photo above is an i-MiEV. The white van to its left is the Daihatsu Hijet Cargo van. It’s unclear if this is the 1999 model or a later one, although the suffix “Cargo” indicates that it is not an earlier one (that said, Hijet’s of roughly similar design were in use from the 1970s if you want to use some artistic license).

One of the “special” variants of the Today was a police car model, likely intended to replicate the care from the anime series You’re Under Arrest. I have one of those, and it will find a home somewhere on the layout eventually, along with a couple of female police figures...

Set 15 (March 2013): (unnamed)
- Nissan Teana (c. 2003)
- Toyota Crown (c. 2005)
- Toyota Estima (c. 2003) (aka Previa)
- Toyota Alphard (c. 2008)

I missed this set when it went up for preorder, and it’s now sold out, so I don’t have one. This may be simply a reissue of designs from sets 8 and 10, although all are contemporary designs.

Tomytec Car Collection Small Sets

These sets are typically four vehicles (taken from one of the Collection sets) sold in a window-box, so you can see what you are getting, and each box set is identified by a name and letter, and has a fixed collection of vehicles that are always the same color, so buying multiple of a set isn’t going to provide a lot of variation. Cost is about US$13, so the cost per vehicle is nearly twice that of the larger sets, about $3.36. Preorder prices will be slightly lower. These sets seem to sell out promptly and not be re-issued, instead similar sets are issued later with a numeric suffix (e.g., E followed by E2) with the same vehicles in different colors. I don’t have most of these, so the descriptions are based on online photos and text from store descriptions.

Walthers is apparently importing some of these, but with a retail price of US$20 - $25. The ones I’ve seen seem to be older sets, so these may represent unsold stock from somewhere.

A (Nov., 2008):
Cars from 1955 - 1965.
- Toyopet Corona (Blue)
- Datsun Bluebird (Light blue)
- Nissan Cedric (Red)
- Prince Gloria (Gold)

B (Nov., 2008)
Cars from 1975 - 1985.
- Toyota Celica XX (Red)
- Nissan Skyline (Silver)
- Toyota Mark II (Brown)
- Nissan Cedric Taxi

C (Nov., 2008)
Cars from 1955 - 1975.
- Prince Skyline GT (Gray)
- Datsun Truck (Green)
- Crown Taxi (Gray)
- Crown The public road corporation car

D (Mar., 2009)
- Fairlady Z432 (Black/White Police car, c. 1969, with red “gumball” light),
- 300ZX (Shizuoka Prefectural Police, Black/White, c. 1984, with red lightbar)
- Fairlady 240ZG (Maroon)
- “Fearede I Z” (Pearl White) (this looks like a c. 2002 350Z to me)

E (Mar., 2009)
The Canter is a White-cab/Silver-box truck lettered and with the image of a panda on the side.
- Toyota Hiace (“Firefighting Order Car”, Red)
- Isuzu Elf (Sewage Vaccum Truck, Olive green)
- Toyota Dyna (Silver, with awning)
- Mitsubishi Fuso Canter (Sakai Moving Service)

F1 (Sep., 2009):
Apparently based on Collection 6.
- Honda Fit (Metallic Pink)
- Toyota Vitz (White with “Seven-Eleven” logo)
- Mazda Demio (Black/White Police car)
- Nissan March (Blue/Silver “independent crime prevention car”)

F2 (Sep., 2009):
Apparently based on Collection 6.
- Honda Fit (“independent anticrime patrol car”, black/white police car with blue lightbar)
- Toyota Vitz (Blue)
- Mazda Demio (White, lettered “FamilyMart”)
- Nissan March (Red “fire fighting specification”)

C2 (Dec., 2009):
A set of four vehicles apparently from the 1950’s. One is a pickup truck with a covered bed, a second is a police car, the third is a Blue/White station wagon lettered for JAF (Japan Automobile Federation) and the fourth is a beige sedan.

A2 (Dec., 2009)
A set of four identical sedans, apparently from the 1950’s. One is Blue/White and lettered for JAF, one is a black police car with a red “gumball” light fixture, and the other two are red and black sedans with white roofs.

A3 (Jan., 2010): 1955 Taxis
- Toyopet Corona taxi (White / Brown)
- Datsun Bluebird taxi (Blue)
- Nissan Cedric taxi (Light Green)
- Gloria Prince taxi (Yellow)

E2 (Jan., 2010): Old and New Commercial Vehicles
- Toyota Hiace (White ambulance, lettered for Suginami Fire Dept.)
- Isuzu Elf (Green, garbage truck)
- Toyota Dyna (Blue open bed with load)
- Mitsubishi Canter (White, letteed and with image for “Yamazaki bread”)

B2 (Jul., 2010):
This is a set of c. 1975 cars.
- Toyota Celica XX (White/Black)
- Toyota Mark II (Blue/Silver)
- Nissan Skyline (Red/Black)
- Nissan Cedric Patrol Car (White/Black, Nagano Prefectural Police)

D2 (Jul., 2010): Nissan Fairlady
I have this set, which I found in a U.S. store even though it’s not listed as one of the ones being imported by Walthers.
- Nissan Fairlady Z432 (green, c. 1969)
- Nissan Fairlady 240ZG (yellow, c. 1969)
- Nissan Fairlady 300ZX Fourth (Black/White Police Car, c. 1984)
- Fifth-generation Nissan Z (350Z) - (Maroon, c. 2002)

G1 (Sep., 2010):
Based on Car Collection 7.
- Honda TN7 (dark green open bed truck with awning)
- Nissan Caravan (Blue/White “mobile police station”)
- Subaru (Sambar?) (Red “Fire spec” open bed truck with awning)
- Banettoban - Nissan (Nissan parts specifications)

H1 (Oct., 2010):
Based on Car Collection 8 (minivans).
- Honda Odyssey (White Taxi)
- Nissan Elgrand (gunmetal gray)
- Toyota Alphard (Red Fire Department vehicle)
- Toyota Estima (Pearl White)

F3 (Jan., 2011):
Based on Car Collection 6.
- Black ?
- White Honda (possibly a Fit)
- Black/White Police Car
- Yellow Taxi

E3 (Sep., 2011):
This is based on Car Collection 5. The Canter is a box delivery truck, not an open-bed, and apparently styled to match a convenience store model released in 2011. One of the vehicles (II suspect it’s the Elf) is a gray garbage truck.
- Toyota Hiace (White/Brown)
- Isuzu Elf (Gray, garbage truck)
- Toyota Dyna (Blue)
- Mitsubishi Canter (White)

I1 (Feb., 2012): Commercial vehicles of 1955
The Toyoace open-bed truck is lettered for what appears to be an electric company.
-Daihatsu three-wheeled auto-C8 (yellow),
- Mazda K360 (white / green),
- Subaru Sambar van (green),
- Toyoace (two-tone beige/brown)

J1 (Feb., 2012): “Police Vehicle Luxury Sedans”
Two are older (1970s designs) and two contemporary. Each has one all-black unlettered but with a roof light and one black/white lettered model.
- Nissan Gloria (patrol car)
- Nissan Cedric (“patrol cars for the investigation”)
- Nissan Teana (“unmarked patrol cars”)
- Toyota Crown (patrol car).

H2 (May, 2012):
Based on set 8, Minivans.
- Honda Odyssey (Silver)
- Nissan Elgrand - (Taxi)
- Toyota Alphard (Navy)
- Toyota Estima (Black)

G2 (Nov., 2012):
Based on Car Collection 7, this set contains a open-bed truck with an awning (white Honda TN-7) and minivan (green Nissan Caravan), both reflecting 1975 prototypes, plus an open-bed truck (yellow Subaru Sambar) and a “Fire Department Commander” red minivan (Mazda Bongo) of contemporary design.

K1 (Feb., 2013): Minicar of 1985 - 2012
Based on Car Collection 14, this set contains:
- Yellow Honda Today (c. 1985)
- Blue Suzuki Wagon R (c. 1993)
- White Daihatsu Hijet Cargo (lettered for “Duskin”)
- Silver/White Mitsubishi I-MiEV (c. 2009)

F4 (Aug., 2013, preorders closed):
- Red Mazda Demio (c. 1996 - 2002)
- Yellow Honda Fit (c. 2001 - 2008)
- Silver Toyota Vitz (c. 1998+)
- Green Nissan March (aka Micra) (c. 2007)

“Cheap Chinese” Models

These are very basic models, often found online via E-Bay, although I bought a couple of sets packaged by DDF (see photo at top) that appear to be the same thing (and at similar cost). They appear to originate out of Hong Kong, although that’s not clear, and are sold under a variety of names. They’re not suitable for foreground use, due to the very low quality of the molding and windows that may be misaligned or missing. The wheels are just painted plastic bumps as well, and there’s no interior, but none of that is obvious from a distance. These are great models for filling in a parking lot, parking garage, or a street, as long as it isn’t going to be viewed up close.

The quality control of these is low, but they’re sold bulk so even if 10% have obvious flaws (mold errors, parts that won’t align, etc) you still get a very low cost for the others. The cost (before shipping) can be well below US$1.


Kato has several different lines of vehicles. The newer ones are generally of higher quality than their older sets. All of these are of Toyota prototypes.

Older Sets

The original Kato automobile set (23-500) had six 1970’s Toyota Crown vehicles of relatively low quality. Cost was equally low however (US$5.43 for six cars, before shipping). I have some of these, and they seem oversize for Japanese cars, although they’d look right at home on a c. 1970 U.S. street. The blue Kato in the photo at the top of the page comes from this set.

A later set of six “1990’s Autos” (23-505) had higher quality at a higher cost (six vehicles for US8.90), but still not particularly good models. Apparently these were packaged with cars in different colors under the same part number (a random mix). Models represented prototype Vitz, Alteeza, Noah, Crown, Harrier and Estima cars (all Toyota models).

Diotown Autos

Kato has recently introduced a number of sets of four Toyota automobiles in their DioTown range. Typically three are unlettered and the fourth is marked as some kind of commercial vehicle. These sell for US$12.45 before shipping, so about $3.11 each. The quality is significantly improved over their older offerings, and these vehicles are models of specific prototypes named on the packaging. These appear to have license plates, although they may not be more than green rectangles. They also have some interior detail and working wheels.

Several of these sets are identical except for the fourth vehicle.

23-508 (Feb., 2011): Light Van and Light Truck
Contains: Silver and White open-bed trucks and blue and silver minivans.

23-518 (Sep., 2012): Working Autos Set 1
Contains two each Toyota Viz (c. 1998 - 2004 design two-door subcompact hatchback) and Toyota Noah (c. 2001+ minivan), one set white with a blue stripe, one set silver with an orange stripe. The Vitz is also sold as the Echo or Yaris in other countries. These may be intended to be taxis given the colors match Taxi Set 1.

23-519 (Sep., 2012): Taxi Set 1
Four Toyota Crown taxis (c. 1999 - 2003 model): two black, one blue with white stripe, one yellow with orange stripe.

23-541 (Nov., 2012): Toyota Hiace Long 1 (Seino Transportation etc.)
Contains: four Toyota Hiace stretch vans: white, silver, black and one white with lettering, a blue/orange side stripe and a kangaroo logo. The design appears to match that used since 2004, but it is very similar to designs in production since 1989.

23-542 (Nov., 2012): Toyota Hiace Long 2 (Nippon Express etc.)
Identical to the above set (white, silver and black Hiace’s) except that the fourth is white with a red/blue stripe, “Nippon Express” lettering and blue rectangle with white Japanese lettering.

23-543 (Nov. 2012): Toyota Hiace Long 3 (East Japan Railway etc.)
Identical to the other Hiace sets except that the fourth vehicle is white with a green stripe and “JR” logo, presumably representing some kind of JR East shuttle.

23-544 (Nov., 2012): Toyota Hiace Super Long 1 (Moving Koban etc.)
This is the c. 2005 “Grand Cabin” version of the Hiace, longer and with a raised roof. Three are White, Silver, and Blue, and the fourth is a black and white model lettered as a police vehicle (a “Kōban” is a small police station staffed by a few foot-patrol officers, so a “moving Kōban” may be used for temporary command posts during a public event, although I hadn’t heard of them before). The police vehicle comes with a set of six stickers that can be placed on the rear-facing signboard.

23-545 (Sep., 2012): Toyota Hiace Super Long 2 (Kindergarten Bus etc.)
Four versions of the Toyota Hiace minivan: white, silver, dark blue and a white with yellow and orange “kindergarten shuttle”.

23-546 (Nov., 2012): Toyota Probox 1 (East Japan Railway etc.)
Contains four Toyota Probox (c. 2002 “station wagon” for commercial use). The set includes white, silver and dark blue unmarked vehicles, and one white with a green stripe, “JR” logo, and roof emergency-vehicle light.

23-547 (Nov., 2012): Toyota Probox 2 (Road Worker etc.)
As above, with a yellow vehicle with a white stripe and emergency-vehicle lightbar. From the set title, presumably these are used by highway maintenance workers.

23-548 (Nov., 2012): Toyota Probox 3 (JAF etc.)
As above, with a Light Blue/White model with lettering (Japanese on the sides and “JAF” across the hood) and a red emergency vehicle lightbar (apparently a Japan Automobile Federation vehicle).

Diotown Bus

Additionally they have two sets of small busses. These are the same price as the four-car sets, except that you get two bus models per set.

23-540A (Aug.. 2012): Hino Town Bus Poncho 1
Contains two Hino Poncho minibuses, in the second-gen form used since 2006 as a “regional community bus”. This set contains a green one with white trim, and a silver one with colored accents. These are low-floor busses, and the front bears a blue/white wheelchair “handicap access” logo.

23-540B (Aug., 2012): Hino Town Bus Poncho 2
As above. This set contains a blue one and a orange/white one.

Diotown Figures

Some sets in the Figures series include vehicles. These are typically packaged as one vehicle with two figures (sometimes the figures are on scooters or other small vehicles). Cost is US$11 - $15 (before shipping), which makes this an expensive way to buy vehicles, although useful for constructing a specific scene.

24-233 (Jul., 2005): Postmen
A red van with lettering, and two blue-uniformed figures on scooters.

24-235 (Dec., 2005): Delivery Service
A white open-bed truck and two helmeted figures on scooters. The figures have matching brown shirts. The truck does not appear to be lettered.

24-240 (Jan., 2011): Delivery Service II
A small white van with lettering, on helmeted rider on a scooter and a standing figure with a hand cargo cart. The figures have matching green shirts.