Are Lego Cars More Valuable Than Real Cars?

Plastic toy investments versus their real-life counterparts, down to dollars and cents.

Courtesy Lego

A little over a year ago, Lego surpassed Mattel as the world’s biggest toy brand. And as the legendary Danish company has grown, its sets have become more complicated, allowing more expensive, limited editions. Vintage, mint-condition Lego sets are going berserk in the collector marketplace. These little plastic bricks have become hot properties.

By that, we don’t mean “popular.” We mean “investment grade.” See: a 12 percent value increase, per year, for the last 15 years. That’s insane. It’s a better return than gold (9.6 percent) or stocks (4.2 percent). And realize that 12 percent figure is just an average; bigger and more expensive sets tend to appreciate at an even higher rate, often 50 percent or more within months of selling out.

What how do Lego cars compare to real cars? That answer is really, really complicated.

First, the basics: Like real estate, a car can’t just sit there. It needs care and attention to maintain its value, especially if condition is part of the value. And they don’t stay running unless they’re used regularly, because they can break just sitting there. Legit high-end cars require maintenance that can easily amount to 15 percent or more of their value per year, so keep that in mind.

Courtesy Lego

Automotive investment firm Historic Automobile Group has indices of “exceptional historic automobiles,” with the HAGI Top Index representing broadest looks at the top tier of the market. According to that formula (which is “secret”), if you’d invested $100 in the Top Index on December 31, 2008, you’d have $314 as of November 2015—a return of roughly 18 percent. Over the same time, $100 worth of random small Lego sets would bring you $221.07.

But here’s the thing: You can actually buy $100 in Lego sets. To see the same level of profit on an actual car, you’re looking at a million-dollar Ferrari or Bugatti, which as we remember, requires garaging, maintenance, insurance, repair and everything else. In the best possible scenario, the real car would consume 5 percent of it’s worth every year, but 10 percent is a more realistic floor. Compare that to the return on the 12 best performers on BrickIndex (That’s a real thing?—Ed.), where the worst-performing Lego set (75051 Jedi Scout Fighter) is up 36 percent over the last six months. The best (40183 Bricktober Town Hall) has gone up by over 208 percent. In every possible way, Legos are not only a better investment than cars, they seem to be a better investment than almost anything else.

But you can’t use an investment Lego. You can’t experience it, sit inside and admire craftsmanship, marvel at the detailing that men long dead build by hand. Lego is a toy, and all it does when you’re not buying or selling is sit on a shelf. That’s probably what makes them so valuable. It’s also what makes a car so much better in every other way.