I came across this term while proofreading an unpublished poem by an Irish poet. The context is not important so I’ll just say that it is clear that it means “toy cars”.
I Googled the term and see that it refers to a brand-name of die-cast toy car made by the British company Meccano starting in 1931, but, as far as I can tell, petering out in the early 1970s.
Is this a term that’s generally recognized, today, on both sides of the Atlantic? If I said “that’s a dinky car” in the US to an 18-year-old, would they understand? Or would the term only be understood by an older person (I’m Canadian and in my 40s, so I’m guessing older than me)? Would it only be understood in the UK/Ireland (/Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.)?
In other words:
1. Is the term recognizable to a younger person? If so, in which countries?
2. Is the term recognizable to a North American? If so, of what ages?
3. Is there a term for a toy car (other than toy car) that is widely recognized by English speakers of different ages and from different countries?
Although dinky is defined as “small; insignificant”, as a North American speaker, I would think of a small, full-sized vehicle, like a VW Beetle or a Mini Cooper. A Matchbox car would be recognizable, though collectors might find it too specific if you’re referring to die-cast toy cars, in general.
Edit: Some people may take issue with the use of a trademark as a generic term (which I would liken to frisbee), and although the company has its roots in the UK, it may not be well-known there. If you are wanting to avoid the word “toy”, then perhaps simply die-cast car would work.