Thursday, August 4, 2011
A little history on little cars. Matchbox diecasts - a great way for a kid to burn through a buck
Well, when I was a kid in the 1970s/’80s, there was a K-Mart within bike riding distance from my house. And if I was able to lay my hands on a buck, there was a good chance I was going to buy a Matchbox car with it.
British diecast company Lesney Products started building Matchbox cars in 1953. They were known as the 1-75 series, because they numbered each of their new cars from 1 to 75. Then, as other cars were cast beyond the original 75, old cars would drop from the line, meaning there would always only be 75 for sale at a time.
Matchbox cars were sold in America and Britain, but for a long time, they were all made in England. The earliest cars sold very well. But when American rival Mattel introduced their Hot Wheels line in 1967, everything changed in the world of small diecast cars.
Matchbox fought back, though. By 1969, they revamped their lineup, calling their new cars “Superfast.” Taking a page from the Hot Wheels playbook, their cars received brighter paint colors, designs that appealed more to kids, moving parts, and freer-rolling wheels. They were typically less toy-like and more detailed than Hot Wheels cars though, and a serious rivalry developed between the competing brands.
It was big news in my world when Matchbox was sold to Universal Toys in ‘82. I remember this clearly, because it bothered my dad when production went from England to Macau. A couple of years later, production went from Macau to Shanghai. Matchbox’s British heritage would be lost forever.
As a father who still loves little toy cars, I have purchased way too many Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars for my son over the last few years. For the longest time, one of the things that stuck with me was that they were still 97-cents, just like they were when I used to ride my bike to K-Mart all those years ago. But within the past year or so, they’ve jumped up to $1.06 - $1.09. I know, 9-to-12-cents doesn’t seem like much, but there’s still something that twists my psyche out of whack.
BHo and I dug out a couple of my old car cases recently and took some pictures of some of the old Matchbox cars I had. I’m not including any of BHo’s newer cars. These are mostly the 1980s examples that I was buying up until I guess I decided I was too old or too cool to keep getting them. They aren’t in particularly great shape, and I don’t think any of them are worth much, but I like them, and I still remember how happy getting a new one made me. If you are from my generation, maybe you remember a few of these. Heck, maybe you had some of them. If you good feelings looking at pictures of old toy cars, check out the slideshow below.