Matchbox Cars History

Matchbox is truly a worldwide success story. The story began after the war England as the ideas of two men became a brilliant master plan for success. Over sixty years later, Matchbox has become an everyday name, with many international locals producing both region-specific cars and "world cars". It's without a doubt one of history's most famous car makers, even though the bulk of its products are made in miniature size scale.

Two friends, Rodney Smith and Leslie Smith, combined their two names and their career goals to form Lesney Products in 1947. Rodney's earlier experience in the diecast industry set the stage. The purchase of war-surplus diecasting equipment, and the addition of diecast guru Jack O'Dell to the team, got things off to a great start.

Lesney had most of the 1950s and 1960s to itself, at least in the bargain, small-scale-model market. Mattel entered the picture in 1967 with a series of more fantasy-like diecast called Hot Wheels. In 1969, Matchbox quickly designed a new line of cars using a formula closely matching that of Mattel's: more performance-driven looks and better "rollability". The Super Fast series was rolled out around midyear, but with little immediate impact. Matchbox took a punch in the mouth financially and lost well over $20 million in that same year.

By 1973, both O'Dell and Rodney Smith had moved on to other projects, leaving Leslie Smith as the last remaining founder. Regardless, Lesney bounced back somewhat and pushed to expand things. Seeking a stronghold in the plastic model-kit marketplace, he purchased plastic-model company AMT. But those well-meaning growth plans were crushed by the late 1970s recession. O'Dell returned to help out, but it still wasn't enough. Lesney went broke in 1982.

The Matchbox line and manufacturing rights passed through several hands before coming to rest with the rival company Mattel in 1997. After many years of struggling, Matchbox found safety and a future in the arms of its former marketplace rival. Most will agree that each brand has gained from the experience and insight of the other. Some Hot Wheel castings established a more logical home in the Matchbox lineup, and the depth and breadth of Mattel's international presence has become a big hit to Matchbox collectors worldwide.

Despite the hardship behind the business aspect of Matchbox, core consumer demand has hardly deteriorated. The line's bread and butter remains accurate, durable, affordable pint-size replicas of everyday vehicles for hands-on play. The passage of time has made many Matchbox toys collectibles, almost by default. It's not unusual to hear of a steep price paid for a relatively rare casting in good condition (especially in its original package). Those that weren't stepped on, broken, or blown up often were hidden away in a closet by a child to be forgotten and only to be discovered again many years later by a now-nostalgic adult.

Sixty years on the market is a huge achievement for any product or toy. On top of all that, Matchbox has made a timeless connection with its customers: children of all ages. Whether you measure your exhilaration, in decades or dollars, everyone can agree on one thing: Matchbox cars are more than just toys.


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