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A car enthusiast’s first taste of ownership – Matchbox Cars

For many car enthusiasts the first taste of ownership came with the arrival of a Matchbox version under the Christmas Tree or as a birthday present and it continues to this day as no matter how old these revheads are now, the market for the miniature models continues to grow.

Introduced by the British diecasting brand Lesney Products in 1953, Matchbox has become a staple of department stores and childhoods worldwide. Given the name due to the packaging being similar to a matchbox, the brand has grown to include planes, trucks, plastic model kits, action figures and city replica playsets.

A scaled down version of the Lesney green and red steamroller was the first to be released at the 1:75 size, with later a dump truck then a cement mixer added to complete a set of three.

Every day models led the expansion of Matchbox as the MG Midget TD, Vauxhall Cresta, Ford Zodiac and more were downsized, with international reach being created courtesy of Volkswagen, Citroen, with Chevrolet providing an entrance to the American market.

These models albeit small featured intricate details and even opening doors or bonnets, which for such an affordable price proved accessible to all families.

Matchbox became the world’s best seller of diecast models by 1968 and had become synonymous with this area of the market.

International models weren’t the only areas Matchbox expanded in as lorries, tractors, motorcycles, buses and trailers all were part of the line-up by this stage.

The British dominated the diecast model landscape as Matchbox was joined by Dinky and Corgi, but each manufacturer provided a different niche in addition to innovations enabling healthy competition.

However staunch competition from America’s Mattel came with the arrival of Hot Wheels in 1968 and Johnny Lightning a year later slowed the stranglehold Matchbox had in the US, before this started expanding into the UK.

Low friction wheels introduced by Hot Wheels forced Matchbox to do the same by creating the Superfast line in 1969 as this led to the development and sale of race tracks, while the Yesteryear range came as a result of discussions with collectors.

Financial problems hit during the 1970s and resulted in Lesney becoming bankrupt in 1982 as through its purchase by David Yeh of Universal Toys it was combined with former rival Dinky as manufacturing was moved to Macau.

By 1992, Universal was purchased by Tyco Toys and this later led to Mattel buying this company five years later combining the two largest diecast car sellers.

Matchbox and Hot Wheels remain different in the types of cars forming part of its line up, both have lived happily as the standard continue to lift.

Although Matchbox has had its ups and downs since Mattel took control, currently it is in a very solid spot in the midst of a resurgence.