Lesney Matchbox cars were wildly popular from the beginning of their production, and today are a favorite among collectors and regular folk seeking to recapture these tiny memories of their childhood. What makes the success of these little cars even sweeter is the story behind the creation of the first matchbox cars.
Jack Odell, the co-owner of Lesney created a toy for his daughter not realizing this was going to be the future of their company. Odell’s school only allowed children to bring toys to school that could essentially fit in a matchbox, so he set out to create a scaled down version of the red and green roller coaster produced by Lesney. This miniature die-cast toy became the first model in the wildly popular 1-75 miniature range, with a cement truck and dump truck rounding out the collection. Lesney decided to use the term “matchbox” for their toys and even started packaging them in replica matchboxes.
The early Lesney Matchbox cars were all English brands since the company was based out of East London. However, with the success and popularity of these little cars came an interest in international brands like VW, Citroen and American brands. Today there are hundreds of sought-after Matchbox cars that go for a lot of money in auctions. One particularly favorite car, the Duesenberg (D3 in the 1-75 series) is prized by collectors due to its unique color scheme and will catch upwards of $4000!
With the success of the 1-75 range, Lesney branched out into new models including the popular “Models of Yesteryear.” This range included renditions of classic cars from the early automotive days. Lesney also started to manufacture accessories like gas pumps and garages. Then, in 1969 in response to Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Lesney created the "Superfast" line. This was basically a transformation of their older models to include low-friction wheels and brighter colors.
Today there are four main factors that drive the price of Matchbox cars: rarity, condition, popularity of the model and packaging. Keep an eye out for models that have slight irregularities as they tend to fetch a higher price. For example, there is a 1979 Coca-Cola van that has an extra line painted on it. This little variation makes the car jump in price from around $40 up to $500! People who collect matchbox cars are fanatics, and collecting has almost become a sport. If you had these prized toys as a kid, you might want to check your attic for any that may be lying around, and you’ll soon be joining an ever-growing Matchbox club.