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Matchbox turns 60

For most of us the seeds of car passion were sown early on in life. I think the first gift I ever received was two Matchbox cars and that was before I had even left hospital. 

The following years of my childhood were inextricably linked with Matchbox cars as I grew an impressive collection that included everything from Minis to fire trucks and everything in between. Many of you probably have similar memories and like me also still have at least part of your collection in a box somewhere. 

Now might be a good time to dust them off, with this year marking the 60th anniversary of the first Matchbox car being produced by British dad Jack Odell.

Odell was working for a die-casting company, Lesney Products, when his daughter’s school enforced a rule that only toys small enough to fit into a matchbox were allowed through the school gates.

Using a scaled down version of a Lesney toy car, Odell quickly realized little cars could be big business and launched three models - the Aveling Barford road roller, a Muir Hill dump truck and a cement mixer. The rest is history – in a tiny box.

A decade later 14 factories in the UK were turning out an impressive 250,000 Matchbox cars each week! Sixty years later about 12,000 different models have been reproduced in miniature.

Odell eventually sold the business and after it changed hands a couple of times Matchbox cars eventually ended up in the hands of the giant Mattel toy company, ironically the same company that had earlier established the fierce rival of the Matchbox car – Hot Wheels.

Fortunately Mattel has kept both car brands alive and to pay tribute to the proud history of Matchbox cars they have released a limited edition run of 24 models complete with 60th anniversary branding. Let’s hope the humble Matchbox car continues to help children use their imagination and dream of getting into the ‘real thing’ for many generations to come.

Matchbox car facts:
• Finished 27th on the TIME Magazine ‘100 Greatest Toys’ list.
• Only 75 different models are ever produced at one time.
• The shovel nose tractor has been in production since 1976, longer than other model.
• The biggest selling model is the Model A Ford.
• The first Matchbox cars were sold in the UK for about 7.5 pence (about 18c).
• A Matchbox quarry truck sold at auction in 2010 for £10,200 (nearly $17,000!)

Joel Helmes is the editor of the Behind the Wheel radio program, heard on more than 150 stations around Australia, and