Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The REAL Matchbox Cars—by Lesney in England

Rovers and Jaguars and Fords, oh my!

M Y  C O L L E C T I O N — Now don't get me wrong, as regular readers of this blog know, I love the contemporary Matchbox cars currently being made. I still buy them semi-regularly, but my heart belongs to the early ones built by Lesney in England. Though they certainly reproduced American cars, many of their vintage models are British and European cars I never saw driving around my Connecticut hometown. They were detailed incredibly well for such tiny cars, and many had accessories such as trailer hooks for separately purchased boats, or luggage racks for perfectly formed plastic luggage. There was even a pink house-trailer with a roof that come off to reveal the baby blue interior complete with dinette, kitchen sink, stove, divan, a closet and a railed porch off the back. I would spend hours imagining the perfect little family that would have taken trips in it, 

The earliest Matchbox models, from the late 1950s didn't have interiors coming with tinted windows instead. The wheels were gray instead of black as well. I only have a few of those, but I treasure them! The carrying case dates to about 1965, and has the Ferrari-beating Ford GT40 printed on the front and back. I also have 7-8 of their larger scale Cars of Yesteryear, their classic cars, but they're in mighty rough shape. I played with those all the time, everywhere.

The case has room for 48 little cars, 24 per side. One of my favorites as a kid was the Studebaker Wagonnaire with a working sliding roof section in the back. 

The actual scale must vary a bit, as the lavender and pink '58 Cadillac 60 Special is the same length as the green Fiat 1500 with luggage on the roof. I also coveted the beige English Ford Corsair with a separate rowboat on its roof. I posted a couple of these photos in the first week of this blog, but I'm pretty sure I was the only one that saw them then, lol.

• For a lengthy Wiki article on the Lesney company of East London and their Matchbox cars, click here.


  1. Ha! You have the same blue Iso Grifo that I had! I was perusing the 1/43 offerings on eBay a few weeks ago and came across a Grifo in the same color. You know it triggered memories of my Matchbox and I just HAD to have it! The recent acquisition might have superior detailing but it will never replace the memory of the original! Definitely one of my top ten Matchbox cars for "cruising" around in when I was a kid. Good thing I got over it!

  2. Oh! And that pink trailer! Time to go camping!

  3. A pink trailer adds the "camp" to camping, lol.

    I think I have a 1/43 Iso Grifo also. Oh, I hope I'm not up for hours looking for it, lol. I loved Isos from the models and from the road tests in magazines. There was a 4 door, the Fidia that I NEEDED back then. I wonder how many they actually built. I bet less than 500 if that.

  4. This is wonderful, Casey ! Here are all my old friends and more !

    Add me to the list of former Iso owners. I loved that car as a kid.

    When relatives would give my brother and I gifts, we'd get Cars of Yesteryear . We got a few doubles that way,and so , mounted them inside little frames with red velvet backing, rigging them carefully with good, thin wire. I think we hung up the Silver Ghost and Packard Landaulet.
    Quite chic for a couple of steel mill town kids!

    Didn't the Studebaker wagon also have a little man and dog ? Oh, and how about the Sandwich Trailer?
    Did either of you have that one?

    Im going back now and look at 'my' old 60 Special, and 'my' old tan Jag,and "my' old crimson Rolls.

    Thanks for this fantastic visit!


  5. I love thinking about us all playing with the same toys when we were kids, all thinking and dreaming of our lives and the future in front of us, the cars we'd have, the people we'd meet. My life sure hasn't turned out to be anything like I thought it would be in many ways. But my life is definitely of my own design, my own rules, so THAT much is pretty much the way I hoped it would be.

  6. It's great to see these Matchbox pictures. I was a Dinky Toy boy myself -- they were sort of in scale with all my Plasticville buildings, although there were scale anomolies (sp?) with those too. My Citroen DS19 was bigger than my 53 Cadillac Eldorado. The middle class English cars that Dinky specialized in during the 50s inspired my fascination with Rovers, Rileys, Wolseleys, Rootes Group, Austin, Morris, etc. I played a lot with my Dinky Toys, even outside, but I still have them all -- some in better condition than others. I even have an Austin A40 (I actually had two and one is mint condition) that I painted candy apple red and put Dinky white walls on it. I was a pretty sophisticated 10-year-old!!

    Paul, NYC

  7. All of those British cars sound great! When I could get into New Haven regularly, I bought British classic car magazines that featured articles on all of those you mentioned. That's actually how I "met" my friend Nigel. He writes for many of them, and I emailed him about some detail or another, close to 10 years ago, and we immediately became fast email friends. In that time he's gotten married, had two children and bought and sold at least 25 cars, lol. He has a prewar Armstrong-Siddeley now that he's working on.

    I had a small collection of Dinky and Corgi cars back then, but they were stolen by some neighborhood boys back then. I think it was the Corgis that had rhinestone headlights. They sold them at the PX at the Subase in New London. We shopped there about once a month as my dad was retired from the service. I actually miss going there. The whole base was clean and orderly and everyone was so polite and friendly. The stores in the "civvy" world were crowded and it seemed like everyone was rude when I was a kid, and it's only gotten worse since!

  8. There were some Corgis that had rhinestone headlights -- I had a Bentley S1 Continental that had them, along with spring suspension and front wheels that turned when you pressed on one or the other front fender. It also had plastic windows and a full interior, though not well detailed.

    And don't get me started on how it is to shop in civilian stores these days! All the 12-year-olds seem to think they're doing you a favor and they know nothing about what they are selling. And then there's this new nonsense about calling customers "guests." If I'm a guest, I should be getting my purchase for free!!!

    I still sometimes buy the British old car mags -- I'm distressed that currently no one seems to be carrying Practical Classics, although Barnes and Noble still another one of similar mien. And of course, they carry the higher class ones like Thoroughbred and Classic Car.

    Paul, NYC



  10. Casey--- thanks for sharing--- I have so many of the same Matchbox cars! I really enjoy our posts, Merry Christmas, Rob

    1. I enjoy having you go through the "back catalog" of posts here! Hope you have great holidays, Rob. -casey