In 1953, the English chaps of Lesney Products came up with the toy car that would ...
In 1953, the English chaps of Lesney Products came up with the toy car that would fit inside the matchbox. Given that this was postwar Britain, their Matchbox cars reflected the stodgy reality of motoring in Blighty.
They were also the smash hit. America didn’t truly hop on the small-toy-car bandwagon for 15 years, and when it did, the result seared itself into the consciousness of generations of the car-nut children.
Southern California toy manufacturer Mattel brought in the former General Motors designer Harry Bentley Bradley, who had most notably moonlighted on the Alexander Brothers’ Dodge Deora show vehicle, and turned him loose.
The resulting line of Hot Wheels toy cars burst with American optimism and the Detroit-plus-SoCal hot-rod verve. The collection of 16 toys—of which Bradley was responsible for 11—featured the scaled-down Deora, Ed Roth’s famed Beatnik Bandit, the Hot Heap, an assortment of mildly customized current production vehicles, and Ford’s J-car, a prototype sports racer that killed Ken Miles and ultimately evolved into the Le Mans–winning GT40 Mark IV.
Developed alongside the vehicles was the famed orange track, which any child of a late 1960s and early 1970s will recall as exceedingly hard to connect—unless bottom rails sheared off, at which point duct tape became your speedway’s new best friend. Later playsets rectified the issue, and for some of us, there’s nothing like the original orange stuff.
With the holidays upon us, and as we scurry hither and thither in search of the hottest toys for the young ones in our lives, let us take you back to the end of a Johnson administration, when surf guitar, some plastic track, and the few sparkly toy cars were all a kid needed for the afternoon’s worth of indoor amusement. Well, that and the few firecrackers to blow up the cars.
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