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Imagine owning a Jaguar XK 140 Coupe, or a Mercedes-Benz 230SL. How about a Porsche 928 or a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow? Hey, you don't have to be Jay Leno to own all these cars. You can have all of them and more and you won't need an extra large garage to house them, a simple carrying case will do. Welcome to the world of Matchbox.

Matchbox cars began in England in the 1940's. Friends Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith (unrelated, despite the last name) decided to build on a dream when they left the English Royal Navy after World War II. They combined their names to create the Lesney Products company without any idea of what kind of 'product' they would build. Fate and luck sent them the skills and equipment to do die cast work and they began making parts for businesses. During a lull in business, Lesney tried its hand at making die cast toys, which it sold through a Woolworth's in London at Christmas. The toys were considered, cheap, toss-aways by the stores, but kids wanted more and more.

The first vehicle to be produced was an Aveling Bardford road rollar (which was reproduced in 1962 under the Matchbox name). Within five years, they had developed a small line of die cast toys which included animals and fishing novelties. These toys were much larger than the cars we know today, but in 1953, the company began its 1-75 series which became so popular they stopped making the larger variety of toys.

In 1954, the company began using the Matchbox name on the cardboard boxes which held the 1-75 series. Although the cars were available for sale in the US, the company was still operating from Europe. In 1964, Lesney opened its first US base of operations and it was just in time to face what would become its life-long competitor - Hot Wheels by Mattel

Lesney tried hard to redesign their cars to keep up with the fast wheeling cars from Mattel. As the years went on, they tried to diversify by acquiring Vogue Dolls and AMT models but money troubles and freak accidents kept the company in the red. In the 1980's the company changed hands and Matchbox cars lost the Lesney name and were re-christened "Matchbox Toys Ltd.".

In the 1980's, Matchbox Toys once again tried to diversify with disastrous results. The company was responsible for the Freddy Kreuger talking doll from Nightmare on Elmstreet among other strangely inappropriate toys. Money troubles led to the company being purchased by Tyco Toys, famous for their electric trains and the license remains with them today.

For more than fifty years, kids and grown-ups have collected Matchbox cars. They've bought them from the toy stores, flea markets and high-priced auctions. You can join the Matchbox International Collector's Association or one of a dozen regional clubs all dedicated to seeking out that one perfect car you need to finish your collection.