NostalgiaI can remember in the classroom, when I was just seven, my friend Carl showed me his model of the Matchbox Mercury Cougar “Rat Rod Dragster”, this was like no model car I’d seen before. The car was bright lime green with an exposed engine. I was familiar with the earlier Mercury Cougar, which had opening doors and came in a metallic light green, but this was something new. Hot Wheels hadn’t made a direct impact on my childhood at that time (1971) in England the pocket money rivals of Matchbox were the Corgi Juniors and Corgi Rockets. Finding a model of the Rat Rod at a Boot Sale in 2012, transported me back forty years.
In retrospect the early seventies were a tough time for diecast manufacturers. The sixties had been a boom time with Matchbox and Corgi selling millions of models and exporting worldwide but in 1968 a rival appeared in the States…Hot Wheels…this range were designed to be the fastest model cars in the world.They picked up on the hot rod fever in the States in the late sixties. The bottom effectively fell out of Lesney’s US sales. Matchbox didn’t make any dragsters at the time and the regular wheels didn’t roll especially fast. Hot Wheels developed an axle using piano wire and the miniature torsion bar suspension system meant the cars raced across the floor or on special Hot Wheels track really fast. The cars also came in metallic paints and looked like hot rods.
Matchbox replied first with Superfast wheels across the range in 1970.
I think it was a mistake to put Superfast wheels on the trucks, Matchbox promoted Superfast as racing with a difference, where you could race a double decker bus against a Lamborghini Miura or a refuse truck against a crane…but as a kid it was the cars we were interested in racing, the trucks were for playing in the sand pit construction site or on the lawn on a pretend farm.
In 1971 the first dragsters appeared in the Matchbox range: the Mercury Cougar Rat Rod, a Draguar Hot Rod, a Road Dragster and a Ford Mustang Wild Cat.
The following year there were more dragsters.
Lesney went bankrupt in 1982. The Matchbox brand today is owned by Mattel, who also produce Hot Wheels, their erstwhile rivals.