If you had to guess what the first really successful Matchbox toy vehicle was, the one that convinced them there was money to be made cranking out tiny toy cars, what would you guess? An E-Type? A Model T? A tank? Nope, nope, and nope. The one that convinced them had a pair of disembodied shins. Were you going to guess that?

According to this charming 1962 video (and plenty of other sources) the first huge-selling (as in over a million) tiny toy vehicle made by Matchbox was their model of the Queen’s Coronation Coach, in 1953. But the story gets even better:

The model for the large Coronation Coach was made before the start of the Korean war and was then shelved. At the end of the conflict it was resurrected due to the death of the old King. Unfortunately as it was Queen Elizabeth to be crowned the extra passenger (the King) had to be cut off at the knees, and as can be seen in all these coaches, his feet and legs still remain next to the Queen.

There you go. The first million-selling Matchbox toy was an ornate coronation coach, and inside sat a tiny Queen Elizabeth and a pair of discarded regal shins. I bet neither of those things focus-group-tests well with kids today.

After watching the video, I did a quick bit of looking and found that the Matchbox name and scale came about because the founder, Jack Odell, had a daughter who went to a school with a rule that no toy could be brought unless it fit in a matchbox. So her amazing dad made her a tiny model of a road-roller and slipped it in a matchbox for her. That’s a pretty great dad.

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Anyway, this little video clip is full of delightful mid-century factory stuff: a guy with a ladle of molten metal wearing short sleeves, women rapidly picking through an insane amount of tiny parts, and what I think is a box that says “biscuits” repurposed to some industrial use?

Anyway, just watch the video and be soothed by mostly-now-dead-English folk making fantastic little toy cars.


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.