Starting in 1953 the Matchbox Series was the basis of what would become a worldwide phenomenon and make Lesney; the manufacturers of Matchbox; to at one time be the largest vehicle manufacturer in the world.
Each year had its own range of miniature vehicles which can be viewed in these yearly lists :
After 1969 the range was released as ”Matchbox Superfast” in response to the introduction of ”Hot Wheels” cars.
The 1-75 series began in 1953 when Jack Odell’s daughter was told by her teacher that she was only allowed to bring a toy to school provided it would fit inside a matchbox, Jack made her a scaled down brass model of the 1947 Lesney large scale road roller, She took the roller to school where the other children saw it and they all wanted one.
It was decided to produce a range of smaller models for younger children and this was funded by the profits made by the wonderfully successful 1952 miniature Coronation coach, the first four models were the road roller, the site dumper, the cement mixer and the Massey Harris tractor which went on sale in 1953, All of them were scaled down versions of models already being made by Lesney in the early large scale series.
The models were made from Mazac (US Zamac) which was a mixture of Zinc (94%), Aluminium (4%), and Magnesium (1%) and had axles made from mild steel. The earliest models had the model number cast on the side of the wheels and later ones had the number cast on the base, some models such as the road roller and crawler/ bulldozer were not numbered except for on the box
There were very many casting variations between models as the dies could be modified for many reasons such as to add ejector rings or pips to aid the removal of the toy from the die, also a model could be inadvertently changed when a die wore or needed repair, Due to damaged, worn or broken dies some models could be replaced with what appears to be an identical piece but on closer examination is a slightly enlarged or modified piece, Strengthening of weak parts of the toy or the addition of towing slots or window securing rivets all add up to many different variations, add to this the fact that Lesney used more than one die per model so there are countless variants for the collector to look for.
The axles were originally bought in from an outside contractor until Lesney had the means to produce their own, The bought in axles had a large flat nail type head and these were used until about 1957, The later Lesney made axles had a smaller head but these were much more of a domed shape, Until 1959 the axles were secured to the model by the flattening or crimping to the plain end of the axle, After this date the axles were secured by machine riveting over of the plain end leaving a rounded head with radial lines and a pimple to the center.
This method stayed in use until 1969 when the Superfast range with high speed wheels were introduced, One other axle type pin was used on a few models, This was a ‘panel pin’ which was a small nail that was used where the axle end did not stick out so was used to hinge the dumper tipper body on the early site dumpers
The wheels were originally die cast metal and as they were made from mazac they were given a mat grey finish by grenodising them which basically meant the wheels were etched by dipping them in acid to achieve the grey finish, Around 1958 grey and black plastic wheels were introduced followed a year later by silver plastic wheels, the earlier wheels had a course or “knobbly” tread and as time went on they were made with finer treads, by the mid sixties grey and silver wheels were no longer in use, Although there are other rare models the 56a trolleybus is the only commonly available model to be fitted with all 4 types of wheel, There were other types of wheels made for particular models such as the road rollers and crawler vehicles, also very finely cast wire wheels were in use for a time on some of the sportier models, Yellow, green and red plastic hubs fitted with grey or black plastic tyres and also chromed metal hubcaps were fitted to black plastic wheels or chromed metal hubs with black plastic tyres were in use for a while but were superseded by the Superfast type wheel.
Rubber treads were used on the various crawler type vehicles, green and black treads for the bulldozers, grey or green for the Army vehicles and white for the snow trac, the type of rollers used on the crawler vehicles closely followed the design of the wheel in use at that time although silver rollers are quite rare and grey plastic rollers are extremely rare indeed, only the 49a halftrack was fitted with grey rollers and this was for a very short run making the model one of the rarest 1-75s to be found, in fact I have only seen two or three of these in all my 30 years of collecting.
The paint was bought in so there are many variations in shade and brightness of the colours, most models were issued in just the one colour scheme but others can be found in several different colours, gold and later silver trim was at first hand applied to the lights, grilles and bumpers until about 1959 when mask spraying was introduced, the amount of trim can vary with earlier models having more trim than the later, On the earliest models the rear lights were picked out with red paint and some models had their drivers painted in light brown, red or white.
Many models were enhanced by the application of paper labels or decals, the first models such as the 5a bus had paper labels, these were later abandoned in favour of decals which had the design printed on to the top of the carrier film which unlike reproduction decals which have the printing on the underneath of the carrier film meaning the print on a genuine decal can be actually felt by gently running a fingernail along the surface of the decal, reproduction decals have a smooth surface so the print can not be felt this way, The first of these decals were applied to the major pack M2a “Walls ice cream” vans and they were applied with solvent which was soon changed to a waterslide type decal because in Jack Odells own words “The solvent decals made the factory a bloody mess!”.
Later Lesney reverted back to paper labels which continued into the Superfast era, care should be taken in the purchase of models with rare decal types as it is not difficult for the unscrupulous to switch decals between models to make these rare variations, a good example of this is the rare “peardrax” 5c routemaster bus and the “viscostatic” 56a trolleybus which can be easily made by switching decals between the two models to produce two rarities.
The box design was based on the then familiar “Bryant & Mays” type matchbox, as the range evolved the models were increased in size so the boxes were made larger as a result, the box design changed over the years resulting in six basic box types known as types A, B, C, D, E and F, The first three box types used only red and black ink for the illustration of the model and the last three types had full colour illustrations
The first box- type ‘A’ was only used for the first seven models and can be easily identified as it had the word Moko in script lettering, ie “Moko Lesney”. The ‘B’ box had “Moko” written in block letters, ie “Moko Lesney”. By the time the C type box was introduced Lesney had bought out Moko so the name Moko was omitted from the box entirely. The ‘D’ box had the first full colour picture of the model and the legend at the top of the box read “Matchbox series”, For the ‘E’ box the word series was repositioned to below the word Matchbox, the final box type ‘E’ had the model number in a large blue box at the top right hand side. There were several different manufacturers of Lesneys boxes so there are many variations, also the boxes were made wider and longer as time went on, more than one illustration design were used for the same model too making many variations to look for.
*Information on the 1-75 Series was copied with permission from the vintagebritishdiecast.co.uk website that was run by Nick Jones.