This car life has no limits — and no end, really — but it does have a beginning.
And, for most of us, toy cars were the start. Sure, we noticed cars when we were out and about with our parents, but my toy cars — mostly Matchbox cars, as my mother was English — were more interesting, as they were mine.
I can shut my eyes and recall unwrapping the Matchbox Lotus Racing Car — British Racing Green of course — along with a Rolls-Royce Phantom V (with an opening trunk) on Christmas Day, 1966. I also got the tipping Refuse Truck, which was the high point of the entire year.
Back then, Matchbox had elaborate displays of their tiny cars and trucks at every department store — in the United States and the UK. I spotted my favorites well before Christmas, and my longing lasted for an endless month or so.
Over time, my collection grew to more than 100 cars. On Saturday mornings, I lined them up along the kitchen table, while my father cooked pancakes to the swinging beat of the Count Basie big band on the stereo.
As I got older, I grew interested in the Matchbox Models of Yesteryear line, which were bigger — about 1:35 scale — and had more detail. My favorite was the 1909 Thomas Flyabout.
When I was about 13 years old, my younger brothers took over my Matchbox cars, and I watched them line them up in the kitchen while my father cooked pancakes. I put all of the Matchbox cars in a box when I was in high school. I dug out that box when my daughter, Courtney, was born in 1990.
Courtney lined those cars up on the kitchen floor while I cooked pancakes to that Basie beat.
I still own a few of those little, 1:64 scale cars. Their paint is worn to bare metal in spots, and many of them are missing doors or tires. They got a beating from 1966 to 1982 — and then another round of play from 1994 to about 1999.
I got a big surprise a few months ago. I was unpacking some long-stored boxes, and I discovered a Matchbox Models of Yesteryear Y-12 1912 Ford Model T truck in the original, unopened box. The truck is painted in Royal Mail colors, with GR on the side. The GR stands for George V, who was the British monarch from 1910 to 1936. I probably bought this toy while walking through Heathrow Airport in the late 1970s. I have no idea how it got into this long-sealed box.
Finding it was like getting a present from my teenaged self.
It now sits on my desk, and it gives me joy. I hope I will someday give it to a grandchild. These little toys are a great way to introduce a child into our special world of cars. And they also keep adults in touch with the simple wonder of childhood, when a little car in a cardboard box was, well, everything.
If all your little cars are gone, don’t worry — there are plenty of ways to capture that magic again.
For example, The Audrain Automobile Museum in Newport, RI, has a new exhibit: “Small Wonders: Mini, Micro, Pedal & Toy Cars.” The exhibit is open through February 14, 2021. Visit www.audrainautomuseum.org for more information, including a video preview of the exhibit.