By on March 5, 2015

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Not long ago my mother moved into an assisted living facility and I’ve been cleaning through her house. After observing her, my daughters, my sisters, and my maternal aunts I’ve figured out that there’s likely an OCD gene on one of their X chromosomes. Of course, my daughters got that bit of genetic material from their dear old dad. Hey, just because I have 60+ egg crates filled with about 15 years worth of automotive press kits doesn’t mean that I hoard things. Anyhow, while cleaning I came across a box that looked like it hadn’t been touched since January of 1966, when we moved to the house that I’m now going through. Most of the things in the box were detritus, stuff that could have been thrown away before the move. However, as I was rifling through the fabric scraps and what have you, something bright red caught my eye.

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It was a pressed steel toy car, looking very much like an early 1960s Rambler station wagon. Something about it seemed very familiar and then it came to me: it was my first toy car. I remembered playing with it on the living floor of our house on Ward in northwest Detroit. One wheel was bent up into the body and another was completely missing, but it was mostly intact and in pretty nice shape considering it was more than a half century old. By the time we moved from that house I was already eleven years old so I probably hadn’t played with it in years by then, but mom does save things, which explains how it survived to make the move.

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My dad had a 1961 Rambler American two door in white. I would have been about six years old at the time and I’m guessing that maybe my parents got me a toy to match one of the family cars. I also remember from that same general time the larger, very detailed plastic scale car models that my brother and I got when our parents bought a ’61 Pontiac Catalina and our grandfather got his latest Olds 98, but this wasn’t one of those dealer models, just an inexpensive pressed steel toy, perhaps made in Japan, though I can’t find any maker’s mark.

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It so happens that I also just got a new toy car at the Henry Ford Museum when I was there to do a story on their Engines Exposed exhibition. The HFM is one of the tourist attractions around the country that still has vintage Mold-A-Rama machines. Developed in the 1950s by an inventor named J.H. “Tike” Miller, working with a coin operated vending company that is now the large foodservice firm known as Aramark, Mold-A-Ramas are small *injection molding machines that produce waxy plastic souvenirs while you watch them operate. They caught on big at the 1964 New York World’s Fair where there were at least 150 of the machines making everything from Sinclair Oil dinosaurs to coin banks.

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To people jaded by 3D printers, Mold-A-Ramas may not seem like much, but in the jet age they fascinated adults and children alike. The machines must have been well engineered because a couple of family owned businesses still operate a number of the 50 year old machines at tourist attractions in Florida and the midwest. As with just about everything that predates the digital age, there are folks who collect new and vintage Mold-A-Rama toys. If, like musician Jack White, you want your very own Mold-A-Rama unit, a reconditioned one will cost you about $15,000, custom molds extra.

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At the Ford museum you can get Mold A Rama statuettes of Henry Ford and plastic busts of Abraham Lincoln along with models of some of the museum’s more notable vehicles, like the Kennedy assassination presidential limousine. While the museum is independent of the Ford Motor Company, the firm and the Ford family are important patrons of the institution. Perhaps that’s why near the museum’s entrance a couple of the molding machines made miniature Ford products, a recent F-150 and a 1965 Mustang. I’m not much of a pickup truck fan, so I opted for the pony car, which was molded in a bright red, matching my first toy car. When I retrieved it from the hopper, I noticed that one side of the base reads “Ford Rouge Factory Tour”. I took the current Rouge plant tour soon after it was restarted a few years ago and I don’t recall seeing a Mold-A-Rama machine in the reception center so that may be a vintage mold from when the tour walked right next to the assembly line and visitors watched hot steel being poured from the vantage of the steel plant’s catwalk.

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Regular readers will know that I check out ease of child car seat use in my reviews because I regularly babysit my grandson, who will be three years old in a couple of months. He makes “vroom vroom” and “pshew” noises with the “fast cars” in the box of toys I keep for him here. I guess playing with cars is something that we car guys never grow out of. I can’t think of any adult car enthusiasts that I know that don’t have at least one scale model of a car or some other kind of toy car. I bet you can remember your first toy car and I’m also willing to bet that you’ve bought some kind of toy car for yourself or for someone else in recent memory. Please tell us about them.

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*The Mold-A-Rama process seems to me to be a cross between injection and blow molding since a blast of compressed air is used to hollow out the part.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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19 Comments on “My First and Most Recent Cars...”


  • avatar
    50merc

    Well, of course moms keep such stuff. I do too. They are memories in tangible form. Why discard what’s good to remember?

    A nice story; thanks for sharing it.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Wonderful story!

    I can’t remember my first toy car, I had hundreds of them, being a car freak from birth. I do remember all the big Tonka trucks and dozers and whatnot. If I still had all my matchbox cars I could probably retire!

  • avatar
    dkleinh

    Ah – “the white album – with the pencil on the front”.

  • avatar
    64andahalf

    I have a large collection of Matchbox cars and used to wax the individual cars with real auto wax and polish them in restaurants when I was bored with the grown-ups’ conversation. My favorite was a Saab Sonnett which I went without ever seeing in real life (a real car, not a toy) until about 35 years later I saw something in the back of a Saab repair shop in San Francisco. It was my Sonnett! The owner of the shop owned the car and appreciated (and was maybe slightly freaked out) about how excited I was to see the car.

    I handed down all my cars to my boys and I could name a make of vehicle and my eldest son at 3 or 4 years old could point to the associated car in the collection of toys.

  • avatar
    Maseraudi

    this is not the Beatles White Album you know… This is Frank Zappa’s Mothers of invention live at Fillmore east 1971… Total respect for Ronnie!

  • avatar
    Christian Gulliksen

    I’m sure I had others beforehand, but my earliest Matchbox memories from the age of 3 or 4 were a reddish-orange Renault 17 TL and an orange BMW 3.0 CSL.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Can’t remember my first cars, but between my younger brother and I, we had a lot. It makes me happy to watch my 4 year old twin boys play with the stuff that survived us.

    Best thing about having boys. Any wheeled vehicle on any flat surface is a car on a road. I can’t speak any Spanish other than simple words or phrases, but I can roll my R’s. I tell my wife it was all those years of making car noises.

  • avatar
    Christian Gulliksen

    Oh, and after a few seemed-like-they-were-into-cars-then-weren’t nieces and nephews, finally got a nephew (two and a half) who is very into cars. The last Matchbox I gave him was a Land Rover Defender last weekend.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Ronnie; thank you for an article that is near and dear to me. Because of the timing of your article; my early Matchbox memory and my latest purchase are almost the same. The earliest cars I can vividly remember is either Matchbox’s No 6 Ford Pickup Truck (red with the camper shell on the back), or the #50 Kennel Truck (green with the dogs in the back.) I remember it being green, so I think it was the #50; I also remember that by tilting it on the ground, you could turn the front wheels (didn’t work very well.)

    As I finish up my timeline, I am down to the last few, and more expensive ones. Today, I purchased a No 6 on e-bay. I purchased that one because the camper shell on it reminds me of the Ford pickup of a similar vintage that Dad used to own; we had many a fun trip riding in that camper shell.

    Both TTAC and Michael Banovsky’s “Car of the Day” e-mails continue to inspire me. Last Monday, Michael featured the Ford Cockpit concept by Ghia. I looked online, and someone already made a paper model of it. Here is the finished model, along with my paper model of the Ford Probe IV and the other Ford concept cars in my collection to date:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/16728182722/

    Recently, Marcelo de Vasconcellos wrote on the French designed, Brazilian built, and Ford marketed Ford Corcel. I found paper models of both generations/marks; I also picked up a Yatming model of the Ford Falcon; and realized that the Corcel styling had a lot of Falcon DNA in it; probably along with the remainder of the car itself.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/15996738864/in/photostream/

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/15999168423/in/photostream/

    (The Corcel II is next to the Ford Fairmont Futura at the edge of the display.)

  • avatar

    My first toy car was an Austin Allegro, once as common as dirt in the UK, now there are only six left. Wish I had not decided that it should be a victim of the blow torch at the metal shop at school, it may have retained its value.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    The one I liked was called a “crash car” or some such. It was composed is plastic parts that would easily snap together. The wheels would turn. You would push it fast along the floor and have it do a head-on into a wall at high speed. It would fly apart spectacularly. Reassemble. Repeat.

    What little boy wouldn’t like that?

  • avatar

    My first toy car, or at least the first one that I remember, was a friction motor 1957 Ford station wagon, which I got for my fourth birthday, along with a set of poppet beads, and something else which I don’t remember.

    I accumulated a pretty good collection of mostly corgi cars, with some dinkys and some matchboxes, in my youth. At 13 or 14, I boxed ’em and put them in the basement, thinking that when I grew up, they’d be antiques, and so I’d want them. I spent most of my adult life until 1999 in Washington, DC, having grown up mostly in the Boston area, and at some point, probably when I was in my mid to late 30s, my sister brought most of them down for me, without even telling me. It was a great surprise. Now, back in Boston, I have the cars on display in my kitchen, along with a few recent acquisitions.

    Favorites among the originals include a ’64 Riviera, a ’61 olds, a Ghia with opening doors, hood, and trunk, a ’63 ‘vette with the retractable headlights, and a Bentley Continental, all Corgis, and a Corgi car carrier which I got for xmas 1960; a ’64 continental and a ’64 Bonneville, both matchboxes. I think the only Dinkys I still have are a studebaker golden hawk, an army jeep, and a bus.

    Favorite recent acquisitions: a couple of Norev Peugeot 404s, a sedan and a wagon, two matchbox Citroen DSs, one from the ’60s, one from probably the late ’70s or ’80s.

    By far the most detailed, most precise replica is a recent acquisition (since the millennium), a corgi-sized Boxster, which I’m pretty sure I got at a Porsche dealer for $26.

    most of the Dinkys, the earliest acquisions, are gone, to my chagrin–the Rolls, the ’60 El Camino, a ’58 plymouth wagon that I deliberately trashed at age 7, to see what it felt like (I didn’t need to trash anymore after that), some sort of formula 1 race car, and others, I’m sure. I began getting them when I was four, at Miss Cannon’s toy shop in Harvard Square, a lovely store which is decades gone now. It was owned by Arthur Schlesinger Jr’s wife’s aunt, a fact I found out in the last several years.

    I used the matchboxes a few times in magistrate hearings, to demonstrate why I should not have to pay the speeding ticket (it worked).

  • avatar
    RHD

    The popular brands of toy cars were Lesney, Hot Wheels, Tootsietoy and Johnny Lightning when I was a kid. That’s probably how most of us caught the car bug.
    The one that I remember the most was a shiny, new Pontiac Catalina that I had at the age of about 7, with four doors, a hood and trunk that all opened. We didn’t have a lot of toys, so it was pretty cool to me. My brother tried to claim it as his, i insisted that it was mine, and my dad got angry and put it on top of the refrigerator. It was never seen again, no matter how many times I climbed up there to search for it.

  • avatar
    InterstateNomad

    This is a great article. Now I want to visit the Ford Museum, and I will.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I really like that lithographed metal Station Wagon .

    Sadly , all those toys I had as a child are long gone .

    I am enjoying reading the happy memories of everyone .

    My Grand Daughter is very happy with her toy Motocycles ~ she only has / wants a couple of four wheeled toys =8-) .

    Maybe she’ll grow up and be a competitive Moto Racer like her Mother and Father .

    -Nate
    (aka proud Grandpa)

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    We much preferred Dinky Toys to Matchbox as the Dinky’s were generally larger and better made. Also preferred them to Hot Wheels which made their appearance late in my childhood.

    Although in my varied collection were a Batmobile, a James Bond Aston Martin DB5, and a MonkeeMobile. All now probably worth a great deal of money, if I had kept them. My favourite was a silver Rolls Royce, probably the only Roller that I will ever get to own.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    Lotsa Matchboxes back in my day, most of which are still at home and safe. My favorites include a MB Cadillac Seville (bustleback) — missed the Hot Wheels one in the McDonald’s promo by two days back in the day — nice two-tone gray-over-burgundy as I recall. Also have the green Cougar wagon shown in @jhefner’s flickrs, might have the Roller @Arthur Dailey mentioned. For some reason, I scraped most of the paint off a “cinnamon” Caddy Fleetwood I had, but then repainted it in white-over-red Testors model paint. Also have a 1/18th-scale model of a 1971 Cutlass SX, Matador Red with white top, in homage to my Mom’s 1971 Cutlass “S” Coupe.

    I’ve tried and failed to track down models of all my Hondas I’ve owned (4) — the 1994 Civic EX Sedan exists in an RHD variant, but is nearly impossible to find; there aren’t any 6th-Gen Accord Sedans made (2000 EX-V6), only a coupe 7th-Gen (mine was a 2006 EX-V6 Sedan in Carbon Bronze Pearl), and the only 9th-Gen is a copy of a Chinese-market Sedan in black.

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