COMPANY HISTORY (1969 - 1982)

(Reproduced with permission from Charlie Mack's book Lesney's Matchbox Toys -- Superfast Wheel Years, 1969-1982)

It was in 1969 that Lesney Products received its first serious threat from the competitors. It was in that year that Mattel introduced their "Hot Wheels" - low friction, wheeled cars that raced down tracks. Lesney Products scrambled to create their own frictionless axles for their cars and in the second edition of their 1969 pocket catalog was their first introduction of the "SUPERFAST" models. By 1970 and into 1971, the entire miniature range was converted over into superfast style wheels. Even the king-size range was re-designed and called "Superkings."

By 1973, Jack Odell decided to resign as a joint managing director, leaving Leslie Smith the sole director. In 1973, many innovative items were developed, including "Rola-matics." These models featured moving parts when the model's wheels rotated. But 1973 wasn't a good year for Lesney Products. An eight-week nationwide power strike followed by a strike at Lesney's fatling shop shut the company down. This was followed by further disaster - a fire then a flood at the Rochford facility that destroyed much of the plastic components division. It was at this time that "Yesteryears" ceased to be produced and did not re-enter the collector's market until 1975.

In 1974, Lesney Products diversified into the doll market with "Fighting Furies" and "Disco" girls. By 1977, Lesney's world work force was 6,000 persons. In 1977 and 1978, surrounding buildings were purchased to house the design area and more tool room area.

In 1977, Lesney Products acquired Vogue Dolls and in 1978 they acquired AMT, a U.S.A. company that manufactured plastic model kits. The AMT division suffered several setbacks including a move from Detroit, Michigan to Baltimore, Maryland. AMT was sold to Ertl in the early 1980s.

In 1980, Jack Odell came out of retirement to assist Lesney Products which was beginning to feel the recession crunch. In 1980, Lesney Products undertook a sum of bank loans to stay above water.

It was also in 1980 that David Yeh of Universal Toys approached Leslie Smith and Jack Odell to manufacture their products in his Far East facilities. The Disney series was one of the first from the Orient. Some models were also made in Japan, but the costs were too high there to continue further manufacturing.

In early 1982, Lesney Products had an operating loss of over $15 million. The creditors were starting to pressure the company. Negotiations for the sale of the company were taking place throughout 1982. Then came that dreadful day: June 11, 1982. Lesney Products was now bankrupt and put into receivership.

It is at this point we take our next break. Please continue to read for fun and what happened to Lesney Products and company in the part 1982 - 1992.

G Book

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