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by Kurt Ristniemi

Matchbox Models of Yesteryear



The story of Models of Yesteryear starts with Jack Odell's love for old-fashioned vehicles.

- Lesney period 1947 - 1982

- First Series 1956 -1961  
- The golden era of 1960 - 1971
- After Hot Wheels Crisis 1969 - 1982 

- Universal period 1982 - 1992

- Universal Matchbox: Macao 1986 -  

- Tyco period 1992 - 


Lesney period 1947 - 1982

Pre Models of Yesteryear episodes at Lesney 1947 - 1955

Jack (John. W) Odell worked at the same company with Rodney Smith. He had particular casting skills and he joined into the Lesney Products & Co. Ltd.. Due to the English custom of taking stock inventory at first of January orders for component suppliers reduced during the last 3 months of the year. Lesney started producing toys during these months in 1948.


Introduction of the Royal Stage Coach.


The large Coronation Coach was made for the Festival of Britain. It sold 33 000 copies. 


Miniature Coronation Coach was manufactured and sold one million pieces. As a a result all toy models were miniaturized, and the 1-75 series was started.

The Matchbox idea was born when Jack Odell created a brass prototype of a small Road Roller that fitted into a match box so that his daughter could take it to school.


Jack Odell began designing smaller scale toys. These were to become the 1-75 series.

But Jack Odell loved old vehicles, and he wanted to produce more delicate small models...

The Models of Yesteryear of Jack Odell 1956 - 1972


Y1-1: 1925 Allchin Traction Engine The first model 1925 Allchin 7 N.H.P. Traction Engine was produced, but not marketed. 

The models have crimped end (not riveted)  axels. 



Y1-1: 1925 Allchin Traction EngineY2-1: 1911 "B" Type London BusY3-1: 1907 London "E" Class TramcarY4-1: 1928 Sentinel Steam Waggon
The four first models were introduced in January at the  the British Toy and Hobby Show at Harrogate.



Models of Yesteryear was advertised and the term "Yesteryear" was coined.


1959: Range limited to 14 models

Y14-1: 1903 'Duke of Connaught' LocomotiveThe range was limited to 14 models. The limit was broken by Y15 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost in 1960. 

The crimped end axels were replaced by riveted end axels. Possibly because of safety reasons.

The second Matchbox catalog. Models of Yesteryear series was included for the first time.

1960: Range limited to 16 models

Y16-1: 1904 Spyker Veteran AutomobileThe range was limited to 16 models. From hereon new models would replace old ones.

Y4-2: 1905 Shand Mason Horse Drawn Fire EngineThe first replacement was made because of worn down tools of the Y-4 Sentinel Steam Waggon.  The model was replaced by the 1905 Shand Mason Horse Drawn Fire Engine, which originally was meant to be model Y-16.

Y15 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was so popular that it was decided always to have a Rolls Royce in the model range.

Lesney went public: 4 million 5 shilling shares sold for 1 . They were marked 15 times over.  

1961 First Yesteryear Gift Set

5 First Series models. Was on sale for a year. (RARE)

  • No 1 1925 Allchin Traction Engine
  • No 2 1911 "B" Type London Bus
  • No 5 1929 Le Mans Bentley
  • No 10 1908 "Grand Prix" Mercedes
  • No 13 1862 American "General" Class Locomotive


1964: Plated models

During 1964 - 1968 Plated models were produced. 


1965: First color change

Y6-2: 1926 Type 35 BugattiFirst planned changing of color: The originally French racing blue Y6-2 1926 Type 35 Bugatti was issued as Italian racing red. The previous changes of tone had been due to difficulties in getting the same color paint. 


1966: Queen's award 

Lesney got the Queen's Award for to Industry. (1969). 3 600 employees, over 100 million models per year.  

Mobil promotion
In 1960s there was a joint promotion with Mobil. MOY models were given away in exchange for purchase coupons. Six models were in windowed orange Mobil boxes without model info:

  • Y2-2 1911 Renault Two Seater
  • Y3-2 1910 Benz Limousine in cream and green
  • Y5-2 1929 4.5 Litre Bentley Nr 5
  • Y6-2 1926 Type 35 Bugatti, blue, red
  • Y8-2 1914 Sunbeam Motorcycle with Milford Sidecar
  • Y10-2 1928 Mercedes Benz 36-220


1967 - 1968

Sales over 28 million pounds. Entered the Guinnes Book of Records. Queen's award. OBE for Smith and Odell. Export to some 130 countries. 5.5 million models per week. At some point over 1 million toys per day. 30 factories in England. 

Fading out Models of Yesteryear


In 1969 Lesney made 5.5 million models per week. Export in 130 countries. 40 % to USA. 

Export Achievement Award: 87% of sales oversea sales. In fact Lesney was totally dependent of export. When the most important export country, USA, started own and better production, crisis struck: 

Hot Wheels Criris
In the USA Mattel launched their Hot Wheels with enormous campaign,  causing a crisis for Lesney: Their U.S. sales dropped from $28 million to $6 million. Mattel had their production in Hong Kong, which was much cheaper. Also the Hot Wheels really turned lightly, unlike Lesney's wheels. Lesney answered the challenge with producing the SuperFast models for the regular 1-75 models, and automating, but Models of Yesteryear was halted.

1970 - 1972

 No production of the Models of Yesteryear. (or production was stopped in the end of 1971, no production 1972-1973). Only old stocks were sold. 



Jack Odell retired.

Yesteryears were presented in the 1973 catalogue, but they were not issued. New models were produced and old ones painted with new colors. 

Raw material stocks were cut because of the oil crisis. This meant small stocks of also plastic parts. the Y13-3 1918 Crossley canopy and and grill inventory ran out.

An eight-week nationwide power strike was followed by a strike at Lesney's fatling shops, which shut the company down. This was followed by a fire and flood which destroyed much of the Rochford factory. Production of Yesteryear was halted as priority was given to the SuperFast line.

The woodgrain box was introduced.


Re-enter of Models of Yesteryear 1974 -1982

In the 1970s many toy manufacturers went bankrupt. Demand for toys was poor because of depression and new games.

1974: Woodgrain series 

Models were re-vamped in Europe, but not in the U.K. 

The new Yesteryear models were larger, heavier, streamlined cars from the 1920s and 1930s. They had similar standardized wheels, wide tires, metallic colors, plenty of plastic parts. - The pre-launch narrow wheels were tried on Y2-3 Vauxhall and Y3-3 Riley.

Many cross over models with parts from the old stock. 

First commercial model since 1959: 13-3 Crossley RAF.



Yesteryears re-entered the collector's market and were introduced to the U.S. market. 

The U.S. sales organization asked for more variations: The Y8-3 1914 Stutz was issued in two tone green.


1978: Livery changes 

The Y5-4 Talbot Van was issued. It was the first van since the First Series. The van was used for several livery changes during the years. 

Beckenham Appeal Models: 18 uniquely beclouded models were auctioned at Sotheby to raise funds to buy a local radio system for Beckenham Hospital. They are classed as code 4 models.



New colors and liveries. 14 color changes. 

The straw box was introduced. 



Jack Odell rejoined Lesney as vice-Chairman. 


Matchbox Toys Ltd.

In June 1982 Lesney Products went to receivership. Assets and production were transferred to a holding company called Matchbox Toys Ltd. The first models of its own design were somewhat clumsy.


Production continued according to the 1980 program. (?)  

Gift set of 5 models. The set sold poorly. As an incentive a free Y3-4 B Ford Tanker, "Zerolene" was given to retailers.

Universal period 1982 - 1992

Universal Matchbox Group

In December 1982 Universal Group bought Matchbox Toys Ltd. and the marketing companies for France, Germany and Australia for 16.5 million pounds.  In Hong Kong a holding company was formed for them, called Matchbox International Ltd. Later Universal Matchbox Group.

Jack Odell bought much of the tooling and machinery and founded his own diecast company called Lledo (Odell spelled backwards) in Ponders End, North London.

In 1980 the Universal Group had bought space in Macau. In 1982-83 much of the Lesney tooling was was moved to Macau. R&D and Yesteryears were left to England until 1987.



Matchbox International: No Code 2 models. (1982 - 1990).

Limited Edition models
Limited Edition models were produced in lesser quantities, and they were marketed for shorter times than regular MOY models. Models were packed in the new maroon (J) type box.  - From 1991 all Matchbox Toys models were LE models, except for the SLE models.  

Limited Edition models were produced for Christmas. Old models were valuable as they were scarce on the market. New models ended up to collectors and were not to expected on the market for a long time. There was a need for special collectible models. 

- no re-coloring
- no re-livery
- no re-run

Y5-4 G: 1927 Talbot Van, "Wright's" 



Y13-3 C Crossley, "Carlsberg" was the first model to have "Matchbox Toys Ltd." on thebase plate instead of "Lesney Products".

Matchbox International was formed. Policy: absolute NO for Code 2 models.



Connoisseur Collection Set: a limited presentation set of six models in new enhanced liveries packaged in a mahogany box with a numbered certificate. The models had been in production during the 1960s and early 1970s. Matchbox International realized that Yesteryears was a range for collectors, but they did not realize that the collectors were ordinary people, who often had to save the money for new models. The Collection was too expensive, the price fell and it was no big hit. Matchbox offered a Y25-1 B, 1910 Renault Type AG Van, "James Neale" free  to retailers who ordered the set.

  • Y1-2 1911 Ford Model T Car in black
  • Y3-2 1910 Benz Limousine in blue
  • Y4-3 1909 Opel Coupe in red
  • Y11-2 1912 Packard Landaulet in cream and brown
  • Y13-2 1911 Daimler Type A12 in blue
  • Y14-2 1911 Maxwell Roadster in cream and green



Four Limited Edition (LE) models in bright dark red and gold foil boxes. 

  • Y5-4 I: 1927 Talbot Van, "Dunlop" in 1984
  • Y12-3 Q: 1912 Ford Model T Pickup Truck, "Imbach"

First Special Limited Edition (SLE) model:
- extra high standards
- no re-coloring, no re-livery, no re-production
- small production amount

Production amounts were
- standard MOY models: over 100 000
- Limited Edition models: 80 000
- Special Limited Edition models: 60 000.

A Harrods special model: The Y29-1 A, 1919 Walker Electric Van, "Harrods"  was made for the Harrods department store, who paid for the tools. The model was sold only thru Harrods, London. 

Universal Matchbox: Collections 1986 - 1992

1986 company changed name to Universal Matchbox


Production to Macao
During 1986-87 (1985-1986) production was moved to Macao. New shiny red boxes. Production of MOY models was totally moved in the end of 1987.

Diorama models
Standard MOY models were sold in dioramas for a few years. Models were especially utility vehicles in bright colors. Price was same as wit regular models. 

Grand Prix models
Matchbox planned a special Matchbox Grand Prix race for historic racers to be held before the F1 race. The plan was  never realized. However racer models were produced:

  • Y10-4 1957 Maserati 250F
  • Y11-4 1932 Bugatti Type 51
  • Y14-4 1936 E.R.A. "R.1.B"
  • Y16-3 1960 Ferrari Dino 246/V12


'30 Years of Models of Yesteryear'
Special Christmas Box celebrating 30 years of Models of Yesteryear.

  • Y25-1 D: 1910 Renault Type AG Van, "Eagle Pencil"



In April Universal Matchbox bought the Dinky trademark. Rochford factory in Essex closed.

First steam vehicle since First Series: Y8-5 A 1917 Yorkshire Steam Wagon, "Johnnie Walker" by Matchbox Toys.

Rochford factory in Essex was closed.


Passport Scheme
UK Appointed Stockist Passport Scheme 1987 (1988?)  - 1991
Customers were advised to buy their models from regular toy shops. For every item bought they got a stamp on their passport. At the end of the year they could then buy a Framed Cabinet model with the fully stamped passport and extra money. The framed cabinet was found hard to produce, so in 1991 the passport scheme model was a pewter model on plinth. 

  • Y15-3 A: 1920 Preston Tram Car, "London Transport" ('Swan Vestas') in 1987
  • Y8-5 B: 1917 Yorkshire Steam Wagon, "Samuel Smith" in 1989
  • Y5-5 B: 1929 Leyland Titan Bus, "Ashton-Under-Lyne" ('Swan Fountpens') in 1990
  • Y1-3 1936 SS100 Jaguar in pewter on a wooden plinth (not cabinet) in 1991  


1989 Guinnes promotion

Y27-1 F, 1922 Foden Steam Wagon, "Guinnes" was first released in June as a part of Guinness promotion. It was offered as a promotional free item for three coupons.  In July it was released to all markets by Matchbox Toys. 


1989-1990 Great Motor Cars of the Century

Great Motor Cars of the Century by Matchbox Toys, USA: twelve of the 1989 Yesteryear models for mail order in the U.S.A. The models were given new color schemes and several of them were enhanced for the first time: They had extra detailing as better use was made of the improving tampo printing machines to highlight running boards, sills, strips, door handles, number plates and steering wheels. The models were packaged in a white box and their price was almost double the normal price. The promotion was a disaster.


1990 China Plants

New facilities were opened in China for Yesteryear production to replace the Macau facilities. Production was moved 1990 - 1991.

New policy:

  • Only 3 liveries: 1 + 2 reruns
  • For altered models 2 liveries: 1 +1
  • Recolor earliest after one year
  • All models Limited Edition

Enhanced models in UK & Europe. New authentic colors, skilful tampo printing. New Dinky-type boxes. - Pre 1990 colors had been selected to sell. Especially in Lesney era.  

In U.S.A 12 enhanced models in direct marketing in white boxes. 

Every model gets its own Y-number: no more limit for numbers-

New white wall tires. 

In USA Matchbox Collectibles 



From 1991 all Matchbox Toys models were LE models, except for the SLE models.  Livery was produced only one time.

Chinese Six collection was released in July. Six Yesteryars, fiwe of which have pre-1990 liveries were made at the China factory. Matchbox had re-issued obsolete models, similar to earlier production runs made in Macau and had packaged these re-runs in the old style maroon (J2) box marked with 'Made in China'. Originally the production run was meant for Poland, but as the order was cancelled due to political and economical problems, the majority of the run were sold through Woolworths and Tescos in the UK. The production run for each model was 5 000.
 The models were:
- Y2-4 1930 4 1/2 Litre Bentley in blue
- Y4-4 1930 Duesenberg Model J Town Car in silver and blue
- Y14-4 1935 E.R.A. R.1.B in blue and yellow
- Y19-3  A 1929 Morris Cowley Van, "Brasso"
- Y22-1 H 1930 Ford Model 'A' Van, "Cherry Blossom"
- Y22-1 G 1930 Ford Model 'A' Van, "Lyons Tea"

Antiques Road Show models: Matchbox Toys U.K. gave 6 relabeled Y47-1 1929 Morris Cowley Light Van  models for BBC to be used as prices in their 'Antiques Road Show Going Live' TV-program. 

Tyco period 1992 - 

In July 1992 Tyco Toys, Inc, New Jersey, USA bought Universal Matchbox Group Ltd. for USD 106 (110) million. In October Universal Matchbox Group was merged to Tyco.  Authorized Collectible Centers + sales by mail order. 1993: No more limit: Pre 1939 models. New numbering: series numbers.

1992: Over 30 models

Y31-1 1931 Morris Courier expanded the range over 30 models. 

Y31-1 B, 1931 Morris Courier "Weetabix": part  of the production run was ordered by Weetabix to be used in an on-pack offer redemption scheme in UK. 

Production amount of regular MOY models 18 000 - 20 000.


1993: New policies

New numbering and themes.

13 models per year.

Models no longer limited to pre 1939 vehicles.



Christmas treasures (YCC01)A boxed set of 4 Austin 7 Vans by Matchbox Collectibles in December. The models were equipped with an eye to hang them as Christmas decorations. A similar set (YCC02) was released in December 1995.

Fire Engine Series (YFE) 


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Page published 19.5.1996.  Last updated 12.02.2003.
Copyright Kurt Ristniemi.