If you were a boy in the 1970s, or the 60's or the 80's, or just about whenever in the later 20th century, Matchbox cars were the toy for you. They were portable enough to take anywhere. They were cheap enough that you always got a few for your birthday, or Easter, or Christmas. Over the years, you accumulated enough dirt-covered cars to fill a shoe box, and in some cases, far larger containers. You had them. Your fiends had them. Every boy had them. They were so ubiquitous that nobody needed to have them explained.
When I say Matchboxes, I also mean Hot Wheels or any other sort of similar scaled car. It's just that we didn't say "Let's play Hot Wheels," we said, "Let's play matchboxes."
You can see what a boy's imagination was like in cars. It was all about the big engines. It wasn't just the engines, it was BIG CHROME ENGINES with HUGE MUFFLES. Talk about crazy-crazy. But it was the 70's, and big engines were a thing in that decade of automotive decadence.
Matchboxes got played with EVERYWHERE. And by everywhere, I do mean everywhere. Inside, outside, in pools, in dirt, on tracks, on streets, down hallways and stairwells, across grass, out second story windows, and just about anywhere else that a boy could park himself and start playing.
Outside, I recall two favorite places. One was under an oak a few yards away, and another was on a flat area up a small hill. These areas were turned into dust with the frequency of our play. The top of the hill was the clear favorite. We would make streets lined with sticks, build garages out of sticks, leaves, and dirt, and also build businesses. I always built a Duggie's Donuts because that was just too cool.
Inside, we preferred playing on any decently flat surface. Roll-ability was king, but carpeting proved no obstacle.
If we could, we hooked up track to a table or some stairs and rolled the cars down, either racing, or just seeing how far we could make a car go. We usually exceeded speed limits, causing our cars to flip off the track at the turns. The tracks themselves began with a plastic clamp that screwed to the table. The things were amazingly sturdy for their poor construction. Essentially, they were as tough as a plastic item could be formulated. The tracks themselves connected via plastic tongues which were often easier to get on than they were to get off.
I had a Matchbox City. This was a suitcase style play set that opened up into a city. I took pretty good care of it for most of its life, although I did lose the tops to the houses. Somewhere around 5th or 6th grade, I was done with it and stomped it, so my father had words with me about breaking my toys. I guess we could have given it away, but my odds were on tossing it out. If I still had it, it would be no collectible.
My brother had an oval race set, where pulled levers to make the cars go. Research tells me that it was the Thundershift 500. I didn't remember the scoreboard at all because it was long gone and we just used the turn. As the turn wasn't banked enough, we often lost cars over the back edge. As you can see, the inside driver had the advantage.
I looked for my favorite car, which was something like an orange Lamborghini. I think that this was the one. I loved it. It was my special car. I chose it above all others. I never lent it out. To protect it one winter, I wrapped it in tape. Predictably, that was a horrible idea and I lost some of the paint. I was very annoyed when my mother gave my cars away. My beloved orange car went with that. (This sort of thing was pretty typical of my mother.) I'm not sure what exactly it looked like, so here's a few representative cars.
Below are some cars that I remember. In almost all cases, the stickers went missing, and other odd parts were removed. We played with those toys hard. It's a tribute to their construction that they withstood our assaults. The cars themselves have to bee seen to be believed, so do a Google search on Hot Wheels and Matchbox. I do no justice to the sheer variety of cars that were out there.
This one had no sticker left on front and the engine was missing.
I have no idea why I had a hovercraft, but I had one. Mine was in far worse condition. The thing had thin little wheels on the bottom.
One of my friends had this weird car below.