A few days ago I visited a big toy store. I felt a sense of disorientation: my idea of toy is still that of forty years ago, and I didn’t find it on the shelves. The shapes have changed, the colors are different.
I didn’t know what to choose, they didn’t attract me.
The generation of our brothers had played in the sixties, in another environment, with own rules.
They were usually the first-born and were many, so each of them had many friends of their same age. They could play in the courtyard, in what was then an empty suburb, plenty of free space; they could play with the slingshot or the blowgun, they could run and sweat.
Their parents were relatively less worried.
I arrived after. If have to tell the truth, in the seventies things were arranged in order to underline just this concept: you arrived after.
Second-hand clothes and second-hand toys, first. Somewhat annoying for a child, but not the main disadvantage. The playmates were far fewer, and less prone to stay together.
The new rule was: don’t run, don’t sweat.
In the end, you played at home alone, or were alone at home watching television. Here, I’d say I belonged to the television generation. Cartoons, TV series and commercials took the place of friends, of the courtyard, of the toys, and of everything else you’d like to have but you couldn’t buy.
The toy cars represented the exception.
It wasn’t hard to ask and get one, maybe from your uncle.
It was the perfect tool in that situation. It didn’t cost much, it was small and difficult to break.
Anyhow, you would have played with it even if it were in poor condition.
You simply assigned it to the appropriate character. Sports cars: for robbers. Small cars: for grandfathers or inventors. Don’t ask.
Not far from the house of my grandparents there was a small jewelry shop. On display, along with the jewelry, there was a green toy car.
It was a myth, the most valuable thing I could wish for. Every time I asked dad: let’s go to see the car? Let’s go. However we have never entered the store. I had less than three years old, and that is my first clear memory of a toy car.
The most common toy cars were the 1/43 scale Matchbox.
One of the first models I had was a Ford Group 6, metallic green, with white interiors. Then I had another, metallic lime and race number 45: the replacement car.
Normally you didn’t choose the model, or color: you accepted whatever had wheels. Once I received, to say, an horsebox.
This not seemed strange to me. When my father bought his car he ordered the luxury model, white. They handed him the base model, red. Hence, it was a normal thing.
As a child I was a careless owner, and I lost pieces as long as I made a fatal mistake. I had just received a model of a Fiat 128, which was a goal, a point of arrival. And almost immediately I lost a wheel.
I looked all over: nothing. They never me bought another one.
One winter evening my brother asked to mum for permission to buy a toy car he had seen in the tobacconist’s shop, a stone’s throw from home.
It sounds strange, but that was the main point where buy toy cars. He had chosen a Lesney Lomas ambulance with opening rear doors that was, according to our scale of values, something refined, an item for collectors.
A few years later, in summer, I had the insight to look between the river pebbles, to find stones in the shape of toy cars. And I found them! Vans, sports cars, even a dragster. They did not have wheels, but they ran well on cement and on sand. Then, suddenly, dad threw everything.
Maybe I had become a little too old for certain things. Or they seemed to him nothing but stones.
A simple search using keywords like, for example, “Matchbox Superfast” or “Lesney Lomas Ambulance” returns plenty of material dedicated to the world of the toy cars; a documentation so extensive which, alone, is enough to provide hours of reading and entertainment.
On Ebay there is a constant and rather articulated offering of models: those who have lost their ones can retrieve them without excessive effort.
They are found primarily in the U.S. and prices are still low. If you like them, like me, with some small signs of use, enough about ten dollars to buy one.