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Remembering the Micro Machines Phenomenon

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A veritable traffic jam of Micro Machines
It’s all fun and games until a parent steps on one of these little things…
Photo: Moxmarco via CC

When most people think of tiny toy cars, their minds understandably turn to Hot Wheels. While it’s true that Hot Wheels have cornered the market on small, collectable vehicles, there was a time when they weren’t the only name in the game. Welcome to the world of Micro Machines.

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The origin of Micro Machines

Way back in 1987, a toy company called Galoob decided to take the idea of the “toy car” to the next level. While plenty of toy companies offered small vehicles that kids could race across their floors, Galoob had something different in mind.

The idea was simple but brilliant: release a series of tiny cars that measured only an inch or so in length. These tiny toys would retail for cheap prices, but their collectability and minute size meant kids would beg their parents to buy lots of them. Inexpensive for factories to manufacture and small enough that a child could fit hundreds of them in a toy box, Micro Machines was a toy line that practically sold itself.

The line was an immediate success. The novelty of the toys ensured high sales, and the now-legendary ads featuring John Moschitta — the fastest-talking man in the world at the time — helped as well.

Each commercial ended with the oft-quoted line, “Remember: if it doesn’t say “Micro Machines”, it’s not the real thing!”

The rise and fall

From 1987 to 1990, Micro Machines dominated the toy car market. They beat out competitors like Hot Wheels and Matchbox with ease, and solidified their place in pop culture. Macaulay Culkin even used Micro Machines in one of his infamous anti-burglar traps from 1990’s Home Alone.

During this time, Galoob expanded the line to include playsets and unique vehicles. There was even a line of Micro Machines that had smaller cars inside of them. The property’s success also spawned books, video games, and apparel.

Unfortunately, the Micro Machines line was cut short when toy-manufacturing giant Hasbro acquired Galoob in the mid-1990s. Hasbro quietly discontinued the line, which had been falling in popularity since the turn of the decade. It didn’t take long for Hot Wheels to take its place at the top of the toy car market.

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In the years since acquiring Galoob, Hasbro has attempted several revivals of Micro Machines. Most would fail, but a recent 2020 revival — and a cross-marketing campaign with the Star Wars franchise — has been more successful. While it won’t likely ever reach the heights it once enjoyed, collectors and kids of the 1980s and 1990s will always have a special place in their hearts for those tiny little cars.