For a brief time in the late 1980s, Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and other toy car brands could not match the pace of Galoob’s Micro Machines. These tiny cars brought all of the fun of die-cast cars at a fraction of the size. While they were only about an inch to an inch and a half long, they offered detailed models of real-life cars and licensed vehicles. With a selection of exciting play sets and a memorable ad campaign, the Micro Machines toy line dominated from 1987 until 1990.
The story of Micro Machines began with Clemens V. Hedeen and Patt Jo Heeden. Despite his background as a lawyer, Clemens V. Heeden decided to chase his love of toys in 1982. After opening Fun City USA in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Years later, they decided to try their hand at designing toys. The pair decided to work on a cost-effective set of detailed cars that were only about as long as half of a man’s thumb. They worked on a series of 24 prototype tiny cars that they brought with them to the New York Toy Fair. After presenting the prototypes to their first stop, Galoob, their Micro Machines found a home.
Galoob fell in love with the Hedeen’s toy cars and agreed to pay royalties to the pair. They then got to work, preparing the toy line for the public. Micro Machines made its official debut in 1986. The public embraced the “smallest line of toy vehicles”, which made the toy line the hottest Christmas toy that year. That allowed Micro Machines to dominate the toy vehicle market for several years.
To maintain the excitement over Micro Machines, Galoob launched an action-packed advertising campaign. To help the toy line stand out, Galoob enlisted the fasted talking man around, John Moschitta Jr. His ability to rapidly fire off words got him to the Guinness Book of World Records in 1984 for his ability to intelligibly speak 586 words per minute. His nickname, “Motormouth”, also made him the perfect spokesperson for a vehicle toy line. Fans would also remember the ads for their final tagline: “If it doesn’t say Micro Machines, it’s not the real thing”.
As the hottest toy vehicle for three years, Micro Machines received support from most of the major car manufacturers. However, they did not rely solely on these licenses. Galoob also experimented by introducing imaginative play options. For instance, they introduced the Insiders subline in 1989. This line featured even tinier cars that hid inside of full-sized Micro Machines toys. The toy line did not focus solely on cars and trucks either. There were also airplanes, boats, helicopters, motorcycles, trans, and more.
One of their most memorable side-lines was the Tuff Trax vehicles. This line featured TNT Motorsports Monster Trucks, which were gaining popularity in the 90s. This collection included standouts like Bigfoot and Gravedigger. There was also the Presidential Limousine subline amongst others.
Wishing to maintain the popularity of the Micro Machines brand, Galoob began to introduce licensed pop-culture vehicles to the toy line. One of their first licensed lines was Star Wars, which introduced the various vehicles and micro figurines of the characters from the movies. Galoob continued to bring in new licenses over the years. This brought in toys from ALIENS, Babylon 5, James Bond, MIB, Power Rangers, and Predator.
The popularity of Micro Machines also allowed Galoob to introduce a few limited-edition vehicles. The rarest of these toys was a 24kt gold Millennium Falcon. Unlike most of their other toys, this vehicle was only handed out as a prize for a trivia contest that the Star Wars Insider Magazine ran.
To keep the excitement for Micro Machines high, Galoob developed multiple imaginative play sets for their vehicles. Some of these play sets featured a gimmick that allowed them to combine and form a Micro Machines City. Meanwhile, others presented carriers and large vehicles that transformed into impressive play sets. One of the most popular of these transforming play sets was the Super Van City.
At the height of Micro Machines’ popularity, the toy line appeared in both films and video games. The toys famously appeared as one of the traps used by Kevin McCallister in the 1990 film, Home Alone. Meanwhile, Gallob’s partner, Codemasters, brought the toys to the NES in 1991. This game was also released to other systems like the Amiga, Game Gear, Master System, SNES, Game Boy, and more.
Micro Machines were not solely an American toy line. The line was brought over to Europe by companies like GiG. Meanwhile, Nomura Toy brought the toy line over to the Japanese market.
Despite the strong start out of the gate, Micro Machines began to wane in popularity by the mid-1990s. Still, the toy line remained available in stores until around 1999 to 2000, when Hasbro acquired Galoob. Hasbro had little interest in Micro Machines after the acquisition, so the toys vanished from shelves for years. The logo only made brief appearances as panels for some of Hasbro’s toys in 2006. Hasbro also temporarily revived the line to create a Star Wars: The Force Awakens toy line. However, Micro Machines once again vanished after the release of the Rogue One toys.
In 2020, Micro Machines made another push to return to the marketplace. Wicked Cool Toys brought back the toy line and presented the vehicles at the New York Toy Fair.
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