MCHOF’22: Jack Odell’s Small Contributions to Diecast Were Huge

When you think of early products from Lesney, you probably don’t think about components for real cars. Jack Odell and his business partners started that way, but eventually, they stumbled into the diecast model business. For that genius move and everything since, Jack Odell is the 2022 Model Car Hall of Fame’s Entrepreneur of the Year.

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Lesney started out making small metal components for British auto companies, things like dashboards and door handles. To commemorate the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, they made a small-scale model of her coach, selling a million of them. Odell decided this kind of thing might be a good direction for the company, so they put a steamroller, dump truck, and cement mixer into production. The 1/64-ish vehicles were packaged in little boxes, about the size of a… matchbox. And a brand was born.

Their original models were very basic and slow-rolling, but they were a huge hit. By 1966, over 100 million Matchbox models had been produced. The cars now had more detail including window glass, interiors, and even opening features. They also introduced the concept of a numbered series, each year having 75 models, no more, no less.

Jack-Odell.factory lessen

When Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning came along, Odell and company realized they needed to keep up with the times. The SuperFast series lived up to the name, and the brand was saved. He retired shortly after that, but without his guidance, the company fell into financial disarray. He came back to save it a decade later, keeping it alive long enough to at least sell the brand and keep it alive.

He also formed Lledo in the early 1980s, which began reproducing many of the older Matchbox models including the Models of Yesteryear. For launching and later salvaging this beloved diecast company, Jack Odell is the Model Car Hall of Fame’s Entrepreneur of the Year for 2022.

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