The Burnin’ Key Car series began in 1980 with a toy company called Kidco. Kidco was actually a subsidiary / marketing company of Universal Toys Group, and had previously released the Tough Wheels line of Matchbox/Hot Wheels style toy cars.
What made these a little different was of course the key and launcher mechanism. There were already a range of different ‘launcher’ devices/approaches for toy cars of this type, most of which involved loading the car into or against the launcher device, which would then ‘launch’ the car by some kind of force push against the car. The difference with the Burnin’ Key Car was that the launcher was built into the car itself via the addition of a loaded spring chamber. The very simple idea involves the key insertion to the back compressing the spring, and the key being held in place by a notch that clicks into the frame. Then when the key is squeezed together, releasing the notch, the car shoots off the end as the spring uncompresses. So basic physics really! But sometimes the simplest solutions are the best, and these are another example of great execution of a simple idea.
These things were big in the 80’s, any kid who had one of these things I can guarantee loved them, they were a bit different, fast, and they each had their own key! For a kid those little details are super important:)
The cars themselves are pretty basic when considered in the universe of diecast cars (and they are a combination of diecast and plastic), here’s a summary:
- 1/60 scale
- Diecast chassis
- Plastic body
- Spring loaded chamber
- Front and back rubber bumpers
- Opaque windows (to hide the spring mechanism)
- Rubber rear wheels
- Thin Hot Wheels style axles, wide wheels
They came in originally about a dozen models (over maybe 6 body shapes), then a few more body shapes and decorative designs were added between 1981-83. The body castings/molds are fairly low detail, and nothing like the elaborate designs you found in Hot Wheels at the time, or level of detail on Mainline matchbox cars for example. However to kid, the addition of the key and launching feature more than made up for that!
In 1984 the Kidco brand disappeared and the Burnin’ Key Cars started to be released under the Matchbox brand. This is because in 1982/83 Universal Toys group acquired Lesney toys and the Matchbox brand, and obviously decided the Burnin’ Key Car had a better home under that brand than Kidco. They were essentially exactly the same cars (even the same packaging and Kidco stamp on the base in 1984 – even though they were in the Matchbox catalog), with some new models/designs, but in 1986 with the MBX series they dropped the matching key for each model – disappointing. All the keys on the original Kidco cars could be used with any other model (they weren’t actually a specific key shape for a specific car), but having that actual keyring (with a screw off section for adding other keys, rings) was a cool touch.
These continued to be released in the 90’s under Matchbox, before disappearing for a decade or more (probably because Matchbox/Universal toys itself was acquired by Tyco Toys in 1992), before reappearing recently under Maisto (who I’m guessing must have purchased rights to use the trademark from Mattel who acquired Tyco Toys in 1997, or the trademark had expired).
Overall the Burnin’ Key Cars series can be grouped into the following groups, as far as I can tell, I’ll add a page under this for each:
- Kidco Mainline Series (original release + added models) 1980-83/84
- Kidco Demolition Series (with bonnets that smashed off in a crash) 1983-84
- Kidco Glowin Burnin’ Key Car series🙂 1983-84
- Kidco TV special series (Magnum PI, Knightrider, A-Team) 1982-83
- Matchbox MBX series 1986 – 87
- Matchbox Lightning Key Cars – 1991 – 92
- Maisto Burnin’ Key Cars – diecast metal racers, 2001-?
- Maisto Burnin’ Key Cars – Fresh Metal series 2010 -present
Here are some links I’ve managed to find for other content on these: