When it comes to collectible toy cars, Hot Wheels are generally considered the gold standard. But in the late 1980s, a four-wheeled upstart arrived: Micro Machines, a smaller-scale line of racers that briefly left Hot Wheels on the side of the road.
While the cars were novel, the line’s secret weapon was in the marketing—specifically, the motormouthed delivery of their spokesman, John Moschitta Jr.
Micro Machines were the invention of attorney Clemens V. Hedeen, Jr. According to his website, Hedeen was developing toy concepts in his Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, toy shop in the 1980s when he decided to act on a suggestion from toymaker Galoob for a new toy car line that had a lower entry price point than other toy vehicles of the era.
Hedeen worked up 24 prototypes with designer Ned Cain, each one 1.25 inches long, or barely larger than a half-dollar, along with packaging. When he showed Galoob, they were immediately taken with the concept and agreed to manufacturer these Micro Machines and pay royalties to Hedeen.
Galoob introduced Micro Machines as “the smallest ever line of intricately detailed, stylized vehicles” that measured “about half of a man’s thumb,” and debuted them just in time for the 1987 holiday season. The appeal of their size was really in playsets—marinas, garages, parking lots, firehouses—which could then be connected to fabricate a “Micro Machine City.” A five-pack of Micro Machines retailed for roughly $4.50, while playsets averaged $5.
The novelty of the cars notwithstanding, Galoob struck gold in their choice of spokesman. Moschitta’s rapid-fire delivery was all but impossible to ignore. (Guinness agreed: He was named the world’s fastest-talking person with intelligible speech in 1988.) After training himself to speak at a fast clip as a youth, Moschitta nabbed a spot on That’s Incredible that showcased his ability to rattle off 11 words a second, or roughly 500 words per minute.
“I look dead but I talk fast,” Moschitta told The Washington Post. “Humor comes from a juxtaposition of the opposites.”
He booked a major commercial for Federal Express in 1982. Several other commercial spots followed, culminating in the Micro Machines gig, in which the mustached Moschitta pitched the toy cars to a hypnotized juvenile audience. (He avoided laryngitis, he said, by occasionally consuming a spoonful of petroleum jelly.)
Moschitta was also able to ward off knock-off brands by cautioning consumers with something of a catchphrase: “Remember, if it doesn’t say Micro Machines, it’s not the real thing!”
By 1989, Micro Machines had become the country’s best-selling toy, fueled in part by a completist’s desire to possess every one of the 300-plus vehicles available. While the size helped set the line apart, collectors had an affinity for their quality: Far from vending machine toys, Micro Machines had detailed paint jobs, shiny wheels, and even tiny headlights that would turn on with the press of a button. To maintain interest, Galoob kept adding features, like paint that changed color in sunlight and armor top accessories that turned standard vehicles into tiny tanks.
Micro Machines reached a new kind of cultural status with an appearance in 1990’s Home Alone: Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) uses them to trip up home invaders Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. The line also began scooping up licenses, offering themed vehicles for everything from James Bond to Star Wars to Star Trek.
When Hasbro acquired Galoob in 1998, in a deal reportedly worth $220 million, Micro Machines were de-prioritized. The line resurfaced in 2020 when Hasbro partnered with Wicked Cool Toys for a nostalgia-fueled revival. They didn’t use Moschitta, but you can always find him on celebrity message site Cameo.