Lionel, LLC - The MPC/General Mills Era (1969-1986)

The MPC/General Mills Era (1969-1986)

The bankrupt Lionel Corporation sold the tooling for its then-current product line and licensed the Lionel name to General Mills in 1969, who then operated Lionel as a division of its subsidiary Model Products Corporation. General Mills did not buy the company, however. The Lionel Corporation became a holding company and invested in a number of ventures, including what would eventually become an East Coast chain of toy stores known as "Lionel Leisure World".

Due to General Mills' cost-cutting measures, production of Lionel-branded toy and model trains returned to profitability, but sometimes at the expense of quality. Detail was often sacrificed, and most of the remaining metal parts were replaced with molded plastic. A number of MPC's changes to the product line endure to the present day, the most noticeable being the use of needlepoint axles and trucks made of Delrin, two changes made to reduce friction and allow longer trains. Also starting in 1973, MPC experimented with a line of cars it called "Standard O," which were scaled to 1:48 (most postwar Lionel and MPC production was undersize for O scale). The experiment's failure is generally blamed on MPC's lack of a 1:48 locomotive and caboose to go with the cars; when it was repeated again in the 1980s with locomotives of appropriate size, it proved more successful.

An internal reorganization after 1973 caused Lionel to become part of General Mills' Fundimensions group. Although Lionel's tenure with MPC was relatively short, "MPC" is the most commonly used term for the 1970-1985 era.

In 1979, General Mills resurrected the American Flyer brand and product line, which Lionel Corporation had purchased from its bankrupt competitor (The A. C. Gilbert Company of New Haven, Connecticut) several months prior to its own bankruptcy in 1967. American Flyer products by Gilbert made after World War II are scaled roughly to a 1:64 proportion and are known as S gauge; their most distinctive feature, however, is that they operate on two-rail track as opposed to Lionel's three-rail trackage system.

With so many years of absence from the market, Gilbert American Flyer S gauge trains were no longer considered a direct competitor to Lionel's 1:48 proportion O gauge trains. To this day, Lionel markets American Flyer S gauge in limited quantities as collectibles.

The year 1982 brought General Mills' ill-fated move of train production from the United States to Mexico. Some Lionel fans were angry simply because the trains had been made in the United States for more than 80 years, while others criticized the quality of the Mexican-produced trains. Lionel production returned to the United States by 1984. During this time, corporate offices were retained at the company's Mount Clemens (later, Chesterfield), Michigan, location.

When General Mills spun off its Kenner-Parker division in 1985, Lionel became part of Kenner-Parker. Lionel was sold again in 1986, this time to toy-train collector / real estate developer Richard P. Kughn of Detroit, Michigan and was known as Lionel Trains Inc (LTI).

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