MATCHBOX, A10

Landover Hills wins big - and small - in Mattel contest

By ROBERT REDDING JR.
Journal staff writer

The town of Landover Hills is anxiously awaiting the delivery of 1,000 new 1995 Crown Victoria Drug Abuse Resistance Education vehicles, known as DARE cars, due to be delivered in early June.

However, these are not your full-sized DARE police cruisers, but toy cars that kids will be able to play with and collect as souvenirs.

The cars are being made for the town by Matchbox Collectables, a subsidiary of Mattel Inc.that manufactures Hot Wheels and Barbie dolls.

The company is including the town's police car in its series of Matchbox Collectables because the police department won an online contest against 30 other municipalities around the nation, said Therese Cronin, a spokesperson for the company's DARE contest.

She said the town was selected by visitors to the company's Web site.

``We took the visitors' top six choices,'' Cronin said. She said the cars would appear in stores across the nation in a long series the company began in January. ``[Landover Hills] is in the second series."

Cronin said the company gathered all the nominees from the online contest to pick a DARE Matchbox Collectable through the National DARE Conference held in Washington, D.C.

``We also took some submissions and looked at pictures of cars on Web sites," Cronin said.

Mattel picked the Landover Hills cruiser from a photo posted on a Web site, said Pvt. Mike Renfro, who designed the car in December 1997.

Renfro said he was surprised the car won because no one he knew posted the car on the World Wide Web.

``We used to take our cruiser home with us, and a gentlemen and his wife were looking for a house and took pictures of the car," Renfro said.

He believes those pictures were posted on the man's Web site; Mattel executives saw the photo and contacted him about the car in September.

``This is a special thing that Matchbox is doing to recognize drug abuse resistance education," Renfro said.

He said he came up with the design by looking at other DARE cars.

``I looked at different graphics in magazines like `DARE America,'" said Renfro, who sought approval from DARE headquarters to change the coloring of the letters on the cruiser. ``I think that is why my vehicle stands out, because the kids noticed it with all the extra decals on it. They know that it is Officer Mike's car when they see me coming, because it is so unusual and so different.''

Renfro is urging residents to buy the 1,000 commemorative cars the city has ordered, because there will be a limited number beyond that made by Mattel.

``We have passed out fliers to give the residents and their families an opportunity to buy them," Renfro said. ``Because once they're in production and finished, you have to take your chances like everybody else."

All the proceeds from the cars go to the police department.

About 300 people have already ordered the cars, Renfro said.