Monday, November 18, 2013

November 18th Matchbox Ambassador Report, by Nigel Cooper...

Ambassador Report 13

As I mentioned last week, I have a limited number of new images to show and answers to just a few questions from Mattel, pending their return from Asia. I have therefore filled some space with another look back in time.

I was casually flicking through some old notes I had written many years ago regarding Matchbox Toys and was amazed to read what had been achieved only 45 years ago. Les Smith and Jack Odell had just heard that in December 1968 they were to be conferred with OBEs in recognition of their achievements for industry. (This was an award bestowed by the Queen to outstanding success in a particular walk of life). At this time Lesney was employing almost 6000 people and sales continued to boom in 130 countries. Seven new Lesney factories were scheduled to be in production by the end of June. In addition to the various model ranges, Matchbox Build-a-Road, Matchbox Traffic game and Matchbox Motorway No. 12 were new items designed to stimulate sales. A new Service Station joined the Matchbox accessories range together with three different sized carry cases. A huge variety of card displays were freely available for retailers and no self-respecting toyshop in Britain could fail to cash in on the Matchbox range. However, it was not just toy shops that enjoyed the success of Matchbox. Last week a collector told me he purchased his toys from an electrical showroom – Curry’s and in my home town it was a small cycle shop that always had the latest Matchbox models first. Retailers in the USA, notably drug stores, were offered an even wider range of display material and, if desired, a shop-owner could order models placed upon their boxes securely packed within a blister pack. 240 models could then be displayed on a revolving wire floor rack.


The price of a miniature model in 1968 was 2/2d (11p). The pocket catalogue revealed ten new releases but, before the end of the year, there would be eight more introductions to the range – a rate of a new model every three weeks. The innovation for the year was “Autosteer”. Dinky & Corgi had both used this feature on larger scale models but it had been thought that it was impossible to design a steering mechanism on miniatures. No other miniature manufacturer had been able to perfect a system of steering for models of this size. It was later hailed in the first 1969 pocket catalogue as “Another Matchbox first – Matchbox are the only small scale models to have steering. This unique device, developed by the Matchbox design team, turns the model in either direction by simple pressure. Look out for it on the latest Matchbox releases”.

Although in 2013 the number of new castings exceeds those of 1968, there is no Ford Zodiac with an opening bonnet and spare wheel, Iso Grifo with opening doors, Mercedes 300SE with opening doors and boot, Cement Mixer with revolving drum, Daf Girder Truck with 12 interlocking girders, Cortina or Mercury Cougar with Autosteer, 8 wheel Tanker or what I believe to be the longest running casting – the Pony Trailer with drop-down ramp and ponies.  Certainly it was featured in the 2006 Hitch ‘n’ Haul set and manufactured for some time after that date. I am not sure whether the mould is still in current use. These models offered tremendous play value for children and were representative of real vehicles. I am sure that some of these designs would sell equally well today.

Matchbox answers your questions
  • With certain stores continuing to request Hitch 'n’ Haul sets, is there any further thought to creating a few new designs for the sets?  You can still use the exact same vehicles, but refresh the design on them, or even simply just change the colours used? 
For 2014 we are not, but may do this in the future depending on the demand.
  • With the answer to MB724 Armor Piercing Tank being that it is not going to be used in its current configuration due to various reasons, is the MB722 Armor Recon Vehicle also fitting that same rule? Yes it is. It is also a heavy vehicle that gets made in China, and it looks like this could also not be compatible. 
You are correct.
  • If a premium series of models is not high on your list at the moment 
Nothing is slated for 2014 but we are planning a premium series in 2015. 

How about producing a series of simple, classic models just called 'Heritage' series? Priced and detailed roughly the same as the basic range, packed similarly to the 1-120 series and consisting of existing 1:64 scale Matchbox classic castings? In other words, something marketed similar to the 'Stars of Cars' range, which was very popular due to its choice of models and in particular its price point, but instead focusing this time on a Classic, 'Heritage' theme. It could be a way to market those castings outside of the main series as so many of them we don't get to see now due to them not having an obviously adventurous aspect to them! The New Alfa Junior which is planned for 2015 (fantastic news) could be exclusive to this range for its first year and would be a nice way to make a little more of it. In terms of future tools, perhaps focusing on more classic commercial vehicles could be a way to diversify and evolve the series even more? 

These are good suggestions.  We will take this into consideration for the future.
  • I appreciate Mattel may encounter the same problem as before where Walmart/Target are concerned, however Hot Wheels and Matchbox are now quite separate in their direction. A range of classic vehicles surely would be different enough to what is being offered so far in terms of the current Racing/Real, Adventure/Construction themes? I think it would be nice to see a selection of classic Matchbox models produced as a series in their own right designed with the 'Heritage' theme in mind, similar to the Lesney Edition concept obviously, but not on a premium level. There would also be no generic filler either for us collectors to complain about, apart from the Heritage Ice Cream Van funnily enough which does very closely resemble a Bedford at least! So much effort and time went into researching, investing in and producing these gems it seems terribly sad more can't be made of them. I do appreciate the likelihood that this is an avenue that Mattel may have already gone down however. Just an idea. 
With every new year, opportunities may present themselves. 

You asked for clarification on the "better generics".  These are vehicles which are perceived by collectors as being a very good representation of a real vehicle but with the ability to avoid paying a license fee to a specific manufacturer.  Both the Swamp Raider and Badlander are vehicles that collectors see using an influence of a certain manufacturer with a sprinkling of other manufacturers and mixing them up to make a generic look that still feels fairly realistic.  This is in relation to a vehicle that has huge wheels (Blaze Buster, Flame Smasher, upcoming 2014 4x4 School Bus etc), or a completely fantasy look (Whiplash, Turn Tamer etc).  I refer to vehicles that are specifically designed to appeal to younger children.  However, the main question for the Badlander and Swamp Raider was asking if they were going to be used as a single issue in the basic range.  They have been used in multipacks, but have never been issued on their own as a basic range model. 
Thanks for defining what was meant by “better generics”. Based on this definition we will continue to create “better generics” styling if you will but will also continue to apply our new Matchbox aesthetic if we feel it is necessary.  

We were wondering if they will ever be issued as a single basic range model? 
Yes, in the future the Bad Lander and Swamp Raider will be used in the singles line.  As we have stated before, these models are not going away.

Talking of the Swamp Raider (this could also apply to the new Terrainiac).  The rear canopy is detachable, and as such are there any plans to simply create an alternate rear section to insert and therefore create a different look to the vehicle? 
        This is possible.

Can Matchbox do any racing? What specifically can Matchbox do?
Hot Wheels does racing. We can do exploration, endurance, discovery, rescue and mission based experiences which includes military. We have not completely abandoned city vehicles which will still include sports cars, hatchbacks, luxury cars, delivery & service vehicles. These will still be included in the “Adventure City Segment”.

What’s New?

The first image this month is the latest Refuse or Trash Truck, called the Garbage Gulper. The container at the front is able to pivot though I am not sure exactly where it will deposit its load. It will be included in the regular miniature line.

Compare this Trash or Refuse Truck to some of those issued in the past.

The recoloured Hazard Squad Fire Truck shown above will feature in next year’s Mission Force Fire set along with a new Skybuster to be known as Blaze Buster. The second model SB-55 will be called Rescue Blade and will be the second Skybuster included in the set – BFK 59.  

I make no apology for showing the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Type 34 from four different angles. This is scheduled to be part of the 9/10 packs and I would assume in the Basics singles line.

Here is the range that was available in 1957, with apologies for the flash reflection, when the first Refuse Truck joined the range and then the shop display of 1968 showing the models from that era.

Here is a colour trial for what I think may be the longest running Matchbox model. Who knows whether it will feature again but it certainly has play value?


  1. Where was it said that an Alfa Junior Zagato was coming for 2015?! Awesome! T34 looks great, of course.

    1. I think it was first stated a number of reports ago, though subtly.

  2. Alfa Romeo is a brand of the year! The hotwheels will do the 8C and Matchbox 4C. Here's an idea: how about transforming the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA (sales success) Alfa Romeo GTAM with a few little touches ...

    here's an example road version, ie fits in the permissions that Matchbox has:

    1. WOW. The Alfa in that link is a thing of pure beauty. The gold wheels and trim are just the beginning...

  3. Great report Nigel, and great insight into models of the past. I particularly like the 1968 display, so many trailers, features, and additional play value. The #45 white Ford Corsair with the green boat atop its roof is pretty awesome.

    Just curious, I know some trailers were sold separately like #23 in their own box but were all of them sold this way? Including the matching trailer for truck #1 in the 1968 photo? I actually found that #50 John Deere in a bin at a second hand video game store yesterday for 0.25 (if only it still had tires and half its paint!), and a nearly mint green Rolamatics Ambulance for the same price!

    The new 'Garbage Gulper' is saddening, all those that came before it were great, and it... is a sad representation of what Matchbox thinks children envision when they see a garbage truck???

    Though the Type 34 is a bright spot & all 4 photos are appreciated!

    1. Yes: all the trailers were sold as separate items. This was before the days of twin packs but they were clearly popular because of the number of trailers in the range and most cars had tow hooks.
      I wonder if all the Refuse trucks produced by Matchbox over the years were lined up for children to play with now, which they would go for. Maybe we would be surprised.


  4. I like the Karmann Ghia

    The two aircraft are so-so

    Could Hazard Squad get another licensed design?

    It's time we had another horse trailer. The other's design is from more than 40 years ago. Plus, with Mattel's cost cutting, the horses and other important parts would not be allowed.

  5. Where are my questions for mattel to answer? I wanted to see the answers for my questions from your last ambassador report.

  6. Please note that Mattel are only able to answer certain questions. At the moment the Matchbox team is in Asia.

  7. I like the Hazard Squad Fire Truck's design. It looks like it's WAY better than other versions throughout the years. But can't Matchbox rename it for this year? Like Fire Rusher, or, uhh, whatever Matchbox renames it.