Monday, November 25, 2013

November 25th Matchbox Ambassador Report, by Nigel Cooper...

Ambassador Report 14

As I mentioned previously the Matchbox team have been in Asia and will be on vacation for Thanksgiving and so I am using material saved from previous questions and images received recently.

More answers to your questions from Mattel

9.  I am glad the Ford in the Beach Rescue pack was brought up, but as far as I am concerned, it was not a running change, suit yourself as there have been no reports yet, and this packs was released months ago. The same happened to the Quarry King 60th. The "running change" to include the ladder never happened. 

You are correct about the Quarry King 60th. We assumed that a running change would happen but apparently it didn’t.  You should see the changes to the Ford however. 

10.  Regarding the 2013 Outdoor five-pack. It consists of MB805 1985 Toyota 4Runner, MB784 Jeep Willys, MB827 VW Saveiro, MB436 Chevrolet Suburban and MB847 Travel Trailer. MB827 VW Saveiro was the mainline model of the pack, but it was shortly found that MB784 Jeep Willys was also a mainline model. Why does this pack have two mainline models? We should have a compensated exclusive vehicle elsewhere! 

Some packs may have one, two, or no shared vehicles.  We reserve the right to make changes at will.

11. It is good that the Brush Fire Truck has been found in a Mattel store though a pity so many greedy scalpers have charged so much for them. Can you please tell us how many were made as prices will fall if there are plenty around? We cannot disclose the quantity.  If we had been told when they would be placed on sale, we might have had more chance buying these models at a reasonable price. 

Since the Brush truck has never officially been available at retail other than our Mattel store there will still be a chance to purchase them when they become available.  We do not have a timeline yet for this.

12.  Will the artwork on the blister cards continue for 2014?  Yes. Will the packaging ever change for Matchbox - will we ever see a window box or any other packaging other than a blister pack? 

That depends on the item and what segment it is in.

13.  How come Mattel persists with putting that meaningless abbreviated Netherlands address on the base of each Matchbox and Hot Wheels car? We are led to believe that this is to meet EU legislation. Majorette is sold mostly throughout Europe and don't feel that they have to put an address on the base of their cars. It seems like overkill to me on behalf of Mattel to the detriment of the models. So, who has it wrong? 

Unfortunately it’s you that has it wrong. Adding the Netherlands address is not a detriment to our products. It is a Mattel requirement that we will continue to follow. 

14.  I love the Volvo C30 but it may have seen its last recolour unless they re-tool it into the beautiful medium-light blue Polestar performance edition? That would be amazing, and a good 1:64 companion to the new BMW 1M! I imagine no Saabs will be seen. With the automakers future still in limbo I bet licensing would be a challenge? But boy would I love to see a 1952 Saab 92, 1960 Saab 93F GranTurismo 750, or 1960 Saab 96. Any Saab Sonnet would be great as well. I wonder if Matchbox has ever given Koenigsegg a thought? Mattel has not reproduced any in 1:64 yet, and it could certainly bring more new attention to Matchbox if they chose to do a 2014 Agera S! Do you have any thoughts on these Scandinavian cars? 

Our Volvo C30 was more popular overseas than it was on this side of the pond. If we see a Scandinavian model in the future that catches our eye we will do it.

15.  I cannot wait for the new Lambo Police. Will it be in one of the first waves? Can you let us know yet what will be in the first 2014 wave? 

We cannot comment on the content of our mixes.  

16. Some time ago ago I met Ryu Asada who told me he was a Matchbox designer. He told me that he often included details for the interior that no-one would ever see unless they pulled the models apart. He was very nice and explained the job he did. I have been told that he has recently designed a Chevy C10, C7 Corvette, Porsche Panamera, Fiat 500, a Type R Civic, a Honda Ridgeline, a Honda CR-X and a S2000 and even an old Honda from 1990. But these are not for Matchbox.  Can he come back to Matchbox so that we can have these models in our range? 

Actually, the Honda Ridgeline, Type R Civic and Porsche Panamera are already Matchbox models. I am sure that Ryu will do another model for Matchbox in the future. 

Dave Reynolds asked about the Swissair livery on the Land Rover shown recently. All of the Land Rovers were in fact pre-production in some small way but the Swissair livery was never issued because of licensing problems. It was to have been part of a three vehicle set with a Skybuster and an Airport Coach in brown and white.

A new Skybuster will be added to the 2014 range. This model is the Snow Explorer.

A Scout 4x4 will arrive in 2014 in this bright purple and white colour scheme.

The Jeep Wrangler with roof rack and camping gear is also a recolour and will be included, along with the 4x4 Buggy in the Jungle Recon 5-pack in 2014. 

Finally, a model that will be included in the 1:24 Scale Trucks sector next year called BGY80 JUNGLE 4x4 TRUCK. It was designed by Miguel Lopez with graphics by Michael Heralda. The left side features an opening canopy and there is a drop-down tailgate.

A Little More History
Like so many of you I find the History of Matchbox fascinating. I can’t remember who told me, but I think one of the courses at the London School of Economics and possibly other universities involved a detailed study of the history of the Lesney company with its ups and downs and the various lessons to be learned. 
Today many collectors are critical of some of the new items in the range. It will come as no surprise that there has always been criticism of some new models, with the fiercest often coming from Odell himself. One of the senior designers, Fred Rix, was told he would never make another Matchbox model after designing the 30a Ford Prefect. Odell’s description of this model and the 56b Fiat 1500 cannot be repeated here. (Even so Odell was the decision maker for a model to enter the range).
I spoke to Jack Odell and Les Smith on a number of occasions. It would be very difficult to find two more diverse characters. Jack was a brusque, dominant, somewhat intolerant genius of an engineer from the East End of London who had been brought up the hard way and could strip the engine of a tank. Les was a sophisticated, quietly-spoken gentleman who was an excellent seller and manager, who had travelled the world and became an expert in the buying and selling of silk, curtains and carpets. They could not have survived at Lesney without the other but it was always clear to me that they tolerated each other, rather than becoming friends. Jack always referred to Les as his ex-partner, never by name.
How was it that forty-five years ago in 1968 with the Toy of the Year Award accolade in the USA and a £28 million profit and seemingly everything that was being made turning to gold, yet by 1973 Odell had left the company aged just 53 and a £6 million loss had been recorded? (It must have been sweet for him to be asked by the banks who controlled the company in 1980/1 to assume control of Matchbox again, though by then the writing was on the wall and the company was subsequently taken over).

The UK range in 1969 (less the Aral Tanker) and in 1970 when most of the range had been converted to Superfast wheels.
By 1974 when Odell left in frustration the range had changed to this:

I am sure there were just as many disgruntled collectors in 1974 as there are today but these interpretations of what children and collectors are deemed to like seem to go in waves and who knows we may see a return to more realistic models in the future.

Although there may have been a number of reasons and certainly the two joint Managing Directors saw it differently, I believe that the main reason for the demise of Matchbox was the sad and untimely early death of Les Smith’s wife. Shortly afterwards Smith declared that his purpose now was to make Matchbox the biggest toy company in the world. I think Lesney was third behind Mattel and Hasbro at this time, but one of the companies might have been Tyco. Whilst Odell was at his most happy in the toolrooms, often designing new machines – he never had an office, just a bent nail to hang his jacket – Smith decided to implement his plans. He felt that Odell was too conservative and blinkered. He decided that Matchbox had to expand. He could only do this if he had a majority voice on the board and before Odell was aware, there were new management members, consultants, marketing and sales directors and a whole team dedicated to the expansion of Matchbox – all appointed by Smith. Now Odell could be outvoted. 

Odell may still have had the main say concerning the new models of 1969 and he liked the Europa but he was a lone voice against Superfast wheels and the expansion into plastic kits, dolls and a whole host of toys that were often doomed to failure. However, his greatest complaint was concerning the trade unions that Smith encouraged in the company. According to Odell, from this time Lesney did not have one full day’s work for seven years. Odell also lost the final say regarding models in the range and the American influence had changed from 2-tone cars like the Impala and Thunderbird to extreme versions of Muscle Cars and futuristic designs. I am sure Odell was apoplectic with rage but he did concede that his design of the 25 Mod Tractor was such a fantastic seller that its two moulds ran at double shifts for four months producing 10,000 models per day for over a year. He also explained that the rare version with headlights had to be quickly changed because air kept getting into the headlight design and led to too many imperfect castings. The steering wheel was also changed from this pre-production example.

And you thought that 120 models was a recent concept!!!

The four cars were examples of what Odell perhaps had in mind with the changeover to Superfast wheels but in the event they were not deemed to be attractive enough and were replaced by brighter colour schemes.

Nigel Cooper       November 25th 2013


  1. Fantastic report, and great content once again! Thanks for passing on my comment regarding the Volvo C30 and Scandinavian cars. Nigel, any background as to why the Lesney Fiat 1500 was hated so? I could see the orange coloured interior ruffling some feathers against the teal exterior but otherwise appears to be a great model, the luggage on the roof especially!

    Additionally, the SwissAir liveried set would have been sharp if the pre-production bus shown above is any indication.

    As far as the new models shown are concerned, they all disappoint me greatly other than the Wrangler which I am usually not a big fan of but the Zamac finish and restraint in colouring is redeeming. I still want to like the International Scout but it has so many distracting details in the casting itself, though this design selection atop otherwise fine purple paint makes it so much worse. Rather than squeezing 4+ logos, faux diamond plate sides, and indicators onto each side of a model with limited surface area, deleting 'MBX', placing 'Scout' on the rear, and incorporating the large '4x4' logo more subtly into the rear of the side diamond plate section would've resulted in a much more tasteful design. Simply my .02, would be curious to hear what others have to say?

  2. Where is batch P? I just got back from Walmart and they are restocking Batch F! If it wasn't for Dollar Tree I would have never found Batches L and M.

  3. This may be nitpicking, but the Snow Explorer is a recolor, not a new model. It has been around since 2011.

  4. Nigel Cooper! It's good to see you again!

    Anyways, noticing the Jeep Wrangler 4X4 looks a lot like the Land Rover Defender's livery. No replies for that. Some of you that reply, just go back to when Nigel (or mattel did) showed the picture of the Land Rover Defender.

    And that Scout, looks pretty weirdo. It looks like a recolor for 2013.

    So that's pretty much it! I comment again later or tomorrow.

  5. Will matchbox australian cars be made , like commodores , falcons to the newer models and the australian 4x4 models , like how matchbix sticks to realistic cars keep up the good work