Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June 10th Matchbox Ambassador Report, by Nigel Cooper...

Ambassador Report 42


For many years I have received a complimentary magazine called Toys and Games, sent because I used to attend the Annual Toy Fair in London when Matchbox had a huge stand. There were inevitably queues to get on to the stand and it was always the highlight of the year. Sadly, Mattel decided many years ago that they did not need to attend the Toy Fair and to my mind many potential sales were lost as all major competitors attended and displayed their wares.

The June magazine had exclusively Mattel logos on the front cover and I wondered whether I dared hope that there would be some mention of Matchbox within its pages. I learned that Mattel was the biggest spending toy company on advertising in the UK and that Hot Wheels has a new concept involving plastic track lanes which would be heavily advertised in all forms of media. It was a forlorn hope but I scanned the pages all relating to Mattel. Predictably, there was not a word about Matchbox ……..

This feature has been held over until next week.

The Austin Minivan returns for this year in the City Works 5 pack and is a new colour scheme for 2014.

These next models will be part of the singles assortments. Note that the Tractor Plow tool had been revised.  The manufacturing number is now MB 950.  The upper cab is now plastic instead of die-cast.

This Sky Buster called Duel Tail has a fresh decoration. (In the UK we would know a duel as a gentleman’s fight generally with swords and this Skybuster would be known as Dual Tail, but I guess the American spelling will be used worldwide.)

A Little More History

I can never satisfy every collector all of the time in these jottings. There are few collectors who want or can afford to collect all Matchbox models and so interest varies from one article to another. Some collect thematically or from particular eras. I receive requests to look at various models from different times. I am departing from the norm in this article as I am looking at a wide variety of models whose only connection is that they were never released.
Like many of you I am most interested in seeing what might have been. Many times I have seen a model which was a rejected colour trial or simply a pre-production version, which I think was superior to the released model. I am fascinated by these models. In the regular wheel days there were boxes that hinted towards what might have been. Thus I make no apology for an indulgence as I look at a few of my favourite pre-pros from across the years in various ranges and times.
Not many people were aware that another military model was destined to join the regular wheel range in the 1960s. It was to have been a tank – the Centurion Tank. However, even though other models had cost slightly more to produce than others, the Centurion would have been sold at a considerable loss. Les Smith told me that he had said to Jack Odell that there were too many military models in the range anyway – “It was top heavy”. Odell had another idea. He would make some larger vehicles that would not have to fit into a specific box size but would sit comfortably alongside the cars in the range. Thus the Tank ended up on the back of a Transporter and would make an excellent addition to a collection of military models and models could be individually priced.
I believe in those days that the amount of metal used to produce a King Size or Major Pack model was such that a pre-production model almost always found its way back into the recycling bin. I only know of the M-7 Cattle Truck in a different livery which appeared on an auction site relatively recently with a blue cab and a bronze trailer. Odell changed his mind on Major Packs and said they were neither miniatures nor 1:43 scale models which could be competition for Dinky or Corgi vehicles. Thus it was decided in 1966 that the Major Packs would end and be replaced by a larger scale King Size range. Although the M-9 Cooper Jarrett Truck and double trailer remained available for a few more years, the other models were either subsumed into the new King Size range or withdrawn. The GMC Tractor with Hopper Train was a massive model which had just been released in 1965. It was probably this model which signified the end of the Major Pack series. It was quickly modified to become K-4 instead of M-4. The very early Major Pack model is shown below with comparatively rare grey plastic tyres, together with a pre-production M-4 example with various odd fittings.

The regular wheel models shown are all colour trials. When the 33a Zodiac was being considered for a recolour, the metallic blue paint from the 44a Rolls Royce was tried but in the end a two-tone version was decided upon. The grey plastic wheels fitted to the Ford show that it was painted in this colour some years after its initial release. The Mustang was possibly considered for this metallic blue colour and maybe white was decided upon instead. No undercoat was used as it was just painted to decide upon a general colour. The GMC Pininfarina was a concept car and is shown here with standard regular wheel tyres before Superfast came along.

I never had much interest in King Size models for many years though I know that collections belonging to Charlie Mack, Everett Marshall and the late Wolfie Ginsburg contain some impressive models. Several of the later King Size pre-production models passed through my hands but one model that fascinated me was the K-8 Caterpillar Traxcavator with 1970 cast on to the base. Some variations are shown below. The silver version was produced for the ill-fated Big MX range and like the other models in this range once modified, could not be used to make standard models again. Note the casting differences on these silver models. At some time it was considered to fit tiny Superfast wheels but this never came to fruition.

When the Superfast range was being developed, it was decided that there ought to be competition with Hot Wheels in terms of paint colours. Matchbox had usually stuck to authentic liveries with regular wheel models and so this was a complete change of direction. It was therefore necessary to consider alternative colours. Some of the early colours were deemed to be too plain though today they may hold a certain charm.

The Faun Dump Truck figured prominently in the range for many years with a variety of names. It was first released in 1976, made in England with Lesney bases. Here are two colour schemes which were not chosen.

Colour Trial models and pre-production models continued to proliferate when the manufacturing switched to Macau. There was to have been a range advertising well known confectionery and beverage products but again the idea was dropped.

The next four models shown were considered for a Cartoon range but maybe because of licensing problems the idea was shelved.

When production moved to China, these were three of the models which did not make it. The white Jaguar SS was produced for a paper company in Australia. I have no idea why the project failed.

These three models were produced in Thailand. They all varied in some way for the actual model which was issued though the colour schemes are similar.

These three models have blank bases and so I do not know where they were made.

Finally, I am indebted to Peter Stevens who found this blister card for me with what looks like a Chinese label attached. I would be pleased to hear from anyone who can throw some light on this particular sticker.

Nigel Cooper      10th June 2014


  1. The first character means "buy." So it looks like a buy 2, get 1 free sticker.

  2. Note to the Ambassador: in America, "duel" means the same thing as in the UK, and "dual" does indeed mean "two." The Skybuster "Duel Tail" name is evidently an intentional play on words to emphasize both the shape of the aircraft and its imagined role in air-to-air combat.

    1. I was just going to say the same thing relative to the meaning of "duel" in any English speaking country.

      I would be curious to confirm if Matchbox did in fact intend to have a play on words or if it truly is a spelling error, which have certainly slipped past the team in the past a few times on various models or packaging. Like Opel "Frongster" instead of "Frogster" on the reverse of the recent 9-pack which was info passed onto them in a previous report.

  3. Thanks again for another thorough report Nigel! I cannot wait until the Austin Minivan shown above is released, it is one of my top 5 favorite Matchbox castings and I own every store released variation, down to the 10-pack gold "Dairy" deco version which took me nearly a year to locate!

    The Defender appeals to me too, even with the yellow windows somehow? The Tractor Plow is unappealing, I can deal with plastic on finely finished models like the Renault Master Ambulance but the tractor plow seems so flat, un-detailed, & un-finished in plastic. The purple monster shown, also no thank you.

  4. The label says "buy 2 free 1". This was the stock clearing promo in December 2012 in China.

  5. Love the Defender, even though it is a non stock colour, the Defender is a rare chink of light in an otherwise plasticy collection, the Mini is, as always brilliant, but it needs to be a singles model, i very rarely collect multipacks, great repor as usual on the older MBX, and well, thats about it, no comments to make on the q & A's, maybe they are not bothering anymore... LOL... as they do get a lot of stick.

  6. Hi Nigel, great to see you again.

    Anyways, always starting with the new releases. I CAN count the same of the new releases. We've got the Austin Mini van (very bright), Tractor Plow (eh), Land Rover Defender (OMG!!!), and Whiplash (Zoom like yeller!).

    Alright, I'm enjoying myself:

    Austin Mini Van- Very very nice indeed. Looks ware today. While this is really not one of my favorite Matchbox castings, I'd say it looks one of the best Matchbox castings I've seen before.

    The Austin anyway you told us was in the City Works 5 pack. Quick question: Will the Austin Mini Van both will be in the mainline AND the 5 pack? I really would like to see it in the mainline. Buying 5 packs, they're just too expensive here in my Wal-Mart.

    But for holy's bare feet and hands, the Austin is one tough mighty little thing there! Bubs for that!

    Tractor Plow-. Not much to say about this. One little kid construction toy to play with sand at parks. Eww! Period.

    Land Rover Defender- The exciting part. This is in my top 10 Matchbox Off-Road utility vehicles. 3rd place. Very astonishing. Not one single rubbish thing on it! Everything's beautiful and all fine!

    Okay, alright. This does look alike the 2013 version but different colors. Is this a recolor but to be moved on in 2014? Question? Well, moving on it looks very good in grey, but reconsidering this is the REAL mainline version? Or the previous one we saw a few ambassador report back? Question AGAIN?

    Well, by me shutting up of those questions, I've bet this. Bubs too for this!

    Another one?

    Whiplash- Not so bad. It is a little nice looking, but just this purple color. I get not into pink, purple, the girly colors except red.

    That's the end. Nop. Not the end. Still a few more things to say.

    I recon on that 2011 Matchbox Metro Rides Toyota Prius blister card, it is to be saying "get 2 for 1 free". I have no idea if it's in correct, incorrect, ... prrretty weird : P

    And those histories there look very good. Nice write-up and photos of 'em newborn babies!

    And the no questions. BOO!!!

    Anyways again, that's it! I'll be seeing you next week Nigel, this looked late. Thought you should be doing this on Mondays, but see you swell soon!

  7. I think you mean BMC (British Motor Corporation), not GMC on the Pininfarina.

    1. Haha that just gave me a mental image of what a GMC pickup truck would look like if designed by Pininfarina. Nevermind it would take an especially vast sum of money to have them put their name on a pickup but I'd be interested to see such a creation! Vintage or modern...

    2. Just keeping everyone on their toes and G is close to B on the keyboard!!