Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July 16th Matchbox Ambassador Report, by Nigel Cooper...

Ambassador Report 47


I have received from Jim Gallegos two photos of the models which Matchbox has kindly donated for this year’s charity auction. Next week’s report will be the last and will focus exclusively on the models planned for the future. The Matchbox team will talk about plans for 2015 at The Gathering and I will include some of the information in the final report.


The first two models are 2015 5 pack releases – Mound Mover and Mission Helicopter.

The next three models will be included in 2014 5 packs.

The Dodge A-100 will be included in this year’s miniature range.

A Little More History

The passenger cars of 1982
Just a cursory glance at the 1982/3 Matchbox catalogue indicates something major was going on that year. The front cover shows three Kenworth and Peterbilt vehicles, and upon further inspection it is clear Lesney had spent a lot of money creating new moulds to revamp their miniatures range. Gone were many of the Two Packs, and in their place was the new Convoy range of models. Within the 1-75 miniatures range no fewer than 22 models had been deleted and replaced with a variety of new vehicles including those shown on the front cover. This was all money well spent, as the miniatures had always maintained healthy sales. It was reckless spending in other, less well tested areas over three or four years that created the financial chasm into which Lesney would fall halfway through that year.  The display shows the models shown in the pocket catalogue at the beginning of the year.

Of those 22 new models for 1982, six were passenger cars, of which two, the #42 Ford Thunderbird and #47 Jaguar SS100, were akin to Models of Yesteryear creations. The four contemporary editions included the #25 Audi Quattro, #37 Matra Rancho, #51 Pontiac SE, and the #74 Fiat Abarth. This was also the year where the range diverged, so that many models available in the UK were not so in the USA, and vice versa. Also the models did not necessarily have the same number, which is why the new releases had no base numbers, which upset or at least inconvenienced many collectors. Catalogues and boxes had to be relied upon in that regard. In the USA the Audi was #23, the Matra was not released, the Pontiac was #12 and the Fiat #9. In place of the Matra in the US was the “Sunburner”, which was in fact the 1972 #32 Maserati Bora re-released in black with flame tampo print. Many other ‘70s models were re-released in the USA that year, in favour of genuine new releases as was the case in the rest of the world. Most USA die-cast collectors still favoured Hot Wheels models over Matchbox and so it was felt the Hot Wheels inspired 70s Matchbox models would sell better than the standard Matchbox fare which was now planted firmly in the world of reality and authenticity. Ironically of course the Maserati was based on a genuine vehicle, so it was a curious choice of re-release!
The three Audi Quattros shown below are colour trials and pre-production. The labels were applied by hand.

The Audi Quattro was a very well known vehicle by 1982, as it had been winning many rally events around the world since its introduction in 1980 with four wheel drive. By 1984 in fact it had won twenty two international rally championships. Also it was during 1982 that the famous “Vorsprung durch Technik” Audi Quattro road car advertisements first appeared on British commercial television, as voiced in inimitable fashion by BBC TV acting stalwart, Geoffrey Palmer. With the rally connection in mind, the Quattro was released in white with “Audi Sport” side tampo print and a black and brown stripe effect to the sides and across the top, with “20” on the roof and “Audi” on the bonnet. It was clear from the pictures in the 1982 catalogue that this model was still in the early stages of production when photographed, as it is a resin mould with wheels attached! In fact the 1983 catalogue unfortunately utilises the same picture! The production model has clear glass, a black interior, 5 arch wheels and a gloss black metal base. The base could also be found in matt black or matt grey, and are far less common than gloss black. A small run must have been produced with the side tampo print missing as examples occasionally crop up. 

During 1983 the mould was transferred to Macau where the model was produced unaltered for a year before the design was changed to one not totally dissimilar, but now with a “Duckhams/Pirelli” tampo design. These models only came with gloss black bases, but can also be found with amber windows. Curiously some models with this design and clear windows are missing the name “Pirelli”. In 1986 the body was changed to a burgundy colour, now with minimal tampo print in the form of Audi and the four ring insignia in white to the sides. This was a very good look for this classic model, which could now also be found with the 8 dot design wheels. 
In January 1986 BP planning big UK promotion for 1987 whereby tokens could be collected to exchange for Matchbox models. There were to be 12 cars which were to be exclusively recoloured. However, BP pulled out last minute as they wanted the promotion to be specifically British and when they realised that Matchbox toys were no longer manufactured in the UK and were now foreign owned they decided instead to give the business to UK based company, though all 12 production samples had been approved by BP. Production had started to meet a tight deadline and six had been produced. These were numbers 3, 39, 25, 43, 37 & 55. At that time six had not been released. These were numbers 11, 48, 15, 56, 33 & 70. 
Thus the Audi, as one of these 12 models selected for the promotion, was produced in blue with the original side tampo, with the 8 dot wheel, and with either clear or amber windows. The blue Audi had been designed with a BP emblem on the bonnet. Once BP pulled out, the decision was taken to overprint the BP emblem with the Audi name in a red oval, large enough to obscure the print underneath, and ship these models to the USA. This seemed a far more sensible option than scrapping the blue Audi altogether. The other five other models which had started to be produced for the aborted BP promotion were also subject to over-printing. Five models were sent to US and but interestingly the BMW was sent to Europe.  

Production of the Audi then moved to China where the burgundy model was produced, with 5 arch wheels, but in a darker shade than the Macau issue and is often described as “plum”. Finally in 1989 the colour was altered to a medium grey colour, with a similar but larger tampo design than before and the 5 arch wheels. This was yet another attractive colour choice. Yet despite this, out of nowhere in 1990 the Audi simply vanishes, being replaced by the old #41 Ambulance, re-released at #25 in white with orange tampo print. However the Audi was also released as one of the exclusive China issues in the yellow window boxes, again in the rare blue colour and with 5 arch wheels, but now with Chinese lettering to the sides, and this issue is not easy to find. Several versions of this model can be found as a Brazilian issue, initially with the 8 dot wheel, later with the very unattractive 4 arch wheel which appear only to have ever been fitted to later Brazilian issues.

The Matra Rancho was a rest of the world issue as it was not a well known vehicle in the USA. Certainly in the UK the real vehicle was quite popular in the early 1980s but this popularity appeared very short lived as the real vehicle suffered from several mechanical problems. A well known pre-production model is in a very attractive red with a grey metal base. This red model was considered for release but in the end a blue version was chosen instead

The Lesney issue was released in medium blue which included the metal base, and the shade can vary to a turquoise colour. The interior was black, and like the Ferrari 308GTB the year before, this interior extended outward to form a black stripe around the body, although in this case it was a far wider stripe. The glass was clear and models were fitted with narrow 5 arch wheels. A short run were made with dot dash wheels and these look just as suitable on this miniature. This was, like the Cougar Villager and Renault 5 before it, a model fitted with a plastic tailgate moulded in the same colour as the body. 

By 1983 the body colour was changed by Matchbox International, however this was one of the models chosen to continue to be manufactured in England until 1985, and thus retained the “Lesney” base. The model was now all over yellow including the tailgate, with narrow 5 arch wheels. Very rare examples are plain yellow, but the vast majority have a red stripe along the sides just above the black plastic stripe. On pre-production examples this red stripe is much thicker, as per the 1983 catalogue. Another well known pre-production model is in a very attractive red with a grey metal base. The production model remained yellow into 1984, but the wheels fitted, whilst still of the 5 arch variety, were now wide, and could be found with the hubs chromed as standard or in very rare gold! Although deleted during 1985 in favour of the Ford Escort Cabriolet, the Matra had been introduced into the Two Pack range in 1984. This model was in dark blue with matching tailgate, but had a white metal base, and a yellow “Surf Rescue” tampo to the bonnet and roof, white side stripes, and narrow or wide 5 arch wheels. This model could also be found fitted with a black plastic tailgate, and also with a yellow metal base!

A hard to find variation was made in relatively small numbers in the dark blue shade, with the white base, blue tailgate, wide 5 arch wheels, and the white stripe to the sides, but missing the yellow “Surf Rescue” tampo. Another interesting Two Pack variant comes in the original medium blue, with a yellow painted base and yellow tailgate, and wide 5 arch wheels. On closer inspection however, it appears these are in fact yellow bodies over-sprayed medium blue, or it may be that the undercoat is glaring through due to a poor quality blue top coat, but either way such examples are relatively easy to locate. This version can also be found with a black metal base, blue tailgate and wide 5 arch wheels. Due to the various parts used to make up this model, it is quite likely that there are other permutations to be found in addition to those noted above. 
By 1986 the moulds had been shipped to Macau, where Two Pack model continued to be produced. All the Matra TP issues came with a plastic “inflatable” dinghy made specifically for this Two Pack, and again they come in a number of colours and with varying tampo print. The trailer however was the old faithful used to transport the #24 Team “Matchbox” and #5 Seafire in previous Two Pack sets. The Macau produced Matra Rancho models were now only available with narrow 5 arch wheels. The first was in black with a white base and black hatch, still using the “Surf Rescue” tampo, the next, released in 1987 and shown again in 1988, was in bright orange, with a black base, orange tailgate, and “Surf 2” side tampo. It was then released in neon yellow, with a yellow base and neon yellow tailgate, now with a “Marine Rescue” tampo. This yellow model was not found in a Two Pack, but in an Emergency Pack, which does not seem to appear in any catalogue. 
However in 1992 the Matra was produced again, now in China, as part of the “Graffic Traffic” range of plain white models including a white base, interior and tailgate, and for the only time, amber windows. Finally came a China released multi pack issue with the “Marine Rescue” tampo, but in blue, with a yellow base and blue tailgate. The mould was also made available to Bulgaria who wasted no time in producing a dazzling array of different coloured variants!

The Pontiac SE is illustrated in the 1982 catalogue in blue, with a beige or perhaps gold metal base. In fact the picture box has the same colour bodywork, indicating that the decision not to release it in blue must have come quite late. As 1982 picture boxes were the last made before blue window boxes took over, (upsetting just about every collector in the world whilst pleasing shopkeepers) the picture box was never updated to show the actual release colours of bright red with a silver painted metal base. The wheels were 5 arch, the interior beige, and the windows clear. However it could also be found with amber windows, or with a lemon yellow interior which could be found with either type of window. The yellow interiors are the rarer variant. An extremely rare piece is that with dot dash wheels. The two red pre-production models must have been successfully chosen as the issued colour though the shades are different.

By 1983 the mould had been transferred to Macau for future production, and white tampo print was added: “Firebird” with a stripe to the sides, and an eagle to the bonnet, very similar in fact to the #16 Pontiac. The base was now the pearly silver shade peculiar to Macau production and only clear windows and tan interiors were used. 

In 1984 the colour changed to black, with the same tampo design but now in white and red. An interesting variation can be found with gold hubs, and another variant is that with opaque white windows. 

In 1987 Superfast Lasers were introduced, and the Pontiac in blue with blue windows and a white base was included in the range. These Laser models had solid iridescent chrome hubs. 

In 1988 Matchbox introduced Super Colour Changers, and again the Pontiac was chosen for inclusion in the range. It came purple and sky blue with a red interior, still maintaining the same Firebird and eagle tampo print. Also during 1988 Matchbox acquired the Dinky name, and in order not to lose the rights to this trademark, they released some miniatures with the name Dinky tampo printed in white to the base, on red Dinky blister cards. Again the Pontiac was one of the six models chosen for inclusion, in powder blue, with the red interior, and a multicolour striped pattern. 
This model reverted back to 5 arch wheels. However in the USA 24 models were introduced as new “Superfast” models, with this name having been absent from model bases commencing in 1981. They were given a starburst design of wheel and which had very defined edges rather than smooth rounded edges like a real tyre, and therefore were a not very flattering addition to the range. The body was again blue, with blue windows, a white interior and a multicolour striped pattern. The same starburst wheels were also used on a set of three models called “Haley’s Comet” and yet again the Pontiac was included as one of this trio. The model came in black with a black base and grey interior, with “Haley’s Comet” tampo print to the bonnet and sides. This would have been a very attractive piece if not for the unfortunate choice of wheels. 

In 1987 the Maaco Paint Company in USA had 20,000 red Firebird produced as a promotional. However, the logo was complicated in design and the logo was impossible to apply with painting techniques and labels were not satisfactory and so clear vinyl labels were used instead. As there was no desire for a surround as with paper labels, the clear vinyl labels were used instead, although they did not always sit flush with the body and are often slightly raised or found with small air pockets underneath, which explains why vinyl labels were never used as a rule by Matchbox. The models were given away in US to anyone asking for an estimate for body repairs or paint jobs. (Anyone who has driven through NY or LA would know these Matchbox cars would disappear quickly!!)

This casting in the miniatures range had been replaced by the Ford Ltd Police Car during 1987, where just prior to deletion the base was altered to be made in dark grey plastic instead of metal, naturally for cost reasons. However it continued to be manufactured in so many different guises, that it was still being made when production shifted to China. Here it was produced for multipacks, in black with a red interior and Firebird tampo, but now with dot dash or starburst wheels. 
Finally it was released in the “Knight Rider” guise that this Pontiac was so famous for, especially back in 1982 when it was first released, and the well known and highly popular TV series was at its zenith. At that time the licence was too expensive, but now as one of the “Star Car” range in 1998 it was affordable by Mattel, who had only recently acquired Matchbox. Made in black (of course) the model had a tan interior, black plastic base, 8 dot wheels for the first and only time, and “Knight Rider” tampo print. 
Pre-production examples of the Fiat came in a very dark brown colour with a black or red interior, and whilst the brown colour was quickly dismissed, it appears at first that the black interior was chosen to be used, as a larger quantity than would be required for pre-production models were produced, and thus ended up in a small number of white production models. This is a desirable variation. 

The Fiat Abarth was a model released with a black (or occasionally dark grey) plastic base from the start, although this base could only be seen from the front forming the lights and grille, as this casting had a very deep skirt all round the metal body. Produced in white with clear windows, 5 arch wheels and a red interior, the model featured red and orange tampo stripes and “Matchbox” in black, as well as chromed front lights and “FIAT” on the grille. Very rarely this chrome was left off so that the front was plain black. Even more unusual are models with the “Matchbox” name omitted from the sides. The red tampo print could vary in shade and was sometimes very dark. 

Another rare piece, with the red interior, is one with a plain white body. At the end of 1983 production moved to Macau, and the model was sometimes fitted with amber windows instead of the clear variety. In 1984 the design on the white body was changed to a red and green “Al Italia” livery which was an attractive look. This also came with clear or amber windows and a black or dark grey plastic base. However by 1986 Matchbox seemed, rather strangely, to have run out of ideas, and the model was deleted in favour of the Toyota MR2. 

The mould was shipped to Brazil where the model was fitted with 8 spoke wheels and also those 4 spoke wheels exclusive to Brazil, although one model was released in blue rather than standard white, which made for a welcome change. These later Brazilian releases normally featured in 4 packs rather than as single releases. Bulgaria were also given the rights to produce this model, despite it not having any opening parts as Bulgaria had stipulated, yet despite this as usual they made the most of the time they were allowed to manufacture this model, with many different colour bodies being made available. The Fiat marked the end of an era, as the last ever passenger car originally released with the Lesney name. 
This the final report involving the history of Matchbox and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Graham Tomlinson for his major contribution.

Nigel Cooper      15th July 2014


  1. I will say this, I will miss seeing Nigel's history lessons on each report. Love reading those :)

    That purple A100 is sweet!


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  2. They would have been better off axing the A100 from the lineup. It would be more dignified then that awful paint and graphics job. This line continues to be more of a joke while Majorette continues to kick their ass with every new model.

  3. The A-100 looks awesome! And I think the "Auto Parts" labeling can be put to good use with the empty bed of the vehicle.

    I'm still kind of sad that the Mission Helicopter switched to a single-piece rotor blade. The blade is so short!

  4. "MBX AUTO PARTS"??? Really? That looks poor...

  5. Hey Nig. Good to see you again.

    So...? We've got the new releases. That Chevy is in the 5 pk, and the super amazing A-100 is what I'm just interesed. And the first 2 models of 2015, and is NOT cool.

    That's it! Short times again. I need to see more things better and much interesting, alright?