It always seems that when I write about Matchbox it has to be a wide-scoping narrative.
It is like there is a meter somewhere, and everything Matchbox releases either pushes in the direction of "returning to what Matchbox should be" or "moving further into the doldrums". I think that is a valid way to look at things, considering the missteps Matchbox has taken this decade.
Part of the reason I do that is because I legitimately root for Matchbox. I had a ton of Hot Wheels as a kid, but my passion aligned with Matchbox. My blue Porsche 928 was my favorite toy car as a kid, and there was always more Matchbox parked on my San Francisco playmat.
So watching Matchbox essentially become the red-headed stepchild at Mattel was frustrating. I don't mind that Mattel owns Matchbox, I just think it can be treated with a little more love, and it's branding can be more than "Whatever Hot Wheels isn't". Both brands can exist, and both brands can thrive.
So yeah, everything the last few years, after Matchbox's "Unstoppable Hero" phase or whatever it was called, has more meaning with collectors. Is it a return to realism or more of the same?
The Toy Fair models are significant in that their purpose is to explain the brand in one premium model. The Toy Fair happens every fall at Mattel. Retailers descend on El Segundo and are given a preview of what each Mattel brand is about moving into the next year. You can imagine that a lot of effort is put into these displays and presentations, and one of the perks for attendees is they are given special take home gifts. That is exactly what the Hot Wheels and Matchbox Toy Fair models are. A special gift for those that attend, and an encapsulation of the brand in one piece.
Look at the last few Hot Wheels Toy Fair models. A BMW racing car this year, a classic Porsche last, after a slew of Corvettes and Camaros and Mustangs. Cool, fast, cars. Exactly what we expect from Hot Wheels.
Look at the Matchbox Toy Fair models and you see a story as well. In fact, let's look at the Toy Fair models since 2007, to see what Matchbox wanted to tell retailers about the brand:
2007 - Land Rover Defender 110
2008 - Volkswagen T2 Bus, Desert Thunder
2009 - Austin Mini Van, Pierce Dash Fire Truck
2010 - Quick Sander
2011 - International Workstar Brush Fire Truck
2012 - Jeep Wrangler Superlift
2013 - Routemaster Bus
2014 - Dump Dozer
2015 - Blaze Blitzer
2016 - Ghe-O Rescue
2017 - Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6
Interesting group. And while there is a definite fire/off-road back-and-forth theme, it is still all over the place. Tons of generics, with the low point being the awful Dump Dozer, which coincides with what was Matchbox's low point over the last 10 years.
There are some gems as well. I would say the Defender 110, VW T2, and the brand new 6x6 are the top three, and look when they were released. 2007 and 2008 were the heyday years of that Golden Age I talk about, when realism was the push and licensed was the baseline.
And the other, the 6x6, is just out now. Is it an off-roader? Yep, but as interesting an off-roader as there is, and it is a Mercedes Benz. And look at the deco. Understated. A cool spectrafrost burnt orange with matte black. And no crazy designs.
And that is where Matchbox wants retailers to know they are going. 2017 will have more licensed models, more realism, and metal. And decos and colors will be in line with the model.
So maybe I can move away from the "are they or aren't they?" theme in my Matchbox posts. Just show what I like, and move on. That is how I do it with Hot Wheels. After I post the Hot Wheels CSL, no one comments "Yeah, but what about the Fangster! It sucks!". Hot Wheels is what it is. There are things we like, things we don't, but we don't fret as much about the overall direction. Matchbox we do, and I don't think that will change for awhile. Distribution is still a disaster, and there isn't enough out there for everyone who wants Matchbox. But the fact that more and more Matchbox is wanted is a great start. A better product means more retailers will want to carry them.
The 6x6 might be the best sign of things to come.
(Don't forget, the only way to find the Toy Fair 6x6 is on eBay. These will not be available at retail. Look for the basic 6x6 next year.)