Ambassador Report 45
Apologies for the late publication this week. It was all linked to the
French Air Traffic Controllers; strike – but that’s another story – oh
and my internet down for four days!! I am very grateful to Graham
Tomlinson for his help again this week.
MATCHBOX ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS
1. Any hope of the real working rigs returning in the next year?
Some Real Working Rigs will continue in 2015 but currently no new deco is planned.
2. With the release of the Exotic 5 pack, collectors have had a treat.
But recently there have been fantasy castings galore. Is there any
chance we will soon see some realistic sports cars?
3. The Rapids Rescue thing looks ok, I like to think that the raft might
float? If the tractor were to be in more agricultural colours, rather
than its 'you can find it in the dark' livery it might be better.
However they had a perfectly good CAT tracked tractor in their library
of models. Couldn't this be deCATed and perhaps have solid tracks to
bring the price down. MB wrote that they had a 'fertile imagination'
when describing one model. CAT have a more realistic sense of design and
proportion. Still both will have good play value.
If we were to use CAT or any other licensed
construction or Farm vehicles we could never refresh the deco. That’s
because these companies use their own specific brand colors and markings
that rarely change. We want vehicles that we can perpetually change to
maintain variety on shelf for many years. That is why we create our own
designs most of which are kid focused.
4. Some great Lesney's shown this week, have always been a fan of the
Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and Mercedes 450SEL-the original metallic blue
version in particular. Such a shame we have neither manufacturer
covered in the matchbox series at present, I hope this changes in time.
Always amazes me how simply designed the majority of castings from this
era of matchbox were. No flashy colours, no added tampo just a well
crafted casting and a good combination of body, base and interior
colours. Although other manufacturers of the same era each had there own
unique way of interpreting vehicles in 1:64 scale it was the simplicity
but precision with matchbox miniatures that seemed to set them head and
shoulders above the rest. That combined with the great boxes and
artwork really is hard to beat. So many great 1-75's from that era to
choose from. Knowing how popular luxury cars are when made as a
matchbox are Mattel still keen to pursue a licence to produce a
Rolls-Royce for the miniature range? A contemporary model would be
most welcomed by collectors though a re-make of the classic Silver Cloud
would also make a nice choice.
Unfortunately we will not be pursuing Rolls
Royce anytime soon. They are not keen on associating their name with toy
cars that sell for a buck.
5. My question this week is: What Does Mattel view as the target
demographic for the MB core line? Not just "kids" but what age kids if
this is the target.
Matchbox is focused on the younger aged boy age
3 to 5 but we want our vehicles to appeal to all ages including adults
that are young at heart.
6. I see the new SB has the RSQ tampo on it as well. I am not a fan of
this new trend of the text message marking on models. The same goes for
the Rapids Rescue.
This type of spelling is now becoming the norm
in our tech literate society so it’s not going away although it may be
hard to adapt to. We however are not doing this for the tech savvy, we
are doing this to deal with international word translation issues that
can occur with the full word “Rescue”.
7. I am trying to teach my grandson of 3 years to read and he is very
interested in Matchbox toys. I hate the RSQ and similar mistreatment of
the English language because he can't understand what it means. Please
stop this as you must know it hits your target audience and causes
parents and grandparents problems.
Refer to previous answer.
8. I am sensing a tide coming....in society (at least, English-speaking
society), toward "simplifying" spelling to make it easier for kids to
graduate...reading won't be such a burden and a cause of dismay (that
our kids are being "graduated" out of high school at reading levels
below their "grade level"). I can see the day when "Fire" becomes "FYR",
"Police" becomes "Cop", "Truck" becomes "Truk", "Tracker" becomes
"Trakr"....and on and on, and this trend/movement will be tied back to
Twitter and Matchbox.....just eliminate those pesky "extra"--er,
xtra--letters entirely since they are silent anyway.
Refer to answer 28. In addition to this you
will find that youth and the ever changing social media frontier are
shaping the way we speak and spell. New words are being added to
dictionaries on a daily basis especially if it sounds cool. The team
does want to stay socially relevant. There is an annoying phrase that we
often hear: “Adapt or perish” it will apply sometimes to wording on
The next two models are for the main line.
The Honda Ridgeline will be found in a 5 pack.
These two Skybusters are recolours.
A Little More History
The passenger cars of 1981
The 1981 miniatures range was significant for two main reasons. Firstly,
there was the sudden exodus of all the military models perhaps due to
declining sales or it was felt to be politically incorrect to sell
military vehicles to children. I seem to remember that some countries
stipulated that they did not want military models from Matchbox at this
time and of course this may have given rise to distribution problems,
when military models would have to be removed from the shipping cases.
I tend towards the latter view as I doubt whether the sales of all
military vehicles suddenly took a steep downward trend. Secondly, the
re-colouring of a vast majority of the range which we accept as
commonplace now but at that time was quite unusual. Indeed, during the
1970s some models existed in the Superfast range without ever being
Some military models were no great loss to most collectors: the #30
Swamp Rat and #32 Field Gun for example, but others, such as many of the
Two Pack issues, the #54 Personnel Carrier and particularly the #16
Badger, were disappointing departures to other collectors. Indeed it
appears the Badger, which was painted bronze and thus arguably much more
attractive than the military green painted models, was only deleted at
the last moment to fall in line with the decision to rid the range of
such military themed models, as it was replaced by a slightly revamped
#4 Pontiac Firebird which had only just been deleted a few months
earlier! One wonders about the decision making linked to these changes.
The new #16, which was clearly a Pontiac Firebird despite the name
“Firebird” being conspicuous by its absence on the base or packaging,
was now painted a light metallic gold shade rather than the original
metallic blue and had a completely remoulded front section with an eagle
label on the bonnet, a red interior and unpainted metal base. The name
of the model was on a raised platform: “No.16 Pontiac”, to hide the
previous “No.4 Pontiac Firebird”. The glass was now clear rather than
amber but was exactly the same otherwise, as were the wide dot dash
wheels. After a short while the body colour changed to a brighter
gold-green shade, and the eagle label remained until the last issues of
the gold-green model had a tampo printed eagle instead. Rare examples of
the gold-green model with eagle label have 5 arch wheels in place of
the dot dash variety. In 1982 the model was repainted white with a blue
printed eagle tampo and side stripes, with “Pontiac” in black to each
side. Curiously the name appears centrally or toward the front in
roughly equal numbers! Rarer examples come with purple rather than blue
print, and a tiny handful were produced with 5 arch wheels. Later
editions can be found with the base painted silver and these are easy to
locate. Another unusual white model is that with the raised platform on
the base, as this was removed to erase the number in order to read
simply “Pontiac” very shortly after the colour change, so that white
models with the platform and “No.16” still present are very few and far
In 1983 the colour changed to black, but in fact the model was now an
altered version having a cut away roof with only the windscreen and a
central strip remaining, known as a Pontiac “T” Roof, and in the USA
this was introduced as #35 in 1982, so whilst it became #16 in the UK in
1983 it was in fact a slightly different model, so that the original
Pontiac only lasted in the range for a paltry two years, a further
indication that it was only introduced to do away with the Badger!
The T Roof is shown in the USA 1982 catalogue with a beige interior, but
in reality it maintained the red interior of the original #16. It had
yellow tampo print, and like the white version can be found with an
unpainted or silver painted metal base. Production then shifted to
Macau, the base was now painted pearly silver, and a well known UK
promotional model was made for Kelloggs with the black body but orange
tiger stripes to promote “Frosties” cereal. During 1986 the body colour
was altered to silver with red and yellow tampo print, but the following
year the model was deleted in favour of the very popular Land Rover 90.
Both 80’s castings of the #16 Pontiac were produced in Bulgaria in a
multitude of colours! Apologies for the poor photo of the Brazilian 4
A very British release in 1981, and in fact not released in the USA, was
the #8 Rover 3500. This is shown amongst the new releases section in
bright yellow with a red interior, and is often described as a
pre-production model in this guise. However a small quantity of yellow
models were packed for retail sale in the G-1 Car Transporter gift set,
so whilst very rare, it is technically speaking not a pre-pro, even
though it was never sold as a single miniature. The same mistake applies
to another 1981 release, the #38 Camper, which was made with amber
windows in the rear section only for a very short while, but quite a
significant number found their way into USA blister packs prior to the
rear window section being deleted, so again this is definitely not
True pre-production Rover 3500 models can be found in silver with
different colour interiors, and also in an extremely unusual blue
colour. Originally it was planned with an open sun roof but late in
production it was decided that further play value would be created by
replacing the open sun roof with a sliding plastic roof and the mould
was altered to enable this change to take place. The earliest Rovers
showed No. 70 cast into the detailed plastic base.
The Rover was ultimately released in production quantities in bronze and
this does vary from quite a light bronze to an intense dark bronze. The
wheels were narrow dot dash, the interior beige, which can be light or
dark in shade, and the windows clear. Somewhat controversially, the
Rover was given a black plastic base. The fact that this model now had
an opening black plastic sunroof and a body moulded with quite thin
metal meant it was extremely light, which was not popular with all
collectors then, although it was undoubtedly attractive. (Maybe they
should have counted their blessings!) There are a number of rare
variants with this bronze model including those with white interiors,
those with narrow 5 arch wheels found with both interior colours, wide
dot dash wheels on beige interior models, and even Maltese cross wheels,
again found on both colour interior variants! All these rare variations
are becoming increasingly difficult to locate.
In 1983 the Rover was converted into a Police Car in white with a yellow
and black tampo print. This meant the sunroof was deleted in favour of a
raised metal platform with two roof lights protruding through the roof
as they were an extension of the window moulding, now in blue, and a
chrome plastic horn mounted between the lights. The interior remained
beige which did not really match well with the blue windows. However,
initial releases, still maintaining Lesney England bases, were extremely
unusual as they had the clear windows from the bronze version, which
meant the roof lights were also clear! The interior was also beige on
this version which is a very desirable variant, though there are equally
desirable versions of the standard blue window release: those with
black interiors (with much darker blue windows) and even rarer with a
white interior which is a much better look. One further rare model is
the Rover without tampo in plain white.
The wheels on these Police Rovers were narrow dot dash as standard,
though they can be found with wide dot dash or narrow 5 arch in
extremely small numbers on the beige interior versions. Later models had
a black plastic horn rather than chrome, and by 1985 the base was
altered to read “Made in Macau”.
In 1987 the tampo print was altered to a red and blue Police livery,
with wide or narrow dot dash wheels, but this was extremely short-lived
as later that same year the Rover was deleted in favour of a Vauxhall
Astra Police Car.
The #34 Chevy Pro Stocker replaced the Vantastic, and was released in
white with a blue tampo print “34” and a red lightning symbol, a red
interior, clear windows and an unpainted metal base. However, this model
had an interesting history. It is well known that licenses can take
months or even years to be issued and sometimes Matchbox would take a
chance by producing a model in the hope that permission would be granted
during the production process. One of the popular American racing cars
at the time was this Pro-Stocker with green and red “Gatorade – Thirst
Quencher” livery advertising an orange drink and featuring a No. 88 on
the body. Matchbox believed that this model would sell well but
unbeknown to them, Ertl had already secured the licensing rights with
“Gatorade”. Thus, Matchbox was refused permission to produce the car
with this design. Lesney changed the design to “Lightning” and even
ordered the first run of boxes for this model. However, Gatorade still
felt that the design was too similar to the Ertl car and requested a
further change. The green print was changed to blue and the number 88
was altered to the model No. of 34. Even the base had to be altered from
Chevy Nascar and a recessed filler cap on the side of the body erased.
Curiously, the Gatorade lightning symbol was retained! The car with 88
tampo printing is one of the easier to find pre-pros and in fact a far
rarer pre-production model exists in orange, with the tampo print in
blue “88”, and the name “Gatorade” present on the bonnet!
The white production model came with 5 arch front wheels and 5 crown
rear, but this is another of those models where the wheels were placed
incorrectly relatively frequently. It can be found with all 5 arch, all 5
crown, or 5 crown front, 5 arch rear. When the model was produced with a
silver painted base, the wheel variations continued, though they are
slightly tougher to find on the silver based versions. One especially
rare version is that with small wide dot dash wheels! Not only did
Lesney mix wheels with this model, they also had issues with the tampo
print! It is possible to find examples with no side tampo but only that
running across the top, or tampo missing on just the left side or right
side! One desirable and very attractive early issue of the Chevy is the
tampo-free plain white model which commands a serious premium. The last
white issues came with a red painted base, and again the issue with the
wheel variations continued! However this model is unique in one respect:
it still retained a Lesney England base. The #62 Chevrolet Corvette and
#40 Chevy “T” Top were also given red painted bases, but only after
they were transferred to Macau production. This was a seamless
transition, all plain and silver based #62 and #40 have England bases,
all red bases are Macau. The red based Pro Stocker was only produced in
In 1983 the #34 was transferred to Macau production, at the same time
the colour was changed to dark yellow with a black interior, black and
orange tampo and a black metal base. The model also received an
unwelcome facelift, with a large air dam being added to the front of the
base, and a tail fin sprouted from the rear of the body. A similar fate
would befall the new #52 BMW M1. Shown in the 1983 catalogue with
large dot dash rear wheels, it in fact was produced with the same
correct configuration as the white model, though a significant number
were also produced with 5 spoke front wheels.
In 1984 the colour scheme was altered again, back to white with a red
interior, but now with a “Pepsi” bonnet logo and “14” and red stripes to
the sides. The base remained black, and again some were fitted with 5
spoke front wheels.
During 1985 this model was used in new “Team Matchbox” sets, comprising a
transporter vehicle, a Chevy Pro Stocker and a support vehicle. One set
used the same “Pepsi” vehicle from the miniature range, with a #68
Chevy Van with Pepsi livery in support, another set used the Chevy with
“217” tampo print and a #58 Ruff Trek in support. In 1986 a new set
again included the Chevy, now with black, green and red “7 Up” livery,
again with the Ruff Trek in support. The Chevy could be found with a
black or red interior, and the black interior was by far the harder to
locate of the two.
During 1987 the Chevy as a miniature was deleted in favour of the Ford
RS200, though two of the three Team Matchbox sets with the Chevy
survived into 1988. By 1989 however these sets were renamed “Team
Convoy” and the Chevy was nowhere to be seen.
A particularly beautiful Lesney release was the #52 BMW M1. Shown in the
1981 catalogue new releases section in white, this was in fact a
pre-production model. Pre-production models in black with white
interiors can also be found and are especially attractive. In reality
the production model was released in silver, with clear windows, a red
interior which can vary in shade, wide 5 arch wheels and gloss black
metal base. In stark contrast to the #8 Rover, this model was a very
good weight, being moulded in very sturdy fashion. Initially this model
was in plain silver which is fairly difficult to locate, though quickly a
black “52 BMW” tampo with stripes was added to both sides. The base can
also be found in charcoal or blue-grey, and the windows can be found
with a smoked effect, which are almost exclusively found with the
charcoal base. The only genuinely rare silver models with tampo print
are those with amber windows, and even rarer with highly unusual but
very pleasing green windows! The amber shade is very deep, so do not be
fooled by versions where the clear windows have discoloured to a pale
amber shade due to temperature fluctuations over the years. The green
windows can be found on models with black or charcoal bases, but numbers
are insignificant so be prepared to pay a significant premium to own
one! The silver version shows a rejected idea for the tampo.
Unfortunately in 1983 Matchbox International chose to completely alter
the mould and turn the BMW into a Le Mans style model. This meant the
addition of an air dam, side skirts and a tail fin, and the base was
altered to black plastic with “Made in Macau”. The model was now white
with blue, red and black tampo print, and the interior black, though the
red plastic rear light strip from the silver version was maintained, as
were the wide 5 arch wheels.
The model was still attractive, but not a patch on the original, and the
large tail fin caused significant issues in regard to the even paint
spraying of the model: often these Macau issues are found with poorly
sprayed rear sections, sometimes with virtually bare metal in the inner
recesses. In 1985 the colour was changed again, now to black, with red
and white tampo, and the interior reverted to red, which was a good
look, but the very next year, 1986, the colour changed again to yellow
with a blue interior, still with a red and white tampo print, but this
yellow body version was not an improvement. In 1988 the model had yet
another colour alteration, now to red with white, blue and orange tampo
print and maintaining the blue interior. After a full decade in the
range, admittedly with an early major makeover, the BMW was finally
deleted in 1991 in favour of the Isuzu Amigo.
The new #70 for 1981 was the Ferrari 308GTB, released unsurprisingly in
Ferrari red. Pre-production models can be found in green and are
actually perhaps more attractive and very unusual, if inaccurate in
terms of authenticity. Pre-production models in production red can be
found with a beige interior, and pre-production models with the standard
black interior can be found with “No.8” on the base, indicating it was
originally planned to hold the position eventually given to the Rover
and vice-versa. The production model had clear windows, wide 5 arch
wheels, and the black interior. Rather than have a black stripe round
the model by virtue of tampo print, Lesney chose to mould the model so
that the interior extended outward and formed the stripe. This meant
moulding the metal base so that it also formed a significant part of the
lower body. As a result both body and base were sprayed the same
colour, but because this was not done simultaneously, often the shades
did not match! Sometimes the paint was distinctly orange-red, and the
base was more often the lighter shade. Originally plain, after a short
while black tampo print was added, first adding a large Ferrari emblem
at the front, later adding “Ferrari” to both sides. On occasion the
emblem was missed off examples with the side tampo still present. Even
rarer are examples with dot dash wheels, or dark amber windows, both of
which were produced in tiny quantities.
An interesting promotional Ferrari was released in 1988. A Canadian
company called “Data East” manufactured arcade games and decided that a
Matchbox Ferrari would feature in one of their pin ball machines with
the company name prominently shown. The game was called “Secret Service”
and was based on a spy thriller theme. In order that the model could
not move inside the machine, the mould had to be adapted to enable a
screw fitting to take place.
By 1983 the decision was taken to re-colour the base silver, to
eradicate the uneven body to base match of some all-red models. The
moulds for this model were shipped to Macau during 1983, and here the
red shade of the body became significantly darker. Also, after a short
while of Macau production, the wheels were altered and old style 5 spoke
wheels were fitted instead! In 1985 the model was partly recoloured:
the body remained red, though in a brighter shade, and the base became
blue! The interior became white, and 5 arch wheels were reinstated. The
tampo print was now a racing design in blue and white. A Ferrari F-40
replaced the 308GTB in 1989. The very rare BP model is shown together
with a few other variations.
Nigel Cooper 3rd July 2014