In bedrooms, in offices, on walls, in dressers, and tucked away in storage tubs all around the world you’ll find small diecast recreations of all kinds of vehicles. For seven decades, Matchbox has been making scale models of all kinds of cars, earning fans from kids to adults. To kick off the occasion, Matchbox is releasing limited edition vehicles that use recycled zinc.
Growing up, Matchbox cars were a critical component in honing me into a car enthusiast. I collected hundreds of Matchbox and the occasional Hot Wheels car until I had at least a few thousand of them.
In those early years, I spent countless hours arranging my Matchbox cars into highways brimming with traffic and citys full of action. My collection had a little bit of everything, too, from box trucks and semis to low-slung British and Italian supercars. I even had some Matchbox vehicles that weren’t cars, but boats, helicopters, and a McDonnell Douglas DC-10.
As an adult, my collection is much smaller–roughly 400 vehicles–but still pretty diverse. If anything, the Matchbox, Maisto, and Hot Wheels cars that I have left reflect who I am today.
I mean, in the mixed Matchbox and Hot Wheels collection is a GM RTS bus, about six school buses, five Mazda Miatas, and all kinds of VAG products.
Most of my little diecasts stay in a literal suitcase since my apartment doesn’t even come close to the necessary space to display the collection.
I’m sure so many of our readers have similar stories-albeit on a smaller scale-about how Matchbox and even Hot Wheels have left a lasting impression. It’s why I’m chuffed to hear that Matchbox is still going after 70 years and Mattel is still doing things with it.
70 Years Of Die-Cast Wonders
Mattel, the owner of Matchbox, explains that in 1947, after serving together in World War II, Leslie Smith and Rodney Smith launched Lesney Products. Working out of an old pub in London, Lesney was an industrial die-casting company. At the time, the Smiths-who were unrelated-rented space to an engineer named John W. “Jack” Odell, who would become a partner in the operation and ultimately, the one to spark the Matchbox brand.
Lesney got its start making small die-cast parts before transitioning to larger-scale die-cast model toys, including a die-cast road roller and a miniature version of Queen Elizabeth II Royal Coronation Coach that sold over a million examples. As Mattel writes, in 1953 Odell found himself creating something new. His daughter apparently went to a school where the only toys allowed were ones that could fit in a matchbox. He took the road roller, scaled it down to fit in a matchbox, then sent it to school.
The first Matchbox vehicles were industrial vehicles, but a year later, the Matchbox car-a 1954 MG TD Roadster-was born. Lesney, in partnership with German distributor Moko, created more vehicles until the catalog had reached 72 designs by 1959, with nine more on the way for the next year.
From there, Matchbox cars continued to expand and evolve, from King Size Matchbox vehicles in 1960 to the Superfast line in 1969, which was made in response to the successful launch of Mattel’s Hot Wheels. Hot Wheels cars may have been less-accurate replicas, but they came in vibrant colors and with low-friction mag-style rolling wheels. Hot Wheels cars also came with accessories like racetracks and since Hot Wheels is an American brand, it also featured more American style.
Going into the 1970s, Matchbox expanded further, getting into action figures, dolls, games, and other types of toys. The cars also got more complex, from high-speed industrial vehicles to the Rola-Matics, cars featuring a lug on one of the wheels that engaged and moved parts like spinning fans or moving engines. There were also Battle Kings military vehicles, Streakers colorful cars, Sea Kings model ships, and Sky Busters aviation models.
Though Matchbox was popular, Lesney struggled financially. In 1982, Lesney went bankrupt, and Matchbox became a part of Universal Toys. Later in the decade, Matchbox acquired one of its British competitors, Dinky. And in 1992, Matchbox sold to Tyco Toys, which then became a part of Mattel in 1997.
Today, Mattel still owns Matchbox and the brand continues to expand. You’ll still find new cars, Superfast is back, and despite inflation and everything else happening in the world, it’s awesome that you can still get a cool car for dirt-cheap during your grocery runs. Heck, my wife still comes home with new cars that she thinks I’d like.
Now, Matchbox is 70, and Mattel wants to celebrate with limited-edition die-casts that are made from recycled zinc:
The celebratory line will include special 70th anniversary die-cast vehicles featured in seven different assortments across the Matchbox line, all honoring the platinum anniversary with special platinum details. These selections are a combination of collector favorites and iconic vehicles spanning seven different decades and regions around the world.
Individual die-cast vehicles will be rolling into retail throughout the year and will be available throughout Matchbox’s 2023 die-cast product line. The limited-edition line is just the first of the many ways that Matchbox will be celebrating, with more announcements to come in July 2023.
Along the way, Matchbox will be continuing its trend of making cars from sustainable materials. In 2022, Matchbox released a Tesla Roadster made from 99 percent recycled materials. This theme will continue as Matchbox seeks to release more EV die-casts as well as accessories related to die-cast EV models like charging stations.
It looks like there’s a little bit of everything in there from a Boeing 747 and a Routemaster bus to a Jeep FC, a Ford Taurus Police Interceptor, an Audi RS6 Avant, a Dodge Charger, and even a Ford F-150 Lightning! I think I’m going to pick myself up that bus, plane, and Jeep FC. Oh heck, I’ll take them all. Matchbox says that these will be released onto global markets, so keep your eyes peeled.
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