Home » Matchbox Celebrates 70 Years Of Making Tiny Cars With These Special Zinc Models

Matchbox Celebrates 70 Years Of Making Tiny Cars With These Special Zinc Models

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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.

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Mercedes Streeter

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.

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Mercedes Streeter

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.

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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.

Photographer David Chickering Stylist Josette Mehrdad
Mattel

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.

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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.

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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.

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Matthew Bollock Auctioneers

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.

Photographer David Chickering Stylist Josette Mehrdad
Mattel

Now, Matchbox is 70, and Mattel wants to celebrate with limited-edition die-casts that are made from recycled zinc:

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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.

Photographer David Chickering Stylist Josette Mehrdad
Mattel

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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Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
12 days ago

Some of these castings are cool, but the 70 the Anniversary graphics kill the vibe for me on most.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
1 year ago

Cool, I’ll have to look for these. I have well loved Matchbox cars going back to the 60s as well as an occasional modern impulse buy.
My favorite new one is,the Soul Red Mazda CX-5 that’s a near match for the one in the driveway. I’m tempted to kitbash a,roof rack and bike rack and a teeny tiny Dr Who K9 toy in the console

Steve Balistreri
Steve Balistreri
1 year ago

I identify a lot with this story. Had a huge collection of die-cast cars as a kid. I even did a grade school science fair project where I compared Matchbox to Hotwheels and the generic Wallgreens brand. (don’t remember whether Matchbox or Hotweels won)

My childhood ones all got lost to time, but when my son was born I started buying more. I got a box of crummier used ones off marketplace for him to throw around, and get my special ones at the grocery store. He ends up playing with mine a lot more lol.

Myk El
Myk El
1 year ago

My grandmother would get my brother and I a collection box, maybe 15-20 cars for Christmas when we were young. It was awesome. But for 1980s kids, this may be one of the weirdest things the matchbox brand got attached to:

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Not mine, but I have this, with box. Bought MANY years after the fact because I couldn’t afford it at the time.

Israel Moore
Israel Moore
1 year ago

Matchbox was my start-up to my collection. I received my first models on Christmas Day 1973, a 9-piece set from Sears that I still have today. Matchbox now make up the majority of my 15,000+ collection, along with Hot Wheels, Corgi, Maisto, Majorette, Yatming, Norev, Tomica, Greenlight, Jada, M2 Machine, Johnny Lightning, and other brands too numerous to list. I celebrated Year 49 last Christmas, and hoping to make 50 this year.

I’ve always been a die-hard Boxhead from the start-I still have the Matchbox Big Banger sweatshirt I bought in 1976! I’ve been concentrating on the older models for the last decade and now have the #1 steam roller posted here. I also have nearly all of the fast food and cereal premiums Matchbox has offered, including the Taco Bell series from 1974 and 1998, and the six Matchbox Across America McDonald’s exclusives from the 2003 50th Anniversary series. I can only wonder if MBX and McD’s will do this again.

A few commenters here applaud Mattel for keeping Matchbox alive. the horrible truth about that statement is, Mattel hs tried to kill MBX several times in the past. To realize and understand, you have to look behind the curtains and into the boardroom, like I do (as a business major). It’s not pretty. The prototype for Hot Wheels was a matchbox Mustang coupe fitted with the iconic thin wire axles and wide wheels. Since then, Mattel set out to dominate the diecast market and ultimately laid waste to nearly every brand in its past. Dinky, Lone Star/Impy and the first run of Johnny Lightning were many of the casualties. they tried to buy MBX in 1982 when parent Lesney went bankrupt, just to capture MBX’s market share and kill the brand, but Universal bought MBX insterad. Mattel bought Corgi in 1987, and slowly took over Corgi’s market share and left the brand to die, until Corgi’s management bought it back in 1994. The when Tyco was forced to sell its toy unit in 1997, Mattel bought Matchbox. they have tried several times to kill the brand, including the 2002-2004 Hero City trainwreck, and cutting down the shipping cases from 72 to 24 models. But Matchbox is still alive, thanks to a dedicated Matchbox team and support from the Hot Wheels team, and the legions of Boxheads, myself included, who refuse to let the brand die and will contact Mattel in a heartbeat when we don’t like how MBX is treated. My beef with Mattel right now is the 24-count shipping case, the amount of space on the shelves for MBX vs. HW (and in the case of Dollar General, on the endcap), and the lack op MBX’s presence in the home country, England. And it seems England is scheduled to get some attention, s that’s a small victory.

Customer service is a joke. I write directly to Mattel Corporate.

I’ll be talking with A&J Toys, Wheel Collector and 3000toys.com to get my models. Walmart, Target, and the other brick-and-mortar retailers are going to be a crap shoot, because of the scalper infestation.

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