Hot Wheels dominate the small car scene. A market leader since its inception in 1968, Red Line models have changed model cars forever. But they weren’t the only ones entering the fray. Corgi entered the industry by creating more realistic and high-end models. Matchbox is another brand in the segment. First marketed in 1953, the brand takes its name from cars sold in cardboard boxes like matches. This brand became the property of Mattel, which also owns Hot Wheels in 1997. A Matchbox collector in the Netherlands lets YouTuber Diecast Dude see this massive collection of die-cast models that includes everything from boats to sports cars.
This British toy brand has done everything Hot Wheels hasn’t.
What Were The First Matchbox Cars?
According to Diecast Dude, this collection is “one of the most important in Europe”. Coming in these little cardboard boxes, these cars are tiny. This collector has all of these items, and they are clearly on display. On a yellow tilted table, it looks like a museum of toy cars. Numbered from 1 to 75, these cars don’t look as exciting as the first Hot Wheels vehicles that were muscle cars. According to Best Ride, the first Matchbox car was the Road Roller which was originally produced outside of the Matchbox brand. This toy started life as a larger toy sold by the parent company, but then got a new lease on life as a smaller Matchbox model, which later became number 1.
Another early model was the 1953 Coronation Carriage. Now, to an international audience, that probably means nothing. But Matchbox started life as a British company and in 1953 Queen Elizabeth II had her coronation. The company began under Lesney Products which from 1947 sold a line of toys with the most successful line of matchboxes. This sold as a “Special Limited Edition Coronation Coach”, as part of the Britain in Miniature range. The trainer for this collection is in the original box. Accompanying an iconic London black cab, double decker bus and Financial Times branded van.
How is Matchbox different from Hot Wheels?
Beginning production over a decade earlier, the Matchbox brand looks different from Hot Wheels. With their first models taking inspiration from construction vehicles and everyday cars, the brand seems more traditional. Over the years this has become clearer. As Diecast Dude explores the collection, we can see just how many utility vehicles the company has replicated. These include DHL-branded cargo planes, but also military transport trucks, cement mixers and emergency response vehicles. More realistic and down-to-earth, these models exist in a whole world away from Hot Wheel’s Twin Mill.
Matchbox was also involved in the manufacture of a range of aircraft and helicopters. These are included in this collection in their special showcases. This range produced everything from models of the Boeing 747 airliners branded Red Arrows, Concorde and British Airways. These are of varying qualities, early Matchbox air vehicles have a more cartoonish look as seen on Chinook style helicopters which feature garish liveries. But with the focus of this collection, it’s clear the brand has stayed true to its British roots and replicated the nation’s vehicles.
Britain’s finest achievement, the Royal Navy, whose success not only won many wars but also founded the nation’s Empire, gets a little recognition from Matchbox. The Sea King range takes place in this toy museum. Although it is less varied than the aircraft produced by the manufacturer.
What happened to Matchbox?
Until Matchbox was owned by Mattel, the toy line remained at 75 units. Under Mattel, this number increased to 100 before returning to the original 75. Many toy brands over the past few decades have almost collapsed. Whether because of digitization, video games or the many financial crashes.
Matchbox has always kept up with the times. Their latest products even include Teslas. In the 70s they produced Powertrack, a line of slot car racers to rival Scalextric. At the turn of the millennium, the brand even licensed certain video games. These took various forms, including the Emergency Patrol and the Construction Zone, which featured the Caterpillar brand of construction equipment. Although these efforts failed to take the power of Hot Wheels, which in the video game industry is still present with the recent release of Hot Wheels Unleashed.
Another example of the company’s ingenuity came with the Tracy Island playset, which is one of the biggest pieces in this collection. A replica of Tracy Island from the TV show Thunderbirds, it featured a runway for Thunderbird 2 and a launch pad for Thunderbird 1 and 3. This toy has become a legend, selling like hot cakes. To compensate for this scarcity, the BBC’s Blue Peter taught people how to build their own.
The company is still going strong but leans a bit more on its heritage. The Moving Parts product series sells older models but with more detail and opening doors and hoods. Like Mattel’s other Hot Wheels brand, Matchbox partners with other brands, including Jurassic Park, producing toys for the Jurassic World movie. As you would expect from a complete collection, these are in the Netherlands.
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