February 20th Matchbox Ambassador Report, by Nigel Cooper…

Ambassador Report 26
Apologies for the delay in distributing this report. You may have heard that in the UK we have experienced record levels of rainfall. Unfortunately, water affected our local electricity sub-station with the effect that I was without electricity for three days. I hope to be back to normal next week.
In case you have not seen the recent announcement, I repeat it below. After a very long wait, the 60th Anniversary International Brush Truck will be made available – at least to US collectors. I understand that Amazon is not making this offer available outside of the US.
I have great news to report, thanks to the efforts of Dave Weise. The long awaited 6oth Anniversary International Brush truck is now available at Amazon.com.  Here is the info: 
 The Matchbox 60th Exclusive International Workstar Brush Fire Truck Die-Cast is now available on Amazon for pre-order! 

Matchbox 60th Exclusive International Workstar Brush Fire Truck Die-Cast by Mattel 
$6.99 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details 
This item has not yet been released.
You may pre-order it now and we will deliver it to you when it arrives. 
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available. 
Bottom of Form
  • Celebrate 60th anniversary of Matchbox
  • Exclusive International Workstar Brush Fire Truck
  • Authentic die-cast parts
  • Realistic details and decos
  • A must have for any Matchbox collector!
Items are expected to ship to Amazon this week. Quantities are limited (less than 10K), so we expect these to move quickly. This is available exclusively on Amazon. This item is affordable and ready for pre-order. 

I also have some news regarding some recent changes to the new tools that are slated for this year.
We have had to change some of our planned new tools for 2014 this year.  This has delayed the posting of the 1-120 list thus far. Here is the latest update: 
  1. We are dropping the VW Bulli Concept for 2014 and will no longer pursue it.  It is being replaced by a new licensed Model. It will be the 93 Ford Mustang LX SSP.  SSP means Special Service Package. This is a police car based on the Mustang LX 5.0 .
  2. The Land Rover Evoque & LR4 will be moving to 2015.  Alternate existing models will be used in their place this year.  These are TBD so this is still subject to change.
  3. We have a vehicle name change for the BMW 1M it will be M1 instead.

As the real VW Bulli Concept seems to have been dropped according to this press release, it is no wonder that Matchbox has also reconsidered its release in miniature.
VW board member Ulrich Hackenberg has gone on record saying that the Bulli concept van, as shown at the last Geneva Motor Show, is not currently planned for production. That runs counter to recent reports that the German company was considering a vehicle in the small CUV segment that a Bulli might fill, though it doesn’t discount the earlier rumour entirely. Hackenberg cites a shortage of demand for a production Bulli as the reason for the project getting shelved. Love for the original Microbus remains high both inside VW and in the public at large, but it remains to be seen if nostalgia alone can be counted on to drive unit sales for something wearing the Bulli’s unique shape.
  • I have a suggestion for an EASY new SkyBusters model…..The US Navy is now using the Boeing P-8 Poseidon for anti-submarine duty.  In real life, this is an upgraded Boeing 737-800, which Matchbox has made recently (SB-71-A). If the Matchbox 737-800 were painted “military gray”, they could produce a P-8 Poseidon easily.  Just like the Matchbox Boeing DC-10 was painted gray and released as a military KC-10 tanker, which is a nice model. What do you think? 
Thanks for the suggestion but these days we prefer brighter decorations to attract kids so we probably would not do this version. Thank you anyway for suggesting it.
  • Did the International Pumper (modified) which is now designated as MB877 also include the new MAN #? I can tell my example is slightly modified; however it has the original MAN # (379). 
We will check on this. Depending on the amount of modifications it may have been allowed to stay the same.  We will check this however.
  • It appears that the Dodge casting has been modified to make the roof light part of the window. Can this be verified? Yes this was done. 
It can be seen on images of the Boone County police car.

Also since they stated this is happening to the X5, can we find out if this will happen to all models with added light bars.
For most of them yes. Some have not been revised yet.
  • The NEW RESCUE ATV. looks really amazing. Could the next design use one of the rural fire departments which use these kind of apparatus for wilderness fires/rescue as opposed to regular sized rigs. For an example google Mildred fire company in Sullivan County pa. they run 2 since they protect part of Rickett’s Glenn National Park. 
Thanks for the suggestion.
  • While doing a search, I also found that the fire dept. in Geneva, Switzerland uses Ford E-Series ambulances. Even though I find it a little weird to see a US (well it’s a Canadian-made Crestline ambulance body) ambulance in a European country, I think that this would be a good unique design and a break from the mostly made-up agencies (only the San Luis Obispo and Boone Co. designs were real) 
  • I am really excited to see the 6×6 ATV. It looks good, and has some fun details included. For those of you unfamiliar with the actual vehicle it’s based on, run a Google image search for “Polaris Ranger 6×6,” or take a look at these that have already been converted for ambulance duty:
    Matchbox has done a really great job in modeling that vehicle, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a really cool vehicle to start with. 6×6 always wins bonus points in my book. From the time the Sahara Survivor appeared, I thought it was inspired by the British Special Forces Pink Panther Land Rover [Link: http://www.landroverclub.net/Club/HTML/Pink_panther.htm ][Link: http://www.allisons.org/ll/4/LandRover/Military/Pink-Panther/ ] What are the chances of Matchbox putting out a version of this casting in the pale, matt pink formerly used for desert camouflage? 
We are aware of this decoration. This pink version however, may not be the most appealing.
  • Other questions/idea: We know that Matchbox’s current focus is on exploration and adventure. Matchbox did a great version of the Space Shuttle, but what about making the Lunar Rover for the mainline? It certainly counts as exploration and adventure, and if Hot Wheels’ Mars Rover is any indication, vehicles with such a unique historic/scientific value sure don’t stay on the pegs for very long. 
This is a good suggestion.  Thanks.

Similarly, the Camel Trophy was a competition based not on racing or speed, but on exploration and getting through difficult terrain. What about making a Camel Trophy livery of one of the many Matchbox Land Rovers? The Defender 110 would be perfect, although just about any one of them would work. Again, an authentic livery of a historic competition should have a high demand on the pegs. 

We are aware of the Camel Challenge which is very exciting but as a kids brand there are issues with the Camel connection.
There are no new images available to show this week. I expect to have more in my next report.

A Little More History
When one thinks of designers for Matchbox cars, one might imagine a whippersnapper fresh out of a college design course with aspirations to design real cars or a seasoned professional with boundless ideas for new models which would be implemented if only other parties did not have an influence. In the event, members of Matchbox Research and Design departments have covered a wide range of skills and ideas which has led to such a wide range of vehicles over the years.
However, there is an exception. In 1969, The Vauxhall Craftsman’s Guild in the UK held a competition to design a sports car with a top prize of £500 plus a 10 day visit to America – a very worthwhile prize 45 years ago. The winner of the competition was a 16 year old Welsh boy, who had taken 450 hours to design and build his Class “B” Sports Car. The designer and the car were featured at length in the Guildsman News magazine with photos of his American trip. 
Tucked away further in the magazine were the second, third and fourth placed senior entries. The third placed model was designed by Philip Gannon aged 19 of Cheshunt, Herts. He was awarded £200 for his metallic silver, grey and black Class “B” sports car. He had specified polarised safety glass all round to prevent sun glare and heat rays. I have no idea what happened next, or whether Philip received any further credit, but his design was exactly taken up by Matchbox and released as #40, Vauxhall Guildsman, in its miniature form in August 1971. It had been the subject of a blue coloured line drawing in the 1971 pocket catalogue under the heading of new models. When it became available, it was issued in bright pink, called “hot pink” by our American friends. It had an unpainted base, which included the grille and exhaust pipes, with a white plastic interior, green tinted windows and included a bonnet label. The Guildsman fitted in well with the futuristic designs produced by Lesney R & D department at this time.
Although the eventual collapse of Lesney may be attributed by some people to models such as the Guildsman, which obviously lacked authentic realism, this was not correct. True the company had lost £1.25 million in 1970, but the crash programme to streamline production, especially with the introduction of Superfast wheels, had put Lesney back into the black with a profit of £750,000 by the end of 1971 with the UK market leading the way. The second half of 1971 had even seen the North American Matchbox market making money following its collapse in 1969/70 caused by competition from Hot Wheels. The improvement in profits for 1972 was maintained. Contrary to popular belief, it was not competition from Hot Wheels that led to the future demise of Lesney. Sales of diecast models were always in profit.

Pre-production samples
Although the eventual collapse of Lesney may be attributed by some people to models such as the Guildsman, which obviously lacked authentic realism, this was not correct. True the company had lost £1.25 million in 1970, but the crash programme to streamline production, especially with the introduction of Superfast wheels, had put Lesney back into the black with a profit of £750,000 by the end of 1971 with the UK market leading the way. The second half of 1971 had even seen the North American Matchbox market making money following its collapse in 1969/70 caused by competition from Hot Wheels. The improvement in profits for 1972 was maintained. Contrary to popular belief, it was not competition from Hot Wheels that led to the future demise of Lesney. Sales of diecast models were always in profit.

The Guildsman quickly became the subject of many variations. The flame bonnet label with a black dot soon appeared with a blue dot and the green tinted plastic windows could be found in various shades. By early 1975 the body colour had been changed to red whilst retaining the blue edged flame label. The 1975 catalogue revealed a forthcoming new range whereby several models were to be given a facelift and termed “Streakers”. All featured “super multi-coloured liveries”. Although destined to become normal issues within the 1-75 range, initially they were produced for use on various “Streak Sets”. They all included plastic runways which were designed to bring out the best from the Superfast wheels. Cars were now able to loop the loop in gravity defying stunts because of the speed of these low-friction wheels.

The “Streaker” Guildsman had a blue 40 on a tan background tampo printed on to the bonnet and a tan stripe applied to the rollover bar, although the body remained red. A curious crossover found the pink model with the Streaker design. Around the same time the green windows gave way to amber tinted windows. Several variations could also be found with dot-dash instead of the more usual 5-spoke wheels which appeared in two sizes. The Guildsman then became part of the TP-4 Two Pack, where it could be found towing the old 57d Trailer Caravan – rather an unlikely combination for a Class B Sports Car!! The only major difference between this model and the standard range one was that the TP model usually had a silver grey base.

The Guildsman and Caravan pairing did not prove to be a particularly good seller and by 1979, the even more unlikely combination of a gold Maserati Bora and the Trailer Caravan had emerged as the new TP-4. Some of the remaining Guildsman cars were packed in Tesco 3- and 5-packs. However, these were undecorated and to be found in plain red. A few models were found in a much deeper shade of red with either the 5-spoke or dot-dash wheels. It was thought that by the end of 1980 we had seen the last of the Vauxhall Guildsman, but it was not to be.

Eastern European countries had generally been unable to import diecast models from the West, although Matchbox had had some limited success in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Children there had a very poor range of model cars to select from. There had been some attempt to copy European designs but these were of a very poor quality. Some diecast toys from the Soviet Union did reach countries such as Bulgaria and Hungary but they were generally of a military theme! Purchasers of the real cars fared little better. In the 1980s the Lada was by far the most popular car in Bulgaria, although sales of Skoda were increasing. For the less discerning, there was the East German manufactured 6-volt, 2-stroke Trabant. Perhaps the sales pitch for the Trabant could have been, “You’re never alone in a Trabant, there’s bound to be another broken down a few hundred yards up the road”. I visited Bulgaria many times and Trabants littered the highway.

Bulgaria in particular had requested Lesney to lease some of its moulds from deleted models in the range. Although Bulgarian children would have seen the Mercedes or Russian Zils in which the senior officials of the Communist party travelled, they would not have been able to recognise whether the Morris Minor or Hillman Minx, for example, was the latest model around in Western Europe during the mid-1980s. Management at Matchbox had always feared a drop in quality control and so it was written into the contract that models were not allowed to be sold outside of Bulgaria. Quality control in fact was very high as much of the work performed in England on machines was now done by hand and many checks on quality control occurred to give more Bulgarians jobs. It was said that the paint spraying was carried out by hand. This would help to explain the huge number of paint shades on models or perhaps it was difficult for the Bulgarians to match paint. Certainly, whatever paint came to hand was used.

Matchbox leased moulds a few at a time. The Guildsman was one of the second range of Bulgarian models produced and it was manufactured along with a Mark II 1968 Cortina in 1985. There were at least 20 body colours used on the Guildsman, but variations also abounded on windows, interiors and base colours. To avoid confusion and maintain legal requirements the bases were altered to read, “Matchbox Int’l Ltd.” and “Made in Bulgaria”. It was necessary for Matchbox to supply wheels and axles and in this way a check could be kept on the number of models made.

To brighten up rather a plain model, the factory decided to apply a design to the bonnet in the form of “RUFF TREK” tampo printing. I am not sure where the factory found this design which was rather incongruous on the Guildsman, for the same design was being used on an off-road Pick-up model currently in the miniature range. It probably meant little to a Bulgarian child who, assuming they could read the logo, would have little idea of what it meant.

I believe that the moulds were returned at the end of 1985 to be replaced by further new models. Black, red and silver models were the hardest to find and nowadays there is a premium on the Bulgaria produced Guildsman. I wonder whether Philip Gannon, the original designer, received a royalty for every Guildsman model produced. He may well be grateful for such a payment as this year he will be receiving his Old Age Pension.
Nigel Cooper      20th February 2014

7 Replies to “February 20th Matchbox Ambassador Report, by Nigel Cooper…”

  1. I've already pre-ordered two of the International.

    The Mustang comes as a complete surprise to me. Is it going to be in the CHP livery as the one pictured?

    I'm getting a little tired of seeing the strange designs on licensed military aircraft. Why not make them realistic like Maisto's Tailwinds?

    With all of the variations the Bulgarian Matchbox cars have, I bet it's a headache keeping up with them.

  2. Thank you for answering my questions! I guess it makes sense that you can't do the Camel Challenge livery on a toy…I hadn't thought of the tobacco connection, but in retrospect it's obvious. And it looks like I'll be customizing my own Pink Panther Sahara Survivor. I just hope that Matchbox keeps producing the casting long enough that I can find enough to work with.

    The police special Mustang should be fun. I collect Mustangs, but the 90's are very under-represented in the toy market, so this will be a welcome addition to the collection.

    It's a bummer that the VW Bulli had to be dropped, but it does make sense in the context of focusing on vehicles that kids will see in real life. I just hope Matchbox keeps putting the other VW Bus variants on the shelf. The T1 21-window, T1 panel van, and T2 camper never seem to stay on the pegs very long.

    Again, thanks to Matchbox for answering my questions, and to Nigel for passing them on.

  3. WHAT A SURPRISE, two stunning British cars dumped for another year and replaced by more USA tat, If OXford Diecast can can get the entire Jaguar Land Rover range right, and released on time why cant you.

  4. I was looking forward to the bulli. I thought it looked cool and good proportions. I hope someone else will go for it. Matchbox did the terradyne concept a while back!
    I like boxy cars and vans

  5. You keep hearing how the deco has to look good for the kids and how they'd want this adventure stuff, so why are they doing a bland 90s mustang? I don't see kids, especially outside of north America. being interested in this one. I wish Mattel would keep Matchbox as an International company rather than pandering to the US market all the time.

  6. Hey, long time no see Nigel. But's great to see you again.

    Now there's no images of new releases? What a shame then. Well at least you showed some answers from Matchbox (or Mattel).

    But… HEY! Now the Bulli is going to be taken outta here!? Darn it! And now a replacement for that VW creature! But that's a stunning type that Matchbox would make. Or what if the Mustang police AND that Bulli wold BOTH be in that mainline. So that there's no more complaining. I am complaining a little bit, but is it worth a try?

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