Ok, you are going to have to bear with me while I get into a “get off my lawn!” mode.
I was in Target today, and encountered what has become a very familiar site in the diecast aisle. So instead of just passing by like I normally do, I decided to take a few pics.
Here are the Matchbox pegs at Target, with each photo in the sequence showing what is left as I take one model off from each peg until they are empty:
Do you sense a theme? A dreadful theme, but a theme nonetheless.
There has obviously been a lot of models purchased, but look what is left. There is not a licensed model in the bunch. And of all the unlicensed models hanging, most of them are unrecognizable in terms of the types of the vehicles they are. One is kind of a fire truck, another is kind of a police car or truck, one is kind of a sled or a car, one is kind of a van, and one is kind of a…uh…a…um…well it’s called a Coyote 500.
This scene seems to be duplicated at retailers all over. Lots of Matchbox hanging, and most of it unlicensed stuff that doesn’t look like much of anything real. And as my friend Brian puts it, more plastic than a cosmetics aisle.
Contrast that with some of the many Matchbox models I was encountering as I went through the collection to prepare for my move. And mind you, almost all of these came out in a 5-6 year period starting in 2005, and it is only a tiny smattering:
Like I said, these were only a small fraction of all the models released at the time. There were current cars, classic cars, domestic cars, Japanese cars, European cars, South American cars, and Australian cars. All in realistic colors and liveries.
Back when most of these models were being released, from about 2005 to 2010, I was bypassing the Hot Wheels section to hit the Matchbox section. There were gems galore. It was mighty fun collecting Matchbox.
And you know what? Those days need to return.
I have always maintained that Mattel can do what they want with their brands. Collectors are still a fringe group compared with the general toy consumer, and Mattel needs to target the group that was meant for these toys, whether we like it or not.
And currently with Matchbox that means that the powers that be decided to turn the brand into a more “imaginary” line for kids, creating models that supposedly mimic the way a kid would look at a large industrial vehicle. That meant a turn from realistic cars and colors that has been a Matchbox hallmark for so long.
Thankfully, through all of this Matchbox has still produced the occasional realistic casting, and fantastic models at that, like the BMW 1M, Dodge A100, and the megapopular ’93 Ford Mustang Police. And when they do, collectors get excited to see something not garish, and clearly toy consumers buy them as well. This year’s A100, for example, I have seen on the pegs only once, and the Mustang only a handful of times, and only right after a store was stocked.
So while my observations are not by any means scientific, it seems realism is still the way to go, or a very good option. Hot Wheels and Matchbox coexisted just fine back in the 2000’s with both producing realistic models. Where the differentiation occurred was in the style. While Hot Wheels would do a stanced muscle car, Matchbox would do a stock Vista Cruiser Wagon. Hot Wheels would do a Ford GT LM, while Matchbox would do a Ford GT. Hot Wheels would do a tricked racing Golf GTI, and Matchbox would do one just like you saw on the street, or even a more obscure hatchback like the fantastic Volvo C30:
Think how great it would be now, even with red-hot JDM. While Hot Wheels is producing tricked out RX-7’s, Skylines, and Supras, Matchbox could be doing, say, a stock Mazda Cosmo using their fantastic disk wheels, or maybe that stock NSX we have been wanting to see.
We could go on and on, but needless to say things are better when both Hot Wheels and Matchbox are producing great models in their respective wheelhouses. Hot Wheels has been on a tear, while Matchbox has been an anchorless ship lost at sea. The design talent is there, it is just up to the people with the checkbook to look a little deeper at what might work for the orange brand.
So, to do our part, we are starting a series looking at the models of the last great Matchbox era – 2005 to 2011. The models are being sorted, the photos taken, and the articles written. It is time to remind the older collectors, and teach the newer collectors, how awesome Matchbox can be.