Last month, at the Matchbox Gathering in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a new Matchbox Ambassador was named. Dirk Schleuer of Germany was chosen to take on the responsibilities for a span of twelve months, replacing Larry Scaduto.
If you are a regular reader of Lamley, or any Matchbox-related forum, you know that the term “Matchbox Ambassador” is thrown around a lot. Many of you probably know what it is about, but I am guessing many of you don’t.
The Matchbox Ambassador position was formed a little over a decade ago as a way for the Matchbox team to maintain a direct link to the collector community. It was a way for the Matchbox team to disperse information simply, and have questions and feedback passed directly back to them. The Ambassador would release regular reports from Mattel, which at first were distributed through email and then posted on various diecast forums. In turn, any comments or questions from collectors would be sent directly to the Ambassador, who would pass them on to the team.
To keep things fresh, and to give certain collectors a chance, it was decided that each Ambassador would serve for twelve months, from July to July to correspond with the Gathering. Dirk is the 11th Ambassador, continuing a long line of prominent and very knowledgable collectors who have served. (With one exception. Some doofus with a blog and a willingness to write – a lot – got the gig for one year back in 2012. Thankfully order was restored with Nigel Cooper being named the year after.)
If you talk to each Ambassador, I think all would say it was a blast to do, and created a much different perspective on what Mattel deals with in creating and releasing an entire year of product. I think all will also say it was nice to hand the reigns to someone else after doing it for a year. It is hard work.
But for all the work it takes, and for all the grief that can be directed an Ambassador’s way, there is a huge payoff. At the end of their tenure, each Ambassador is handed a Mattel-produced gold-plated Routemaster Double Decker Bus attached to a plinth and encased in plexiglass. Each Bus includes the Ambassador’s name, years of his tenure, and the number of his term.
They are very special models, each a one-of-a-kind, but also part of a unique subset of models, released as a one-off every year. When Dirk gets his next July, it will be the 11th released.
With 10 buses now handed out, it seems like a good time to get them all together. Actually putting them in one place would be extremely hard to do, as some are in the US and others in Europe, but thanks to Matchbox guru and historian Marcel Colign, we now have a photo collection of all 10.
Marcel was kind enough to share the photos he has compiled with Lamley, and has given us permission to post them here. You will see that over time the buses have changed slightly, but they maintain the same theme and bright gold color.
But before I show them, I should probably pass along the story of one additional bus that was made as part of an elaborate and very successful prank pulled by the Matchbox team for Ambassador #3 – and my Lamley cohort – David Tilley.
David is well known in Matchbox circles for two things – his love of the most minute shade variations (another story for another time), and his role as the DLM (Diecast Liberation Movement) supreme leader. He will open everything. And I mean everything. David has destroyed preproduction and test packaging, plexiglass cases for event models, and anything else that houses a model, no matter how rare.
Knowing this, and knowing that David Tilley’s Ambassador Bus would be opened the second it was given to him, the Matchbox Team came up with a plan. I will let recently-retired Matchbox Design Director Michael Heralda tell the story:
The Gold Routemaster Bus has become the iconic model given to all outgoing Matchbox Ambassadors as a parting gift. The very first Gold Bus was given to John Yanouzas and since this was sort of an experiment with our production team in Asia (to produce a gold plated bus) they made two samples – each one slightly different in body coloring due to the prep and plating process. We gifted John the better looking of the two which meant that I was the keeper of the other one where it rested happily on my shelf with a hundred other samples and models I liked.
When David Tilley’s term as 3rd Ambassador (2007-2008) was coming to an end I revised the original artwork to include his name on the bus and sent it off to our production team. Then the idea of playing a trick on him hit me. David, as many collectors know, is the poster kid for the Diecast Liberation Movement (DLM). Wouldn’t it be funny if David could not liberate his gold bus at the dinner presentation! That second spare gold bus came in handy when it was decided to encase it in a solid block of acrylic!
I remember how reluctant and nervous the guy in the model shop was thinking that the chemical reaction of the acrylic catalyst would eat away at the gold plating and destroy the model. I kept reassuring him that it was worth trying. Eventually he agreed and I was with him when he placed the bus in the mold and was there when he removed it. We both smiled to see that the only flaws were with some bubbles and mold marks. Once it “cured” completely he glued a black base to the bottom of the acrylic block making it appear like it was a regular presentation acrylic case with a gold bus inside. Visually, I knew it was good enough to fool David Tilley! And it was!
When the time came to present the gold bus to David, during the dinner event at the Collector Gathering, everyone in the room started laughing as David tried unsuccessfully to remove the gold bus. He did however manage to remove the black base that was glued to the bottom of the acrylic block. The look on his face was priceless when he realized there was no possibility of removing the bus without the aid of a hammer! Quickly I handed him the real gold bus and confiscated the one in acrylic.
Its a great conversation piece and one day I hope to see it displayed in a (Matchbox) museum along with its story – this one is dedicated to all members of the DLM army everywhere!