Matchbox Monday – A look at The Toy Fairs of El Segundo

As mentioned in my mini moment the other day, the box from USA hasn’t made it to the UK on time for me to showcase some new items courtesy of Wheel Collectors so today I will delve into my collection for something a bit unique. I thought for my first dive back I would do a post about Toy Fairs.

Now Toy Fairs have been going a long time, and Matchbox has been creating exclusive models for them for many years, long before The El Segundo team took over. These 3 were from the Tyco era in the 1990s.

However, Matchbox was originally a UK company (Lesney) and when they went bust in 1982 the R&D team for both Universal and into Tyco were still based in the UK. It was only when Tyco were situated properly that the UK office closed and the team was moved to Mt Laurel in New Jersey. When Mattel took over the Tyco company they inherited both the Matchbox brand and other Tyco properties including offices. For a while the Matchbox team still worked out the of Mt Laurel officesand as many know, the early 2000s they took a turn towards the very young age market, with both Hero City launching for 2003, with the MB547 Cycle with Sidecar being the first vehicle to show off the new “Hero City” design, and then the MB617 Whistle Car showcasing the ultimate direction being one of the Ultra Hero models that would debut that year. Sales plummeted and Mattel took the decision to close Mt Laurel and move the R&D for Matchbox in-house at El Segundo. Almost all employees from Mt Laurel chose not to relocate to El Segundo and so a whole new team was set up to turn the fortunes around.

Since they took over in mid-2004 shortly before the Hershey convention that year, their first look at the brand was noting one thing. The newly launched Superfast series was proving to be well received, and thus a new direction of realism was launched. Real – Action – Adventure.

One of the first things they did was to create their first toy fair model. There was only a short turnaround before the 2005 Toy Fair was due to take place, and they took it upon themselves to grab one of the more rugged and realistic models, the MB628 Land Rover SVX which had just launched that year, and create a new design which highlighted their direction.

They even came up with a 50-50 split, with half sporting real rider wheels and a gold base section, the other half featuring regular wheels and a brown base.

The model itself was actually a concept vehicle which had launched in 2004 in the basic range in black. This was the concept vehicle design itself in black which actually was unveiled at the 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show. The casting ran until 2007 in the basic range, and apart from 3x 5-pack issues and a 10-pack issue, it finally saw a swansong as part of the Land Rover series in 2016 in green.

In the 2000s it was common to showcase vehicles at more than 1 toy fair. Late September is the main one, which is not open to the public, but they used to create toy fair models for the pre-Toy Fair in June each year too. The 2006 PTF (pre-Toy Fair) which was in June 2005 and at this time the El Segundo team had found their footing and had even worked with Jeep to launch the Jeep Hurricane at the NAIAS in Detriot during January that year. When Jeep pulled back the covers on the concept vehicle, they proceeded to hand out samples of them made by Matchbox.

It was not long after that we saw the same MB670 casting as the PTF in a fairly similar design.

The 2005 MB43 debut was also fairly similar except the PTF had an orange interior, and the basic range had no front tampo printing. It too last saw use in 2016, this time in the Jeep set, in a nice black design that was not too far away from the debut.

They stuck with Jeep for the main Toy Fair model later in 2005. The 2006 Toy Fair model was actually the previous NAIAS Jeep showcase. For 2004 they unveiled the Rescue Concept at NAIAS in January and Matchbox were creating it for the 2005 basic range, which likely led to Jeep approaching them to make a model of the Hurricane for NAIAS 2005 at the same time.

The MB677 Jeep Rescue Concept had just debuted in the 2005 basic range, but this was an all-bells and whistle version for the toy fair.

We also saw the team in El Segundo really start to stamp their own touches here, as the rear window was an early showcase of the codes that they would slide into vehicle tampos. This was quite an easy code to crack, with many letters being replaced by their respective numbers. L514S N5V5R 6O1212OWS translates to “Leads never follows”. Plus shorthand for the license plate (GR8SCAP – great escape).

The casting first appeared in the basic range as MB67 in its concept green design, and continued on until 2013 where it finished in blue as MB49.

The 2007 pre-Toy Fair took place in June 2006 and this time the MB687 International CXT was chosen to be the toy fair model in black. It had just debuted that year as MB29.

But the PTF saw a much more enhanced tampo design including the rear window.

It’s one of the things with these toy fair models in that there is no limit to what can be done, and the CXT (Commercial Xtreme Truck) was a showcase for just what can be done in real life too. The Matchbox model lasted a lot longer though as the real vehicle was produced from 2004 until 2008. But this was the first production vehicle that Matchbox in El Segundo had chosen as a toy fair vehicle.

The model was in the range from 2006 until 2014 where it ran from the initial yellow finishing in INC blue. The casting was then altered into MB986 (the most noticeable difference was the interior now forming most of the rear bed) where it ran for 3 more versions, the last being the 2018 MB22.

The main 2007 Toy Fair taking place later in 2006 saw the MB697 ’97 Land Rover Defender used as the promotional tool.

Again they were able to go nuts with the tampo design, from the tough license plate of the rear and also showcasing one of their newer taglines of the time, Matchbox Mission.

Detailing all the luggage on the roof was also a great bonus highlighting just what they could do with a model. I still believe this is one of the nicest toy fair models they have ever made.

The MB697 casting itself was used from 2006 where it debuted in green as 55 all the way until 2018 where it saw its final use as part of the Globe Trotters series in orange.

The eagle eyed may have noticed that the swansong was done using the original casting. It saw 2 changes during production, the first being a change to the roof to incorporate some of the roof items as part of the window section, and then the spotlights were also moved to the window section and the roof rails were lowered. The snorkelwas also moved to the alternate side for these too. But as its final issue was a premium, they pulled out the original casting to send it off in style.

The 2008 pre-Toy Fair took place in June 2017 and featured the MB712 Desert Thunder V16. This was the first time a Matchbox original had been used in these toy fairs from El Segundo, but this casting was a fairly popular one, and so was this release.

Again, the team was able to cut loose with the detailing, giveing literally every surface some sort of treatment.

Even things like the side cupboards utilising the Real Action Adventure in their naming was a cool feature.

The casting is still going. From 2007 where it debuted as MB63 in orange, the first time it missed a year was 2018, but was seen in 2019 in the Service Squad 5-pack, again in orange. Will we see more, or was that a swansong? Time will tell. It did change manufacturing numbers though, as it is now under the MB928 moniker. However, I don’t really know why. The only thing I can see is the side where the cupboard were now just has lines straight down to the bottom, rather than a lower edge groing across. I see nothing else different. That’s a very minor thing to change a manufacturing number for.

I said the Land Rover was one of the best toy fair models they ever did. This is the best, in my opinion. The MB734 ’70 VW T2 Bus is a very iconic vehicle, but it is just all the stuff that they added to the model. This was literally taking things to a whole new level. The “We’re going to the moon” sign on the side for starters.

But just look at all this stuff on the back. All these signs. This just really is the epitome of just how much fun can be had with one model.

The other side had an alternate side sign. I’m up for the bar-b-que.

The model had debuted in 2007 in the basic range too, where it was also a more basic orange where it was sold as MB79 in the US range or MB55 in the ROW range. It stopped being used after 2013 except a 1-off use in 2017 in the Best of series in grey. I sincerely hope it is not the swansong as it is a lovely casting.

2008 was quite significant as it was the last time that the El Segundo team created a casting to be given away at the pre-Toy Fair in June. The MB713 ’65 Austin Minivan was chosen for this event.

They even put the dates on it, June 2nd to 6th.

I don’t know what the paint process for this was, but the bronze actually feels almost fuzzy. And it does scratch quite easily. But that is not enough to stop me keeping this model loose.

The casting has been around since 2007, where it first debuted in the basic range as MB31 in tan. It is still going. Sadly as I mentioned, I am waiting on my box to arrive from Wheel Collectors, and this includes the 2020 Sweets set, which includes a green one, so I show the last sweets model, which was released in mid 2019.

The main Toy Fair still receives a model though each year, and for 2009 they showcased a fire engine for the first time. The MB755 Pierce Dash Fire Engine in red and chrome was the model given away to prospective customers that time.

A high level of detailing was added.

It didn’t have the fun aspect of the 2008 Toy Fair VW, but it was very realistic. 205-2012 has sometimes been referred to as a golden age for the brand, and in 2008 they were right in the middle of it.

The casting had debuted that year as MB75 in red and is still going. The latest 5-pack production run for 2020 with the MBX Construction II set included also features some recent 5-packs continuing with it, and the 2019 MBX To The Rescue 5-pack which features this black and zamac version is still in the mix.

So no more pre-Toy Fairs. Just a yearly promotional Toy Fair model from now on. The 2010 Toy Fair took place in 2009 (they take place around September/October each year, as the model years often start before the year finishes). The MB767 Quick Sander was chosen this time, and let’s just say this has Michael Heralda written all over it. He was one of the designers for Matchbox moving over from with the Mattel company to showcase his talents when they moved from Mt Laurel, and even though he is retired, he still creates some of the modern liveries for recent issues. His “Adlar58” logo is quite well known, you can just see his influence all over this.

He namechecks the Matchbox team, which has been done a few times (the 2019 5-pack Desert Thunder shown earlier did the same). Plus we also got the Matchbox name tampo printed on the wheels. First time wheels saw printing since the 2005 Toy Fair.

I don’t know why, but the Quick Sander was a later casting in the same style as the Ridge Raider, and I much prefer this casting, but the Ridge Raider has seen much more action. The Ridge Raider first debuted in 2007 and was still going as it was in the 2019 basic range, but this started 2 years later.

The yellow was the 2009 debut as MB75, but it has not been seen since this 2016 MB121 (another significant Michael Heralda design) appeared in 2016.

In 2010 another brand new casting that debuted that year was used for the 2011 Toy Fair release. The MB801 International WorkStar Brush Fire Truck was used in black and again had tampo on the wheels, although this time the Toy Fair 2011 design.

As with the Pierce a few years earlier, this was a very detailed and realistic interpretation of a model which was being used to show that the brand was being used as a heritage brand.

The only other mention of this being a toy fair model outside of the wheels was the front license plate which stated TF 2011.

MB801 first debuted, as mentioned, in 2010 in red and white as MB52. It was semi retired after 2013 as it was altered into MB939. However, the tooling still exists and has seen a couple of uses in premium releases, the last being as a promotional tool in 2017 for the Everett Marshall Annual Golf Tournament, with half the models being metallic red for the Burns Foundation, the other half being metallic pink in aid of cancer research. MB939 stil lives on, and the latest issue appeared in the first batch of 2020 as MB74.

It’s another Jeep. Third one on the list. However, this was a first. In 2 ways. This was the debut for MB832. The Jeep Wrangler Superlift was being created for release in the 2012 basic range, but the 2012 Toy Fair model actually appeared in September 2011. It was also the first collaboration between the Matchbox brand and Superlift Suspensions in USA. The real vehicle was a 1-off shown at SEMA in 2011, with the Matchbox model following suit in early 2012, but before it, we already saw what it was looking like with this.

As with all toy fair models, this received a full set of tampo prints.

Although the wheel printing was gone, and there was no mention of the Superlift company.

It then debuted in the basc range in the same green design as used at SEMA as MB51, and ran until 2016 where it was last seen in blue as MB119, still sporting the Superlift logo, as apart form the toy fair version the 2015 issue was also the only other one not to feature the logo.

This was a rather unusual choice for casting in a way. The MB694 Double Decker Bus has been in use from 2007 until 2010 before being dropped from the basic range. So when this surfaced in 2012 to advertise the 2013 range, it was quite the shock!

Of course the side surface is a marvellous platform to advertise the 2013 range and the 60th Anniversary celebrations. Both sides featured different designs, fully formed in ink jet across all surfaces as well as front and rear designs, and a union flag on the roof.

Occasionally this model pops up again,. Always a popular release when it does. Clearly based on an AEC Routemaster from the 1950s, it doesn’t officially make mention of it, so you could say it was a Matchbox original, although we all know what it really is.

As I said, it pops up once in a while, and after debuting as MB56 in red in 2006, the last we have currently seen of it is in the 2016 Best of series in golden tan.

Well I did say 2005-2012 was sometimes known as a golden age. 2013 saw a change of direction where the team were trying to think of vehicles as seen from a small child’ s point of view. They would be tall. We saw a school bus on 4×4 wheels and a fire engine on 4×4 wheels. We also saw the MB884 Dump Dozer, or the Screamapillar as I called it (it was in The Simpsons episode “The Frying Game” in 2002).

They were trying to incorprate some more tracked vheicles in the range too, although sadly these were not as well received.

There was actually a lot of detailing in that tracked section, which when detailed as it was for the 2014 Toy Fair later in 2013 actually showed it off perfectly. Sadly the model was not the most realistic.

After 4 releases (3 basic and one Jurassic) the casting was retired. Shown are the 2013 MB42 debut in yellow/silver and the 2016 MB46 swansong in blue/orange.

The 2015 Toy Fair was actually another of the 2013 castings. This being the last Matchbox originals casting chosen so far. The MB881 Blaze Blitzer was a fairly realistic looking fire engine, albeit with a large hose on the roof.

Fully detailing the model actually showed it was pretty decent. It also gave an indication that the change of direction was not going too well and more realism was on the cards.

The model looked fairly decent in this guise.

As mentioned, it did debut in 2013 as MB27 in red with a very European looking side design with yeloow checks. It has not been seen since 2016 where it was also red, this time as MB76 with a Wilton Fire design.

The 2016 Toy Fair model featured one of the new 2015 castings, the MB976 Ghe-O Rescue. It was the first of a run of bronze models that the current team were going with.

The model sports a fairly simple design which is really nice, and with full tampo printing it does give it a great aesthetic.

It was also a showacase into the current direction which again brings us to what could be classed as a new golden age. 2013-2015 did drift a bit. I have often stated how Matchbox ebbs and flows. We get good periods, we get others which are not as well received. But 2016 onwards has seen a return to the level of realism not seen since the 2005-2012 era. As the brand builds itself back up again we are starting to see a lot more of what we want to see. Moving parts, premiums, Convoys, more licensed vehicles etc. A lot of work is going on behind the scenes to get things going forward the right way, and much of it could be traced back to here. This was the first sign of the current recovery.

The Ghe-O debuted in 2015 as MB49 in red, and so far the latest issue was the No Road, No Problem 5-pack issue in 2019.

In 2016 Matchbox came up with a very clever idea for a model. The MB1056 Mercedes Benz G63 AMG 6×6 is a very clever casting. There is a rule limiting parts used in a basic range model, and this vehicle has 3 axles, which does cause issues. But they came up with a clever workaround. The interior section is all internal. Many interiors will form areas outside of what is inside, but this will literally just slot into the middle of the model during production. Remember, models are actually produced upside down so you begin with the body upside down, and drop a window section in, then interior, wheels and base on top. Then rivet it together and turn it over. But this interior can be added or not added and it will make no difference. For a basic issue, make the windows too dark to see inside and leave out the interior. For a premium, make the window section visible through and include the interior. This model also moved us to another new occurance, as each Toy Fair release since this one has been the debut. Although it was not the first (remember the Jeep Wrangler Superlift was too), but the 2017 Toy Fair model which arrived in fall/autumn 2016 was the first we saw of the casting.

As with the Ghe-O the previous year, the model was bronze and was a simple design with just a few nods to being a toy fair model.

But it did see full detailing across all surfaces which really showcases what can be done.

It then went on to debut in the 2017 basic range in cream wiht blacked out windows. It is still in general production with the 2019 basic being red, but a Target exclusive having clear windows and interior. 2020 has already seen a blue Superfast issue which I showcased the other week, so I thought I would put the previous pair of issues in instead.

The 2018 Toy Fair model was the MB1078 Chevy Colorado Xtreme which, just like the Mercedes the previous year, was the debut version of the casting.

It shared a lot of traits with the Merc too. Bronze, spare wheel detailed in the rear bed, and a simnple design which showcases the realistic look with a few subtle nods to the toy fair on it.

I have to admit, I am a big fan of the recurring toy fair theme. I like the models all having a similar look to them.

Of course, we are pretty close to being up to date now, so after debuting in 2018 as MB92 in orange, we are now on to its 3rd issue so far in blue for 2020 as MB93. I am sure we have plenty to come from this casting.

Which brings us to what is, in my humble opinion, the best of the bronze issue Toy Fair models. For 2019 we got the MB1185 ’85 Porsche 911 Rallye.

It follows the traits of the previous 2 by being a fairly simple design, and yes it has the spare wheel tampo printed too on the roof.

I am a huge Porsche fan, so was over the moon when I heard this was going to be the 2019 Toy Fair model. It doesn’t disappoint for me. I love it. And yes, I am still standing by my VW T2 being the best toy fair model. It was purely the fun factor of that toy fair model. But this is my favourite casting used as a toy fair model. Easily!

Obviously it only debuted in 2019 and so far has only seen one release in white. It was MB65. 2020 will see the next basic range issue shortly which I cannot wait for. I love my Porsches.

Finally, for the 2020 Toy Fair is the latest promotional. The MB1205 ’16 Alfa Romeo Giulia. After a run of bronzes, this has moved to a dark red design with many black highlights. It is also the first time since half of the 2005s saw it, the wheels are 2-part rubber premium wheels.

The level of detailing is sky high again. Just look at the tiny Alfa Romeo badge on the rear. It’s too small to properly make it out, but you can see the colours are there. They went for it.

And on the front too. This is a beautiful model and a wonderful casting. The full printing really highlights just how nice it is.

Of course it has just debuted in the 2020 basic range, and I hope that the 2020 MB12 is the first of many releases for this casting.

So there you go. In lieu of a showcase of new stuff a little dive into my collection. Next week, all being well, I will be putting new for 2020 stuff on the blog again. I will also be coming up with ideas for what else I could do a dive back into if needed.

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David Tilley

8 thoughts on “Matchbox Monday – A look at The Toy Fairs of El Segundo

  1. That Giulia is facing stiff competition, though. Majorette revealed their own, and while I surmise that it’s larger (1/60), I’ve been reading rave reviews and favorable comparisons to the MBX version. But we’ll have to wait and see.

    1. It sounds like the Giulia is becoming a popular casting. I know it was high on a recent collector poll for castings to be added to the Matchbox range. I guess the opposition got wind of it and did one too. Ha ha!

  2. I would love to see more releases of the Quick Sander. I’ve got the Arctic Racer livery, but I’d love to add a few others to my collection.

    1. I’m glad I am not the only one who likes the Quick Sander. It really doesn’t look dated either. I think it will still work well now. Mind you, I am just getting over following the 2020 Dakar Rally so am still buzzed about all these types of vehicles.

  3. Mattel’s good, the bad and ugly.!….. What a yo yo!… Blow that hero city whistle!🎶 Now an atlas , history book and advertising to all.💡😮?… Great write up and pictures. ……▶🌍◀ we are here this side…..
    🌏◀some this side too!!

  4. Great round-up, David! Now I may be alone, but for some reason, I didn’t like the Giulia. It looks squashed from the rear and I didn’t like the proportions in general. The real Giulia is a pretty long car and this is too short (for comparison look how accurate the AMG GT 4 door looks to the real car). Just my 2 cents.

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