Lamley Daily: Matchbox Gruesome Twosome

Model: Matchbox MB4-B Gruesome Twosome

Release: 1971-73 basic range

eBay link:

Why it is in the collection: It is the model that got me hooked on shades.

In the early 1970s, Lesney started making a lot of unusual and fantastical vehicles for adding into the Matchbox range in a bid to keep up with competition. Some vehicles were purely in-house designs, created from the minds of the people in the R&D offices. Others, actually had a basis in real life as concept vehicles. Then you get the hybrids. A mixture of the 2. This is one of those.

You see the vehicle was actually based on something called Phaze II. It was designed by a gentleman called Dave Puhl, who was an American racer in the 1950s, who decided to give up racing to pursue a lifetime of customizing cars. He created some mildly customized vehicles, and over the next few decades started coming up with his own creations too. He created Phaze II and showed it off at the Oakland Roadster Show in February 1970. Somehow, pictures of that managed to find their way to somebody at Lesney, and they used it as a basic for creating this. Phaze II didn’t have huge engines at all, but this had 2 of them. They took his design and moved it 2 steps further by fully enclosing the seats behind a glass roof (his only had a front window) and adding the engines front and rear.

I owned one as a kid. I still have it. As you can see, it is slightly playworn. But I have not managed to expertly upgrade this one to a mint version. I don’t know quite how I managed to get this. As said at the start, the model was sold between 1971 and 1973 before changing to orangey-red in 1974. However, I think mine may have come from a late 1970s multipack that often had a bunch of older models thrown in to get rid of excess stocks. There was a variation that was noted as coming from those multipacks, so I think I could have had mine then. But I loved it. As an adult, I started getting into proper hunts for new stuff, but was not looking for shades.

But then I started going to conventions, and one of the early MICA UK conventions (late 1990s), a seller had these 2 for sale. They were totally different. I had already picked up the orangey-red one and these were definitely not that. I sat there, I had a chat with the seller, and then I decided I had to have them both. Such a stark difference. They were both officially part of the 1971-73 production run of golds, yet one was a very dull gold, the other a very orange shade of gold.

That got me looking at other things. I started noticing more and more with the classic Lesney stuff in particular just how wild some of the different shades could be on some models. It turned a corner in my collecting, and I started looking at other models too.

Chatting with others at the time, I discovered I was not exactly a majority in looking for these. I wasn’t the only one who liked them, but I was definitely in the minority. I thought it made for quite a unique collection. Something a bit different to the norm. I have always said, we all collect different things for different reasons.

To me, there is a lot of fun in finding different shades of paint. It has expanded to anything visible that is a different shade (the wheels, windows, interior, tampo print etc). If I can pick up 2 Matchbox models and see a difference with them (without the need to turn over, as I am lazy) I will go for them. But this, this is how it all started. The Gruesome Twosome, and that huge difference in shade of gold.

And yes, I have picked up numerous other Gruesome Twosome models over the years too, as I have expanded my shades of gold quite a bit. Still never found an identical shade to my original childhood toy, but every now and then another pops up and I think to myself, yes the Gruesome collection has gone way beyond a Twosome.

David Tilley

8 thoughts on “Lamley Daily: Matchbox Gruesome Twosome

  1. This casting is from the time when Mattel was ruling the diecast roost. Lesney started placing the thin Superfast wheels on formerly regular wheel castings and recoloring them in more vivid colors. When that wasn’t doing the trick, they started designing fantasy and concept vehicles like this one. This phase ended sometime in the late’70s/early’80s when Lesney went back to making more realistic vehicles.

    1. Yeah the early-mid 1970s were one of the lower ebbs in the Matchbox history. Although some say the move to Superfast began the low ebb, but that was where I started collecting so I don’t.

    2. Matchbox did have to adjust and play defense when Hot Wheels came on the scene but Matchbox kept their identity. To try to keep sales up they started using bright metallic paint alla Hot Wheels, and started making rodded up fantasy cars in their lineup. But their lineup still contained realistic models. Hot Wheels started out as mostly as outrageous fantasy or non-stock cars. And that was pretty new at the time. The biggest influence Hot Wheels had on Matchbox was the new fast rolling tires. Matchbox needed to add this playability and it was a good addition, though the original narrow tires looked good. Matchbox never entirely lost its way while at times wavering and taking on outside influence. I think the worst era for them was the mercifully short hero city Era. But I do think it was a two way street. By the 80s Hot Wheels had incorporated realistic models and working vehicles into their lineup, though never with the attention to detail Matchbox touted. To this day Hot Wheels is heavy on outrageous fantasy cars but they also do some realism thanks mostly to the example of Matchbox.

  2. I never cared much for the Lesney MB fantasy cars. Like the Tyre Fryer or the Whoosh-N-Push, etc. Those usually stayed in the case. The Gruesome Twosome however, was one of my favorites. I couldn’t give a reason, I just really liked it – and still do! I have the “orangey-gold” version.

  3. Thank you, once again, David, for your excellent articles about historic Matchbox models. When is your book on this topic coming out? I’d certainly purchase a copy.

    1. Book’s not out for a long, LONG time yet. I’m thinking mid-22nd century? I might have had a chance to do it by then. Ha ha! I am glad you like the article. I will keep up with those for now.

Leave a Reply