Matchbox Monday goes back to the ’80s

I am currently between packages from Wheel Collectors but all being well will be back with something brand new in early October. So I decided this week to do a little blog post about something from my teenage years. The year was 1986 and Universal Toys, who owned the Matchbox brand at the time, had come up with a new way of creating even smoother rolling wheels. They tested out their new product in the US market with a brand new series of 24 models. They also dug into the history of the brand by calling it Superfast. The name had basically been phased out pretty much by the time Lesney had ceased to exist but they didn’t want to lose it completely. It was an iconic name. Being flashy with their wheels also meant they were flashy with the designs too. After success with that, they expanded the range by creating CD-style wheels for 1987 and a sister series called Laser Wheels. This series though, it went worldwide. But with Superfast still selling strong in USA, they kept that one going too, with both series ending after 1990.

Now full disclosure, there was a reason behind me doing this. My collection is quite large (I am currently over 14,000 models), but my models are all kept by casting. Not by series, or year, or any other configuration. Therefore for me to get all my Superfast and Laser Wheel models out, I did need to spend some time going through a lot of cases. But that aside, I actually only know what I have. Not what I am missing. I spent 7 years photographing my entire collection to build up a photo database of everything. But until 2001 I was randomly picking up models and not getting everything new either. After 2001 I started my first listing (basically a bunch of sheets, one for each casting) that I scribbled down the basics of what I had. So I knew I was missing quite a lot from pre-2001. Even then wheels were unimportant, and only recently I have been getting those. So I thought I would go through a specific series and pull out what I had. That way I would see if I was missing anything. I was. 2 models (+ minor variations). Now I have put those 2 models to the front of my mind knowing that I need to hunt them down. Hopefully I will find them soon. So as we go through this list, you will also see which 2 models I have not picked up.

So where to begin? Obviously at the start. SF-1, or LW-1 (depending on wheel type). The first model chosen in the series was the MB859 Mercury Park Lane with roof light. Background fact, when the manufacturing number system was created after the shambles of 1981, the Matchbox team took the ROW (rest of world) basic range for 1982 and created the first 75 MAN number models. They then added 3 castings that were supposed to debut in 1982 as they thought these would be coming any time. But all 3 of these castings had issues that delayed them, meaning they debuted in 1983. So they look a little disjointed. They then piled in all the additional models that were being used in the US basic range but not in the ROW range and gave them the next set of numbers. This took them to MB108. But then after that they added in the 8 models that were being sold in USA as a special series for Code Red. Included in that set were 2 different Mercury Park Lanes. This casting. One was in a police design (MB112) and the other in a fire design (MB114). Because this was year 1 of the MAN system, they went absolutely nuts listing everything as a new number. A model was being made in 2 different designs in one year? Give it 2 MAN numbers. But they didn’t need to do that, especially with this one, because back in 1977 Lesney had come up with an initial way of splitting models. When twin packs first arrived in 1976, they had the same issue. Many models in twin packs were older castings that had been deleted from the basic range. The factory were getting confused as to which model was which, and so models in twin packs were given either a 7 or an 8 in front of their number. So MB59 Mercury Park Lane would become MB859 and not be confused with MB59 Planet Scout. Out of all the random “high” numbers Lesney gave models, MB859 was the highest, and the last number that Mattel would later reach (and jump, because you know, the Mercury Park Lane already had it). Full of useless fact me.

Now most models that arrived in the Superfast range in 1986 saw a tweak to their design for the Laser series. In most cases that change was to turn a solid paint finish into a metallic paint finish. More sparkly to go with the sparkly wheel design. However, this one didn’t. SF was white with blue and yellow tampo, and the LW model stayed white with blue and yellow tampo. For those who don’t know, the Superfast wheel design were dubbed “starburst”, and the laser wheel design was as the name implied. The series was called “Laser Wheels” so the wheels were called “laser”. We were an imaginative lot back then. It was 1987. Things were much simpler back then.

But early in the run of the Superfast series we had a unique phenomenon. Halley’s Comet was passing by earth in February 1986 (it appears every 75-76 year, next up in 2061), so Matchbox created some special triple packs (literally 2 regular Superfast issues in their blisters, and one of 3 castings in a unique Halley design in a third blister, all packed together in a special sleeve), and sold them in stores around the time of the comet’s fly-by. The Mercury was the first of the 3 castings seen in this unique black design.

Number 2 in the list shows us more of what I was talking about. Sold as SF-2 in the 1986-90 Superfast range, it became LW-2 in 1987 in the sister Laser Wheels range.

This was the MB051 Pontiac Firebird SE. First appearing in 1982 the casting was added in a solid blue to the Superfast range, but when they launched Laser Wheels in 1987, the solid blue became a metallic blue.

As with SF-1, the Firebird SE was one of the 3 models to see an all-black Halley designed model in these 3-pack sleeves. But there was a twist. Do you notice the blue one behind?

What if I did this photo? Notice the base?

The regular Superfast issue was supposed to sport a white base, but the Halley model being all-black had a black base. They overdid the black bases so put them on the regular issues too.

So there was a crossover model here. BTW no white based Halley model. it was strictly an over-production of black bases that resulted in them used for the normal issue.

The MB059 Porsche 928 is next up. It took the SF-3 slot in the 1986 Superfast series and LW-3 slot when the sister series arrived the following year.

However, this one had already been sporting a metallic blue front end in the Superfast range, so this too also so no alteration except the wheels when the sister series arrived.

But there was something to look for with this model. I do not actually know who Gale Jenkins is, but their name appeared on the roof in the early days. Circa 1988 the name started fading away. First on the Laser Wheel model, and then a while later on the Superfast model.

Another model that didn’t see much in the way of changes between Superfast and Laser issues. The MB127 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z. Sold as SF-4 and LW-4 respectively, this was always white with blue lower half. I guess with the blue being just the lower half, it wasn’t worth metalic-izing the section because it would have looked unusual with the solid blue tampo above it.

This was a very simple release as it stayed pretty consistent throughout the run.

Which brings us to the next model in the set. The MB135 Mercedes-Benz 500SEC. Although the base never made mention of it, Matchbox liked adding the AMG name to the tampo design on both basic range and Superfast/Laser Wheels issues.

This one though, we did see the solid red paint finish of the Superfast SF-5 turn into the metallic dark red paint finish of the LW-5.

As seen better in this side by side photo. I do notice a few little chips on some of the castings. I actually purchased all the Laser Wheel models from new back in the 1980s. So they have been with me for well over 3 decades. Superfast (being a US only release) is where I have been adding them in as and when.

Next up is the MB118 Porsche 935 Racing Car. It took the SF-6 slot and LW-6 slot in the 2 ranges.

Just like the Mercedes-Benz before it, this model saw a light solid red turn into a darker metallic for the Laser change.

Something seen here better with the 2 sets of models together. I do notice it was a bit of a trend. Of course the tampo design was utilizing different colours, so they are not too alike.

But me being me, I always keep my eyes open for anything unusual. I found this many years ago. It was originally blister packed when I picked it up. But I open everything up so it is now loose. I found a 935 with standard 8-dot wheels instead of the usual Starburst.

Totally legitimate. Mistakes happen and I guess somebody at the factory wasn’t paying attention. Always good for me. It is the only wheel error I have of these models (so far).

The MB120 Ford Sierra XR4i is next up. It debuted in the Superfast range as SF-7 in 1986 in black.

But it is a bit difficult to come up with a good metallic black, so when it was added to the Laser series as LW-7 in 1987, they turned it green. Now I did mention there are minor variations.

This is one, and one that I am still looking for. Both SF and LW issues have windows that are either clear or amber. I have amber, and am still looking for clear. However, I swear the windows are becoming more amber with age. There is supposedly a Superfast issue where they forgot the 85 on the hood. I have yet to see one.

This one was a fun one. The MB094 ’62 Chevy Corvette. It took the SF-8 slot in the 1986, which became LW-8 in 1987 too.

In line with various others, the solid paint job of the Superfast gave way to a metallic paint job of the Laser Wheels. Except this time a rusty orange became metallic brown.

Quite a noticeable change.

But the Superfast issue had another trick up its sleeve. I found this neat little crossover. The basic range was a US exclusive in 1986 when Superfast was first launching, and the model was undergoing a change from a white model to a red model. A few leftover white bases were put on the Superfast issue.

You only tend to notice when you check under the front bumper, or by flipping it over to see the base. These are not easy to come by.

But this had another thing. A re-colour. In 1988 they decided to expand the Laser Wheel series beyond the initial 24 and add another 6 to the mix. At this time, some of the original 24 were given a new colour, with the LW-8 turning green. The initial brown was a 1-year release, green continued until 1990. A total of 3 years.

Next up we find MB077 Datsun 280ZX 2+2. It took the SF-9 slot in 1986 and carried over to the LW-9 slot in 1987.

As you can see, although the Sierra had changed from black to a metallic colour, the Datsun didn’t. At first.

Both Superfast and Laser issues were identical except for the wheels.

But just like the ’62 Corvette, in 1988 they decided to change it. It became metallic grey instead for the rest of the run.

When you start putting things together you start noticing themes. Oh look, the next model is also black for Superfast and identical for Laser. The MB062 Chevy Corvette.

Both SF-10 and LW-10 came in identical looks except for the wheels again.

Even the tampo colours chosen were pretty close to each other. Of course the designs were wildly different, so it is easy to decipher which is which.

But just like the Datsun, the Corvette also changed for 1988. Except this time it became metallic red. Because you know, we don’t have much in the way of metallic reds.

The MB070 Ferrari 308GTB was next up. Ooh bright yellow and red. This one stands out a bit.

And again we see that between SF-11 and LW-11 the only thing that changed was the wheels.

I have to admit, this was one of my favourites out of the whole series. I just thought this wasn’t a too “in your face” design.

There seems to be a pattern emerging here doesn’t there. A Superfast model moving to Laser Wheels and only changing the wheels. SF-12 became LW-12 again with the MB034 Chevy Pro Stocker.

This one came with Big Daddy on the roof but unlike Gale Jenkins on the Porsche 928, this one was never wiped off.

Ooh! Wait! We had 3 Halley’s Comet cars didn’t we. With the first 2 coming in the first 2 models, by the time you get to this point you almost feel like you had forgotten about them. Luckily I hadn’t. I forget a lot, but not these. Yes SF-12 had an early run of Halley models in black. I tell you, if I am alive in 2061 and get to see the next fly by, you know I will be bringing these 3 models with me for a photoshoot.

Okay, now we are getting into the fun zone. The MB123 ’84 Chevy Corvette. Look at my laser one. Picked up in 1986 (I would have been around 13-14 years old at the time) it has had a few bumps and bruises over the years. But what is that behind the LW-13? Is that the SF-13 equivalent?

No. This was actually a 1987 Chef Boyardee promotional model. I knew I was missing something. Ding ding ding. The Superfast ’84 Corvette. This is actually a part of the reason why I do this, as it helps me to see items I might be missing but forgetting I am missing. Hopefully I will be able to track one down before I forget again.

As you can see though, the majority of the model is identical, but they wiped off the orange hood tampo for the promo. Scroll back up. Check the last picture again. the “7” is still tampo printed under the Chef Boyardee sticker. They simply didn’t add orange.

But what makes the SF-13/LW-13 issue more interesting was what Matchbox did in 1988. They completely changed the casting. Gone was the t-top style, with a full convertible (MB204) now in place.

As the casting was changing, the model simply changed to go along with it, and from 1988 until 1990 the MB204 convertible version was sold instead. As you can see, I did have both on this one, and the only difference?

The wheels. The Chef Boyardee promo was 1987 and the casting changed in 1988 so no crossover there.

Going through their open top phase, next up we saw the MB151 BMW 323i Cabriolet. Cabriolet being a French word that tends to get favoured in Europe, compared to convertible in the Americas.

SF-14 or LW-14, the model looked the same regardless. Only the wheels changed. But, that was not all that changed.

In 1987 Matchbox decided that the BMW 323i Cabriolet would make a fine candidate for use in twin packs. So a small change was made to the rear to add in a tow hook. However, if you remember, Laser Wheels were not launched until 1987. So the tow hook/non-tow hook variation only exists on the Superfast issue. All Laser models have a tow hook. Note too that the Alpina was noted on the model too. Alpina is a high performance company that deals exclusively with BMW, and even make their models on the BMW factory line. Much like AMG is with Mercedes-Benz. The Alpina C1 2.3 was a high performance version of the E30 generation of the BMW 3-series 323i and Alpina did make convertibles (or should I say cabriolets) too. So it is based on a legitimate vehicle. I couldn’t find that design in real life though. Perhaps it does exist. If anybody has seen it please let me know.

It’s another drop-top. The MB156 Ford Escort XR3i Cabriolet was next up in the SF-15 and LW-15 slots.

However, as you can see, the Superfast was a white model, but the Laser turned blue. The tampo design was the same, but the colours were all changed to stand out better too.

Just like the BMW before, the XR3i was chosen to have a tow bar attached to the rear of the model in 1987, meaning Superfast issues come with or without. Again Lasers started after the casting was altered so only exist with a hook.

Next up is the MB130 Sauber Group C Racer. Of course many associate Sauber with Formula 1, but they only moved there in 1991. Originally in 1970 Peter Sauber set up his Motorsport company to go hillclimbing. From there they moved into endurance racing and in partnership with Mercedes-Benz created a series of prototype sports cars in the 1980s. The C9 was their most successful Group C car, as it won the 1988 and 1989 Endurance Cnampionship. However, this Matchbox model was the predecessor, the C8. It wasn’t anywhere near as successful. But its biggest success came as a Matchbox model.

Again the SF-16 and LW-16 models shared everything except those wheels.

Although I do find the weirdest things funny. The rear spoilers sit differently. I assume it is just a factory production thing. I don’t think I will be trying to find alternates for that.

Okay now we are getting a little more involved in this one. The MB154 Lamborghini Countach LP500S. It was launched in the Superfast range in 1986 as SF-17 in white with blue and pink tampo.

But when turning to Laser Wheels in 1987 as LW-17 the body turned metallic silver.

But something I have not been talking about so far is what happened at Matchbox in 1989. 1989 was the year that Matchbox launched their first premium range. World Class. When the series was in pre-production form they realized that the higher level of tampo printing that they wanted to apply to models was not very good on bumpy surfaces. In particular the finer detailed ones like license plates. So a decision was made to wipe areas of models that were causing too much of an issue. License plates on models were a major loss, and in a few cases a few other details that were tough to align in tampo were also wiped. A few lost some cast light details, although this Countach did not. It only lost the license plate.

But what it gained instead was a new colour for 1990s Superfast series. After 5 years in white, it had 1 final year in black with alternate tampo colours. The Laser Wheels issue stayed silver.

As we continue forward, we move on to the second Firebird. The MB155 Pontaic Firebird Racer. It was actually an offshoot of the original SE, and just like the SE, it was blue. Albeit SF-18 was a lighter blue.

LW-18 though, metallic blue and basically the same shade as the SE.

Where the Superfast issue sported dark blue and yellow tampo, the Laser version was like a mirror image, with a lighter blue and yellow tampo.

I like to throw in random stuff sometimes. I actually own a pre-production sample of the Laser Wheels Firebird Racer. It sported the same body as the Superfast issue, although does have a white interior, not the grey interior of production models. Where did the white come from? the Firebird SE. the Superfast version of that had a white interior. As I said, the Racer is an offshoot, and the interior and window sections are the same for both.

But just like the Countach did, in 1990 the Firebird Racer sported a change of clothes for its final Superfast year. It turned yellow with a red and white tampo scheme.

Another Pontiac took the next spot. The MB158 Pontiac Fiero. I was always hoping they would do a regular street version of the Fiero, but instead we had this IMSA style racing vehicle. It took the SF-19 slot in the 1986 Superfast range coming with a yellow upper half and solid orange lower half.

When Laser Wheels launched the following year, the upper half was identical, but the lower half was now a metallic gold.

It ran like that in both ranges until 1990. There was precious little to find during the 5 years of production, save for the odd shade variation. It stayed pretty consistent.

Hey look. Lighter red and darker metallic red. Yes, the old colour scheme combo is back. The MB167 Nissan 300ZX was another in a line of reds turning metallic dark red between Superfast and Laser Wheels.

But this is where number divide. There is no SF-20. I am not too sure if there were plans for something that didn’t materialize for it, but the Nissan was SF-21 in 1986 and SF-20 was left blank for the entire series. But when Laser Wheels began the following year, the final 4 models all shuffled up one spot. So the metallic red was LW-20.

Yellow and orange tampo was the name of the game here.

The others to date had seen yellow in their tampo schemes too. But we were definitely seeing a theme here.

A-ha! I knew it! I missed out on another one. The SF-22 version of the MB164 Chevy Camaro IROC-Z28. How did I miss that? Oh wait, it was red. There are a lot of reds. I likely forgot which ones I picked up and overlooked it. It was metallic red in the Laser Wheels series upon its debut in 1987, but in 1988 LW-21 became brown.

I’m sure you can imagine what the red version looked like. I know I can. and I know I am looking for it now. That’s 2 missing. I thought I was missing one, but two? Seriously, this is why I do this stuff. Now I know I have 2 Superfast models to hunt down to finish my set. One day I will attempt to list down various sets and see what is missing. I have loads of random partial sets of models and no proper way of working out which is which. As I said, all my castings are together, which seems quite neat and tidy. But when you dig deep down you can find that is quite a mess in itself.

So I will just move on to the next one. The MB163 Toyota MR2. One of my favourite castings, and I am so happy that Mattel are going to bring it back for next year. Of course the new one is not this one. It will be an all-new build. I don’t know why, but I always felt the car had a bit of a cheese wedge shape to it. Not as extreme as something like a Triumph TR-7 (something I really hope Matchbox will create one day), but it had quite a distinctive little look. Loved it then, love it now. So because there was so little use for this casting back in the day, I went a bit nuts with it.

Sold as SF-23 in 1986 in a very dark blue, it turned into LW-22 in 1987 alongside in a metallic blue.

But there are silly things to look for, like the placing of the MR-2 on the side. Plus whether it is more peach or a light pink tampo.

Plus I had to get this. An early pre-production sample of one of the things they were looking at in an MR-2 design. I would not have said no to that in production. But as they work on things, they often get tweaked before production starts.

Another Ferrari. With 2 Ferraris in the range as of 1986, both were added to the Superfast series. The MB172 Ferrari Testarossa was added in red as SF-24. Note how the rear lights on this are smooth. that is because it is a later 1989 issue after the World Class plans made them smooth the lights out.

When added to the Laser Wheels range in 1987 as LW-23, you guessed it, red became metallic dark red.

I mean, was it the go-to colour choice for the series or what?Nearly a quarter of them were red.

First of all, in 1988, the Laser Wheel model was revamped into a silver and gold model.

Then in 1990 the Superfast series changed from solid red to black. The only casting to see both ranges get a colour change.

The 4 all lined up together.

Finally, the MB169 Peugeot Quasar took the final spot in the Superfast range as SF-25 in solid dark blue.

Which became metallic blue in the Laser Wheel series as LW-24 the following year.

These 2 models are much more closely matched in shades compared to the Toyota MR-2.

As the metallic blue was almost identical, but the solid blue was much darker on the Toyota. So that takes us to the end of the Superfast series. Launched in 1986, run until 1990, with 3 models re-coloured for the final year (plus a few getting casting alterations, some subtle like the wiping of a license plate, an addition of tow hook, or perhaps a complete change of t-top to convertible). But this was not the end of the Laser Wheel story.

You see in 1988, the 4 models already shown had a new colour, but the range also saw 6 new additions. The Superfast range did not as it was originally going to be phased out, but due to high sales and stores constantly asking for more, they just kept it going. So we saw these 6 models arrive exclusively in the Laser Wheels series. All 6 were newer castings that had either just debuted in the 1987 basic range, or were brand new castings arriving in 1988. First up was the MB185 Buick Le Sabre.

Taking the LW-25 slot one year after the basic range issue had debuted. This model was unusual as a plastic hood scoop was attached to it. That scoop was only added to the Laser Wheels model, and never used in any other Le Sabre release.

Including this pre-production sample I obtained. Of course it didn’t even have the wheels on it. It just came with regular 8-dot wheels, and the white section of the body was silver instead.

Next up was the MB189 cadillac Allanté. Another that had already arrived in 1987, the Laser Wheels series saw a black issue released in 1988 as LW-26.

Yeah mine is a bit dusty. Well, I have had it since 1988. Picked up new in store at the time. It’s held up pretty well, but a few bits of dust have got stuck into the crevices now. I might try and clean it at some point.

Next up a brand new for 1988 casting. The MB190 Saab 9000 Turbo. Debuting in red in the basic range, it also arrived in blue as LW-27 at the same time.

Both the red basic and the blue LW lasted 3 years. After which the US range dropped the basic,. Laser Wheels were dropped completely, and the ROW range saw a new white design for 1991.

Next up was the MB192 Sterling. Called as such because in some markets the Rover marque was not widely known, and they used the Sterling name as a brand. In other markets, Sterling meant it was the top of the range (poshest) version of the Rover 800-series model.

Lw-28 came in silver with a red, white and blue design. sort of slightly resembling a British flag at first glance, but actually it is quite different. Just as the Saab was, the basic range red debuted at the same time, and both ran for 3 years. The US dropped the model after 1990, Laser Wheels themselves stopped and the ROW market re-coloured the basic to grey. A bit of a coincidence.

The MB196 didn’t quite follow the same pattern. The Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe arrived in 1988 in the basic range and was added to the Laser Wheels series at the same time.

Obviously Laser Wheels finished after 1990 so that would be the same. LW-29 finished after 1990. But this time it was the ROW range that dropped the basic range after 1990. But in that case, the red basic did not change immediately. It carried on one more year in the US range. But when it was re-coloured to blue and pink for 1992, they decided to re-add it to the ROW range again with both seeing that for 2 years.

Finally, we had the MB195 Volvo 480ES. One of my favourites of the bunch, I always liked the 480ES. However, I was quite sad about it too. It debuted in 1988 in the basic range in white. It also appeared in silver in the Laser Wheels series as LW-30 too. Great! Two issues in it’s debut year. And…. that was it.

The basic range was dropped after 1989. Okay there was a few variations to find on it, but a 2-year production run was all we had. Laser Wheels though, it eked out that third year to finish when the rest did. And we never saw the casting again (except in a Chinese multipack in 1991 which saw the original white basic included but obviously now made in China).

So there you have it. Something a bit different from me this time. I hope you enjoyed it. I know I did. Now I know what I need to find. So it has really benefited me doing this. Plus, I always like to show off a pre-pro or 2 if I can. I love pre-pros.

And remember, if we are still around in 2061, you may see me taking random shots of these 3 with Halley’s Comet flying by behind. I tell you, I will do it if I can. But that’s a story for 41 years time. Stay tuned….

Next week I will be doing my blog report slightly early. It will be popping up on Sunday afternoon instead of Monday morning (my time (GMT +1). The week after too. This is all linked in to the Matchbox convention in Leipzig Germany which is still going ahead (albeit in a smaller capacity). So stay tuned for those 2 reports on a Sunday, not Monday.

4 Replies to “Matchbox Monday goes back to the ’80s”

  1. Hi, about that 480, there are some rmore versions to it. I’ll have to look it up. Smallet details, some rare colours, which might be code 3, however done for a brand or venue or such..

  2. Hi, I’m sure I read somewhere that SF20 was going to be the MB152 VW Golf GTI but it was dropped due to technical issues with the interior casting being extended to form the wheel arch extensions. And I noticed at the time that the “driver” for the LW29 Thunderbird was “S Sullivan” for Sid Sullivan, who was one of the Matchbox designers at the time. I remember several interesting conversations with him at the various Matchbox conventions which were held in the UK in that era. His initials can also be found as “SAS 34” on the number plates of the Y-25 Renault van. Not sure what happened to him after the UK operation was closed, are you reading this, Sid?

    1. If I had done more research I might be able to confirm the SF-20 thing. That is a good possibility though. So you know one of the names. I guessed most of the names shown on models would be people from Matchbox at the time. But i don’t know many of the names. Thanks for confirming one.

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