Matchbox Monday (slightly early) explains the difference between Germany and Cars

It is that time of week again. Well actually, it is a little early. Why? Because for the next 2 weeks my reports are being linked in with the 19th Annual Toy Show in Leipzig, Germany.

Things are a lot different this year for obvious reasons. There is no Modell-Hobby-Spiel due to the Covid-19 situation, and usually the European Matchbox convention takes place around it. However, they have persevered and next weekend there will still be a small gathering of around 40 people in Leipzig at the hotel. There will also be a dinner on the Saturday evening as usual, and an auction taking place. But with so few people, a large auction there didn’t seem right. So Dirk has come up with a unique 3-part auction. The first part has actually just started (hence me posting now). It is available worldwide and will consist of e-bidding. Dirk will email with those taking part on a daily basis to let them know the highest bid received so far, without detailing the names of who has the bid. And be aware they will be first come first served, so if 2 people bid the same amount (in Euros), then whoever bid first is the one who holds it. Those who did bid the same as somebody else previously will be notified separately at the same time as the daily update. If you are interested in joining in, please email Dirk Schleuer at and he will send you the auction details. The auction closes at 2pm (GMT +2) on Saturday 3rd October (roughly 6 days from when I post this blog report). But if you are curious on the lots for the first auction, check them out at the end of the report.

But with a convention in Germany coming up, instead of a report of new items from Wheel Collectors, I decided to do a little post about the difference between stars of Germany and Stars of Cars. Earlier this year I did a post about the launch of Stars of Germany (as well as a BMW dealer set). Stars of Germany launched in 2002 and consisted of 12 vehicles, all from German manufacturers, exclusively for the German market. You can read that here if you didn’t see it before (or just want to re-read it). But the German market wanted more, and in 2003 they released a second set of 12.

The first model in the set was the MB287 VW Concept 1. Not a part of the first series, this model was in red with with simple headlight detailing at the front.

There was no detailing at the rear at all. A very simple look to the model.

Next up was the MB334 Mercedes Benz E-Class. It was one of those castings that just didn’t see a lot of action over the years, It had seen basic range use in 1998, 1999 (2 as Germany had a different one to everywhere else), 2002 and 2003. apart from a random 2006 Superfast issue, this was the only time it was used outside of the basic range.

Released in a pretty traditional German taxi colour with “Kommt wie gerufen!” on the side (basically means it is an “on call” taxi), it is a shame the casting didn’t see much more action. I loved this model.

Next up was the MB335 Porsche 911GT1.

Again this model was a very simple design and actually contained no tampo printing at all. However, due to that, it is very reminiscent of the first “Straßenversion” made. The GT1 was created in 1996 to compete in racing, but for homologation purposes, 25 road vehicles had to be made. The first 2 were made in 1996, with the others made in 1997 and 1998. The first one was plain silver. Matchbox used the casting between 1998 and 2004 before retiring it.

Now this was a cool one. The MB363 ’62 VW Beetle. Still one of my favourite designs they have ever made for this model across its 22-year+ run to date.

It was the first casting to return from 2002, but where the original was a dark orange with simple detailing, this was a pumpkin orange with a very flower-power inspired side design. I love it!

Another Porsche. This was the MB423 Porsche 911 Carrera Convertible. A casting that first debuted back in 1999 and is still going. In fact you will see more of it, as the latest is coming in batch F this year, and will see a feature in an upcoming blog report.

Just like the 911GT1, this sported no tampo printing at all. Plain blue.

Of course during pre-production they were undecided which Porsche to use. The colour was sorted (a dark blue) but should they go with a Boxster or 911 Turbo?

But with the Boxster and 911 Turbo already having been used for the 2002 series, they decided to utilize a different Porsche this time. Trying their best to mainly use models that had not been used the previous year.

However, another one they did use for a second year in a row was the MB427 Mercedes-Benz ML430. After a plain blue with front/rear detailing in 2002, this time they gave it a completely different look.

Einsatzleitung (literal translation to “operations management” ) is roughly the German equivalent of a USA Fire Chief. They will often use regular vehicles (known as the einsatzleitwagen). so making this into a fire vehicle as such does sort of make it different to the 2002 issue. Only the Beetle so far was used twice in the same way.

After this we saw the MB441 Audi TT Roadster. The 2002 Stars of Germany did not feature any Audis at all, so this was a nice addition.

This release saw a minimal tampo print, with just a set of headlights on the rear. The Roadster casting itself had been used between 2000 and 2008 as an offshoot to the 1999-2005 hardtop variant. I am very much looking forward to seeing a new TT return in 2021. I have been after more Audi in the range for a while.

The 2002 Stars of Germany series saw 4 different Mercedes-Benz castings used, but none were the MB476 Mercedes-Benz E430 Wagon Police. Or should I say Polizei. It was written on it after all. The E430 Wagon (both as civilian and police) did not get a lot of use. In fact, the police variant never even made it to the US market. It started off in 2001 as an ROW exclusive basic range for 2 years, then became a German “Stars of…” model for 4 years then stopped.

This 2003 issue was the first of those 4 consecutive releases. After those first 2 basics, this was the only range is continued in.

The MB549 VW W12 Concept was next up in red.

This was another simple design with just front headlights depicted. But at the time it was quite a controversial issue due to this….

The 2003 MB68 ROW exclusive issue. They were almost identical. the ROW issue was a slightly more orangey shade of red.

Plus it did have a small additional tampo print on one side with the Matchbox oval logo and model number in the range (something they attempted that year for the basic range but dropped after). But the SoG model was extremely similar. It wouldn’t be the last time they did that (Audi RS6 Avant in red springing to mind).

After seeing a few models with limited tampo, we see one with a lot. The MB596 BMW X5 Police. As you can see, this sported side designs, hood designs, and you may notice the light bar on the roof has a central orange section. Tampo hit!

This year they were really putting an emphasis on Germany with the German liveries on some models. 2002 was just lights depicted for the most part. This model was actually the debut version of MB596. The model was an off-shoot of the BMW X5 which had debuted in the basic range in 2002.

Next up was the MB561 Smart Car. The Smart Cabrio (as this was) had just debuted in 2002 (and run until 2009) and so it was logical to add it to the Stars of Germany series too. Technically a Mercedes-Benz product, but officially a separate brand.

This one sported a black band down the side and the rear tonneau tampo printed. Not the same black though. the tonneau was a matte black compared to gloss black of the side.

Finally it was the MB565 Opel Speedster. This was a totally brand new casting for 2003. This model would make various appearances all the way until 2017, but after debuting in the 2003 basic range in silver, it almost immediately saw a second outing in orange for the Stars of Germany series.

It was another simple design, with only the louvres on the top of the model receiving tampo printing.

The 2002 Stars of Germany series had seen 4 BMW, 4 Mercedes-Benz, 2 VW and 2 Porsche models. In 2003, the series diversified a little with 3 Mercedes Benz and 3 VW.

As well as 2 Porsche, 1 BMW (the brands returning from 2002) and 1 Opel, 1 Audi and 1 Smart joining too. Yes I know Smart is technically Mercedes-Benz, but it makes no mention of them on the vehicle and you only find it mentioned in the small print on the back of the package.

In 2004, Mattel had another request from Germany for some unique models. But this time they decided to expand the series (and contract it, I will get to that in a second). In 2003 they had tried to use different German vehicles from 2002 as much as possible, with only the ’62 Beetle returning, and the Mercedes-Benz ML430 also coming back but as a German fire chief vehicle. They decided to take things a slightly different way. Some models would return in new designs, but they thought to expand beyond Germany. They renamed the series Stars of Cars, and now it would include a few vehicles from outside of Germany itself. I mentioned contract too, because after 2 sets of 12, they only released 10 models for the first year of Stars of Cars.

This is fun! Get it? FunCup. Started in 1997 in Belgium, there are now championships in a variety of countries including France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK. The first model in the 2004 Stars of Cars series was the returning MB287 VW Concept 1. But this time it was advertising Uniroyal Tyres, which at the time was being used in the German series, and the “der regenreifen” writing on the side, is actually linked to the umbrella. It is German for “the rain tyre”. The Uniroyal 550 being specifically designed for wet weather.

So the model was actually advertising 2 things. Uniroyal and FunCup.

But then, a non-German addition. As I said, as of 2004, the series was no longer called Stars of Germany. Not everything being released was German, so they tweaked the name, and included the MB291 Ferrari F50.

Ah the days when we used to have Ferraris in the Matchbox range. I wish Ferrari would relent and allow licenses for multiple toy manufacturers again. But I digress, this F50 was a very nice red with simple small badging front and sides, as well as simple front and rear print. The F50 had been around since 1996, but 2004 was proving to be its final year, and after a blue issue turned up exclusively in the ROW basic range, this model was technically its swansong, appearing in the SoC series.

There was still a high German content to the set, and as such the MB400 Mercedes-Benz CLK Convertible joined in.

A nice metallic sky blue with front and rear detailing. The casting had been around since 1999 and was nearing the end of its life, with 2005 being the last year it was used. It was technically a returnee too, as it had been a part of the first Stars of Germany set in 2002.

The MB438 VW Concept 1 Convertible had also been around since 1999, but unlike the Merc previously, this one had not been used in the Stars of… series before and was also a way from retirement. It continued on until 2011 in various ranges.

The dark blue was highlighted with a rear detailing and just a VW badge on the front. The headlights being a part of the window section on this casting.

For the second year in a row, we saw a Polizei vehicle in the range. This time though, it was the first Stars of… addition of the MB439 BMW 328i Police car in silver with blue detailing.

It even featured front, rear, top and side printing. although clever placing of the casting does mean it may have managed 2 passes still. Three at the most. The 328i had debuted in 1999 and a police offshoot in 2000. The civilian model had already retired by this point, but the police managed to eke out more issues until 2008.

Another non-German model is up next. The MB440 Lotus Elise. It is supposed to be pronounced “el-eez-eh” according to Lotus.

This model arrived right in the middle of the 2000-2007 run for the casting and looked great in silver with simple front and rear detailing.

Another model seeing a 2-year-in-a-row release. The MB476 Mercedes-Benz E430 Wagon Police. Except this time it was now in a Notarzt (emergency doctor/physician) release. In some European countries the emergency doctor or physician often works alongside ambulance crews and will often be dispatched alongside an ambulance.

Much like the BMW Polizei this saw printing across 5 surfaces in total, although as is often the case these can be done with careful positioning of the models for the tampo machine allowing less passes than you would think.

Another Ferrari. Oh yes, 2 of them in the series this year. The MB531 Ferrari 360 Spider was the last Ferrari casting that Matchbox made. It had arrived in 2002 but due to the Ferrari exclusivity plan, all Ferraris were dropped after 2005 and we have not seen any since. But in 2004, while things were still cool we saw a second Ferrari in traditional red.

This one sported simple badges all round and a little darker red detailing to the rear lights.

Another German vehicle that had not been in the Stars of Germany range, but saw a use in Stars of Cars was the MB552 VW Microbus. The Microbus had debuted as a concept at NAIAS in 2001, and in 2002 they announced it was going into production in 2003. However, it later got deferred and then cancelled completely in 2004. Matchbox made a model of the concept in 2002 and it was used until 2005 before being dropped.

This charcoal grey issue was sold with simple front and rear detailing.

Finally, as we only had 10 this year, came the MB596 BMW X5 Police. Except this time it was in the Feuerwehr design the Mercedes-Benz ML430 had been in the previous year.

However unlike the Mercedes-Benz, this one had a much more simplistic design with just Feuerwehr and 112 (the European emergency phone number) on it. The model also sported front and rear light details. Although you barely notice the rear lights as they were only slightly darker than the regular paint. This model was becoming a common sight in the Star of… range.

So this was why 2004 was called Stars of Cars. Only 70% of the models were German. We had 2 Mercedes-Benz, 2 BMW and 3 VW.

We also saw 2 Ferrari models from Italy and 1 Lotus from the UK.

But I decided I wanted to do just a little extra (hence not doing too much sideways photos of other models). 2005 proved to be a bit of a fun year. During production of the series, they moved factories from China to Thailand. But, although we were back up to 12 models for the year again, only 10 of them saw a move. Why? I have no real idea. Two of the models weren’t ready when initial production took place and as such only saw production once the move to Thailand had been made. I don’t know what caused their delay, but those 2 never saw China production.

The first of them (in both respects) was the MB180 Land Rover Ninety. Never seeing production in China meant we only saw Thailand made examples later on.

It came in blue with simple striped side design and Land Rover logo. The white roof was, at the time, a separate piece. As it is in real life, the model has seen a very long production life. First arriving back in 1987 while production was in Macau during the Universal years, it bounced around various countries, through various owners, and is still being utilized in recent years. The last one seen so far was the 2018 basic range issue. Of course the model has seen 2 modifications over its life. First turning into MB721 in 2007 via a change to the base and rivet points, it then was dropped and MB180 saw a complete revamp in 2016 which saw further changes to assembly and the amalgamation of main body and roof into 1 piece.

The other Thailand only issue was the MB544 Porsche 911 Turbo in silver.

A returnee from the inaugural Stars of Germany series from 2002 (which was part of its debut year) the casting has been seen as late as 2017 (and you never know may pop up again). This release was silver with front and rear detailing. For some reason my camera decided at this point to focus on the far end of the model each time. I have no idea why.

The other 10 models all begun their life in China before being uprooted and moved to Thailand to fininsh out production. So, with me being me, I do enjoy seeing the differences between the 2 factories. Take the MB390 VW Transporter. Amazingly, considering the casting had been around since 1999, it had not been used in the German series yet.

It came in burgundy with simple front and rear detailing.

During production shades of burgundy were found on both China based and Thailand based models.

The only real difference was that the orange part of the rear lights was dark orange on the Thailand based issue compared to light orange on the China one.

The MB427 Mercedes-Benz ML430 makes a return to the series. After seeing uses in 2002 and 2003 it took 2004 off before coming back in green for 2005.

This was the model’s second to last outing after debuting in 1999 with a Superman Returns issue in 2006 being its swansong.

With production moving factories mid-way through it’s always fun to see how they differ.

Thailand is on the left here. It is a darker green and the interior is a much brighter shade of tan compared to the China issue on the right.

We then move to another Mercedes-Benz, the MB434 S500. Another 1999 debutante, the Stars of Cars issue in 2005 capped off a busy year, as it was also in the Superfast series and basic range too. However, after that it was only used 1 more time (or I should say 4) as it was a part of 1 of the 2 non-exclusive 10-packs sold alongside the 4 exclusives that year. Each non-exclusive pack had the same model top right in an exclusive design, and the S500 was one of the 2 castings chosen that year.

Again, this model had not been used in the series to date. It was its only SoG/SoC release.

And again having 2 factories making it, I enjoy a little side by side comparison.

As you can see, the difference in shade was quite noticeable as well as the interior. but that wasn’t the end of it.

Just Thailand itself produced shades of gold.

Hello, we have another MB439 BMW 328i Police issue. A silver and blue polizei themed model was a part of the 2004 Stars of Cars series, and this was followed up by a white and green 2005 issue.

And this one had a very high level of tampo detailing. 5 surfaces, multi-coloured prints. This one really pushed the limits of what they could do for what was being sold as a core range type release (basic range equivalent).

So how did this compare between China and Thailand? Thailand is on the left. Notice a little something just in front of the front wheels? The thin black stripe under the thick green stripe had a small extension.

The green tampo itself was a paler shade. The word Polizei across the front appeared slightly thicker.

The red on the rear was noticeably lighter too. Still visible in my terribly out of focus shot. Seriously, I need to work on my photography skills more.

Blurred front! Ah nuts! The MB476 Mercedes-Benz E430 Wagon. I’m getting used to this now. It has been in all 3 years, and this time it is a Notarzt livery.

Wait, wasn’t it Notarzt last year? Yes it was.

Oh finally, back in focus. 2004 on the left, 2005 on the right. 2005 saw only top and side printing (2004 had front and rear lights too), but the side was further enhanced with black striping and window edging. The word Notarzt was added in black in 2004, but just cut out of the orange for 2005 exposing the white underneath. So yeah they are quite different.

As was the change from China to Thailand. The model appeared pretty similar when viewed from above (Thailand was a slightly paler orange and the roof light a different blue).

But flip it over and well, black painted base from China and zamac plated back from Thailand. That was a bit of a shock. I remember at the time people thinking it may be an error and kept checking bases for Thai made black bases, but no this was a standard difference between factories. You may also note that they had a habit of putting the Dinky name on model bases (and on the back of packages) to make sure they did not lose certain rights to the Dinky brand name in Europe.

Oh look another Smart Car. And another one out of focus. Seriously. My camera skills went to pot here didn’t they. The MB561 Smart Cabrio in yellow.

Seen clearer in this picture (thankfully). The model was sporting a matt black painted tonneau cover and side design reminiscent of real Smart cars.

But how did this change as production moved to Thailand?

Well, with Thailand on the left, small shades existed, with the yellow being slightly different, and the orange of the Smart logo being brighter on the Thai made models. the other difference was that some of the black pin striping was removed from the upper section of the side print and the rear tonneau was now a gloss finish, not matte. Plus, look carefully over the front wheel. The small badge there is now detailed, not just a grey blob. It was another model that saw quite a change between factories.

The MB565 Opel Speedster had another go in the series, after appearing in the 2003 SoG series.

Only this time it was blue instead of orange and featured a much more detailed front and rear instead of the 2003s louvre detailing.

Moving production to Thailand mid-way through did result in a change to the shade of blue.

The Thailand made one was a much paler shade compared to the deep blue of China. It also sported a lighter smoke window too.

After the Land Rover at the start, everything else seen so far had been German. But that sorts of phases out here. The MB579 Mini Cooper S in black. German or British? You think Mini, you think British. But obviously it is owned by BMW and was designed by them. But it is made in England. So as I said, it is phasing out.

Originally in use between 2003 and 2007, the casting was tinkered with and relaunched this year. But this was right in the middle of the initial run. It was plain black with simple front and rear detailing.

So you are not going to see much difference when it moved production to Thailand.

Although what Thailand did was to stretch out the front tampo print. It starts at the same point, but extends down further. Either that or I had a dodge China based one. I might need to double check.

Okay we are away from Germany now as we move to the end. for the first time, we see non car (or similar) vehicle, and a move to add in utility style. the MB588 Dennis Sabre Ladder Truck was added. A British vehicle, but a very German design.

The first model in the series to feature a moving part too. the casting was used between 2003 and 2011, and this was the first of 2 issues in the German exclusive series. I might showcase number 2 at a later date.

So how did this differ as they moved out of one factory and into the next?

To be honest, not by much. All we really saw was a darker/duller shade of metallic red to the Thailand made one. China was lighter and brighter.

Finally, just to mix things up. A Matchbox original design. The first non-licensed model to appear in this series across both incarnations. Chinese made examples actually sported a notable difference in shade of blue tampo during its short time there.

The MB662 City Bus had only just debuted that year in the basic range, and was also added to the Stars of Cars series too. It is still going (albeit altered to MB992 as of 2015).

But this model too was noticeably different once it had gone to Thailand.

Thailand made models, as well as sporting an even lighter shade of blue tampo, decided to no longer tampo print the areas between the windows.

Which gives us our group of 2005 Stars of Cars issue. Eight vehicles from Germany (still the core of the series) with 3 Mercedes-Benz and 1 each from Opel, BMW, Smart (I still count it separate from Mercedes-Benz) and Porsche.

But this time we saw 3 British vehicles (Unless you count the Mini as German) and a, well, non-specified country? The City Bus can sort of fit in lots of countries, and as such difficult to gauge.

So that is a rundown showing us that although there was a still a strong German element to the range (with Polizei)…

…and Notarzt vehicles among other very German styles.

We did start to see them venture out beyond the confines of the country of Germany itself. This is why the series changed its name from Stars of Germany in 2003 to Stars of Cars in 2004.

So that is the rundown from 2003-2005 of an evolving series. I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt through Germany this week. But I did say at the start that I would show the auction lots. So here you go.





A05 – this one could be a fun one As noted only 25 were made and they are rare.


A07 – I have a mug from an earlier show at home.

A08 – another extreme rarity. These 1 of 25 models are the toughest to get out of all the Leipzig issues.


A10 – and yes, there are models for this event, and they will still follow the same pattern as the last few years. There will only be 25 of this particular issue made by Mattel and it will be a doozy. I can’t wait to see the unveiling in the next week.

As I said, if you like any of these 10 models and would like to bid, please email Dirk Schleuer at for the chance to own them. You have until Saturday afternoon (central European time GMT+2) to get the bids in. And as I said, if you bid early, you will be notified on a daily basis with an update on how the auctions are doing. Prices are in Euros so remember your currency conversion rates. Next week will finish off my 2 week jaunt through Germany and it will be arriving around the same time (16 hours or so earlier than usual). Until then, good luck if you are trying to get some of these.

Leave a Reply