It’s six months since my last Mission 800 update, so time for another. A quick recap if that term means nothing to you: it refers to my ‘mission’ to acquire one of every Matchbox casting numbered MB001-800. That sequence begins with the 75 Lesney-era carryovers that kicked things off in 1982, when castings were first given absolute manufacturing numbers (MANs) instead of just being numbered for their position in the range, and ends with the MB800 Road Roller, which first appeared in 2010. Click here for a full introduction and here for the last update!
Through the autumn and winter of 2020-21 I was able to pick up another five models to fill gaps in the 1-800 lineup, all of them the outstanding vehicles I needed from the Caterpillar issues of 1998-99. Some are Hot Wheels designs that were also issued under the Matchbox name, with or without modification, after Mattel bought the brand from Tyco in 1997.
Mostly released in Dirt Machines two-packs, the Caterpillar models are regularly on eBay in the US, so not all that hard to find, but part of my mission is not to acquire things at any cost – that would take away half the fun!
However, the first of the three new sets I bought came from the UK, where they’re not at all common, and contains the MB353 Backhoe/Loader and the MB382 Tool Carrier. Note how the Mattel item number is on the label at the front of this pack, instead of the US-market name of ‘Pipe Layers’. I assume this was to avoid translation issues in different European markets (Dirt Machines is spelt out in five languages on the top half of the blister card).
I open all this stuff for display, but in the case of the Dirt Machines sets, that’s quite an undertaking due to the myriad twist-ties securing the models and figures to the cardboard base.
Like many Matchbox sets of the period, the production cost on these models must have been high – not just for the high piece count, metal content and great detailing, but because they would have been pretty labour-intensive to pack. Finally freed from their packaging after about 10 minutes of untwisting wires, here are the two castings in all their yellow glory.
The Backhoe goes straight into my favourite top-10 Matchbox castings. The realism is amazing and, like many of these Caterpillar castings, it has great play value.
MB382 Tool Carrier
I already had the alternate version of the Tool Carrier, the MB383 Tractor Shovel, which is identical except for a different attachment up front.
Soon after I snagged that set, some random late-night US eBay browsing (dangerous, isn’t it?) yielded these two sets for a great price.
Three of the four models in these packs were on my hitlist – I had picked up a loose MB350 Motor Grader (modified Hot Wheels Street Cleaver) some time ago.
Here are each of the new ones in turn:
MB343 Front Shovel (ex-HW Shovel/Excavator)
MB344 Truck (ex-HW CAT Dump Truck)
MB345 Bulldozer (ex-HW Bulldozer)
With the new five safely ensconced in the display, I’ve now obtained all 17 of the Matchbox Caterpillar castings from that period. There are some fantastic individual models in there (my favourite is the MB354 Soil Compactor) and together, they make a cool set!
Just for completeness, here are the others.
Prompted by a comment on this article, I also dug out this CAT Quarry Dump Truck (MB462) from 2000. It’s hard to find, having only been issued with an Adventures in Time game for PC. It has a far higher plastic content than some of the earlier castings.
The Mission 1-800 list of achievable models is now down to 13, plus a handful of prepros that may or may not be acquirable, not including the numbers that were allocated but never made. I have a couple more gap-fillers on the way; I’ll be back with another update when there’s something to say!
(follow the hunt via #MBMission800 on my Instagram @diecast215)