Drivers, start your engines! Matchbox at the Indy 500

It’s a year since I explored Matchbox’s history with Formula 1 (see here for part 1 and part 2 of that article). I thought that this weekend’s Indianapolis 500 – restored to its traditional May date after last year’s Covid postponement – was a good time to look at another aspect of Matchbox’s racing history: the IndyCar models from the early-1990s.

I’ll say up front that I don’t possess all of the models issued (almost 50 in all over three years) and nor do I ever plan to, but I do have enough of them to provide a representative set of photographs for this article. You’ll find pictures of the rest fairly easily online. There are usually lots for sale, and mostly cheap, on eBay.

(find Matchbox Indy 500 on eBay)

A selection of Matchbox Indy 500 models from across the three years of issue, 1991-93

Matchbox’s deal with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to issue Indy-themed models began in 1991 to coincide with the 75th running of the Indy 500, which at the time formed part of the CART championship. The arrangement lasted for three years, during which Matchbox’s ownership passed from Universal to Tyco, and bit the dust right before the Formula 1 series got going from ’94. I don’t believe the two lines ever appeared in the same territories, with the Indy models confined to North America and F1 to ROW markets. That said, I know that some surplus Indy stock was dumped into other markets. I bought my 1993 Valvoline Team Transport in a clearance toy shop in Ryde, UK in the mid-90s!

To the best of my knowledge, Matchbox had never had a model explicitly associated with the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ before 1991, although the MB137 F 1 Racer had previously been released in the US as the ‘Indy Racer’ in a blue-and-red STP/Bosch deco, based on a real car from Patrick Racing (see Honourable mentions, below).

Here as elsewhere, I may have made a mistake! If you know better on this or anything else I touch on in this article, please share your knowledge in the comments below. I’m all ears.

1991 Collector Catalog
The new Indy 500 line was announced with great fanfare in the 1991 [US] Collector Catalog, which revealed how a range of new models would appear in different assortments. Here’s what it said:

Indy 500 Racers with Collector Coins
Gentlemen, start your engines! All the excitement of the greatest automobile race in the world is captured with these highly decorated Indy Racers and Vehicles. The limited edition Collector Coins commemorate the 75th Indianapolis 500 Race and the special events and people of Indy 500 history. Indy racers and support vehicles are detailed with logos and decorations of the top race sponsors. This complete assortment lands everyone in the winner’s circle!

2 each of 8 Indy 500 Racers with coin and 4 support vehicles (Helicopter, Support Wrecker, Tanker, TV News Truck)

Indy 500 Racers Team Transport
Transporting the race team is a tough job and every team relies on their transports to help support and prepare for the Indy 500 race with replacement engines, tires and everything for the pit. Transports are decorated in three authentic team decorations.

Indy 500 Race Car Transporter
Count on getting to the race on time in the Indy Race Car Transporter. Designed to carry a matching Indy Racer to and from the track, it’s two vehicles in one! Race Car Transporter comes in 3 exciting team decorations.

Indy 500 Speedway Team Transporter
This Super Size racing transporter captures all of the Indy 500 racing excitement. It serves as a storage unit for 2 highly decorated Indy 500 racers and has a trailer that opens up to reveal a high-tech Tune-Up Center. Complete with ramp and Indy 500 neon decorations, this transporter won’t let the team down!

And you thought Lamley invented hype!

1991 Indy 500 Speedway Team Transporter

The catalog picture provided a taste of what was to come (unfortunately I don’t have a clean copy to show you). The play scenario depicts five versions of the venerable MB137 as well as two of the newer MB203 Grand Prix Racer casting. There are two each of the promised Team Transports (Kenworth Conventional-based Convoys) and Kenworth Race Car Transporters, as well as prototypes of an MB100 Peterbilt Fuel Truck, MB188 GMC Wrecker and MB205 [Mercedes-Benz] TV News Truck. Finally, there’s a black version of the Speedway Team Transporter (Superkings Iveco Racing Car Transporter, K-136 etc).

1991 Indy 500 range

Here’s a projection of the lineup for 1991, as depicted on the rear of the large blister packaging for the singles.

Not sure what a ‘lap breaking start’ is! Lap-record breaking, maybe? We’ll never know!

As was often the case, the models that appeared at retail didn’t completely match the prototypes shown in the catalogue or on the packaging. The black Peterbilt Fuel Truck in the catalogue was delayed until 1992 and to the best of my knowledge, the attractive Valvoline version shown here never made production. The red GMC Wrecker was never sold but appeared in 1993, in black. The white TV News Truck never made it past the prototype stage and neither did the helicopter.

That left us with a 1991 line of single vehicles that included seven race cars: five F 1 Racers and two Grand Prix Racers, including one of each in generic paint schemes (the graffiti-style ‘INDY’ script was used by the speedway in branding of the time) plus five authentic liveries from the 1990 race.

As you can see, each model was packaged on a gaudy yellow-and-black blister card and came with a chromed plastic ‘collector coin’ that celebrated a memorable moment from Indy history. The 1991 race marked the 75th running of the 500 and the race logo also appeared on the packaging. I don’t know how these displayed at retail but at the Matchbox Gathering in 2019, someone had an original shipper full of carded models for sale that must have been about 5ft tall!

Here are some of the singles from 1991, including the generic, Marlboro-style design. Those colours were well chosen – Rick Mears won the race that year in his Marlboro-sponsored Penske. I love the authentic colours but the poor F 1 Racer looks nothing like an IndyCar!

The collector coins are a bit of a gimmick but nice enough. By completing a form on the back of the blister card and enclosing 10 Indy 500 proof-of-purchase points (equivalent to five singles), collectors could send away for a board on which to display 12 of the coins. The offer closed in June 1992 and the form was not printed on packaging beyond 1991, even though the coins continued to be issued into the 1993 range.

A selection of Collector Coins from the Indy 500 singles

Also issued in 1991 were the three Race Car Transporters – #2 Pennzoil, #5 Valvoline and #22 Amway/Speedway, but not the STP/Bosch prototype we saw just now on the back of the packaging, which included the earlier MB137 from the US basic range. Two of the three promised Team Transports (Convoys, basically; Pennzoil and Valvoline) also made it to retail, as did the big Speedway Team Transporter, which came in black with the two generic racers from the singles range – a black-and-yellow MB137 and the ‘Marlboro’ MB203, not the yellow/green and orange/red/white striped prototypes shown on the packaging.

Livery aside, the Superkings hauler is an awesome toy with all the play value of the other Racing Car Transporters of the period. Also check out the Ferrari or Porsche versions if you’re not familiar with this model!

1992 Indy 500 range

The Indy 500 line returned for 1992 with updates that reflected the competing cars from the 1991 500. The logo from the 1992 (76th) race now adorned the packaging, which was otherwise largely unchanged. Production had switched from China to Thailand.

Helpfully, the picture on the back accurately reflects what was issued!

The MB137 F 1 Racer was almost entirely out of the picture – fair enough, given that the casting more closely resembles a 1983 Ferrari F1 car! In the singles, it returned only as a modified version of the #18 Kraco/Galles (Bobby Rahal) machine, below.

The MB203 Grand Prix Racer now dominated the lineup, appearing in five new designs: one generic and four real 1991 Indy 500 colour schemes. The latter included an updated Pennzoil scheme (now the #4 VDS car of John Andretti instead of the #2 Penske of Rick Mears) and three all-new designs, including the #8 Scotch/Target Ganassi machine of Eddie Cheever Jr, below.

The other single race car was the first appearance of the MB228 Indy 500 Racer, the updated version of the Grand Prix Racer but with a more Indy-like, single-post rear wing. The slightly horrific deco was an orange/purple/white combo that also featured in an updated line of four Race Car Transporters. I’ve written before about how much I love this Kenworth transporter casting. There are loads of versions to collect and they are pretty much all fantastic, even this one!

The other three 1992 transporters also featured decos from the singles series (#4 Pennzoil, #6 Kmart and #7 Panasonic), but the cars onboard were different, using the updated MB228 casting with the smaller rear wing. Given that the MB228 would predominate for the rest of the Indy 500 series’ existence, it seems likely that the singles were made before the Race Car Transporter ‘cargo’ during production for 1992.

The other singles from the year were the delayed Peterbilt ‘Official Fuel Truck’ that had been first shown in the 1991 catalogue and the MB189 Cadillac Allanté as the Official Pace Car. A red Allanté did serve as the pace car for the 500 in 1992, making this one of the most accurate – and by extension one of my favourites – of all the Matchbox Indy 500 models.

Patchy build quality on this Cadillac Allanté pace car from 1992!

On the hauler side, the Superkings transporter was refreshed with the 76th logo and a pair of MB203s in generic schemes. There were also now three trucks in the Team Transports range, with Kmart and Panasonic Convoys joining the carryover Pennzoil deco.

1993 Indy 500 range

The swansong for Matchbox’s licensed Indy 500 models provided what was in my view the best of the three years. This was in part because the neon colours of the first two years were dropped from both packaging and models alike. The new, more colourful card art featured Matchbox orange for the first time and the singles came on a section of cardboard banking to represent the Brickyard track. There was still a collector coin, too – so much for ‘limited edition’!

The packaging picture is close to what was released but the decos on the Wrecker and Tanker are wrong and there’s a missing race car transporter (more on all that in a minute).

The race cars themselves were all small-wing MB228s for a more authentic look. A generic black #5 was joined by six cars from the 1992 race: the #1 Kmart car of Michael Andretti plus five of the top eight finishers (#8 Pennzoil of John Andretti, #9 Scotch/Target of Eddie Cheever Jr, #11 Panasonic of Raul Boesel, #3 Valvoline of Al Unser Jr (below) and Scott Goodyear’s #15 Mackenzie car).

The last two on that list had provided the Indy 500’s closest-ever finish, separated by only 0.043 seconds as they crossed the line. Matchbox commemorated the moment by also releasing the two models in a special ‘Closest Finish Ever’ twin-pack. I’ve recreated the moment for you here!

Two great new support vehicles joined the singles line. The Peterbilt Official Fuel Truck got a new and much more attractive Indianapolis Motor Speedway design, which was mirrored on the only Indy 500 release of the MB188 GMC Wrecker that we’d first seen in red prototype form in the ’91 catalogue. I’m a big fan of that Peterbilt casting anyway and this is a terrific version.

Four Race Car Transporters were again issued, all with MB228s on the back. The Valvoline deco made a comeback but was updated with the latest race number (#3) and an MB228 in place of the MB137 we saw in 1991. The Panasonic rig also got a new number (#11). The other two transporters were all-new: #9 Scotch/Target (not shown in the packaging picture above) and #15 Mackenzie.

The Valvoline livery also returned as one of only two Team Transports, with different minor sponsors depicted compared with the original 1991 release. The Mackenzie deco took the other Convoy slot.

Finally, there was a totally new look for the Superkings transporter, which was issued in a much more realistic and appealing red, white and blue deco and paired with matching MB228s carrying #77 (for the 77th running of the 500, I assume).

Honourable mentions

As I said at the start, several Matchbox IndyCar models fell outside of the main Indy 500 releases but nevertheless represented real Indy racers.

Two releases involved the MB137 F 1 Racer (Indy Racer). One was the blue-and-red Bosch/STP deco based on Gordon Johncock’s Patrick Racing March, in which he qualified fifth for the 1984 500. It sat in the US basic range from 1985-86. The blue is a bit dark, but better to have a real deco than a generic one!

The other MB137 was a 1994 promo in Canada for Agfa-sponsored driver, Ross Bentley, who failed to qualify at Indy in 1993 as part of a wider campaign in CART that year. The model came free with two rolls of Agfa film. Kids, ask your parents! I come across them quite regularly here in Canada but I’m sure it’s much harder to find in other countries.

The Kmart Newman Haas car also reappeared later as part of Nigel Mansell sets (Mansell went to race in CART from 1993). Here’s Mansell’s Red 5 ride on the back of a Kenworth Race Car Transporter.

Ironically, Matchbox’s final and most accurate IndyCar casting was never released in a real-life deco. The venerable Grand Prix Racing Car was modified for the second and final time with a more Indy-like, blade front wing and released as the MB247 Indy Racer in Racing five-packs from 1995-97.

MB247 Indy Racer from 1997 Racing 5-pack. Note low-downforce front wing!

The 1990s was something of a golden age for Matchbox racing cars, featuring an abundance of licensed models (or toys, let’s be honest!) from Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR. It seems unlikely that we’ll ever see the likes again, but here’s hoping.

Since the arrangement with Matchbox came to an end, there have been licensed IndyCar models in 1:64 from brands including Racing Champions, Johnny Lightning, Hot Wheels and (currently) Greenlight.

To finish, here’s a consolidated list of what I believe to be all the Indy 500 releases from 1991-93. Once again, if you spot any errors or omissions, please get in touch and I’ll make updates where needed. Thanks for reading this far, happy hunting and enjoy this year’s Indianapolis 500!

(find Matchbox Indy 500 on eBay)

Matchbox Indy 500 models 1991-93 (issue date in brackets)

MB100 Peterbilt Official Fuel Truck
– Prepro in black ‘Indy’ (1991 catalogue)
– Prepro ‘Valvoline’ (1991 packaging)
– Black ‘Indy’ (1992)
– Black/white IMS (1993)

MB137 F 1 Racer (Indy 500 Racer) (#/sponsor/entrant/driver)
– Prepro in green/yellow (1991 catalogue only)
– #5 Valvoline Galles Al Unser (1991)
– #18 STP/Kraco Galles Bobby Rahal (1991)
– #11 yellow/black Indy generic (1991)
– #86 Texaco Bruce Leven Dominic Dobson (1991)
– #22 Amway/Speedway Dick Simon Scott Brayton (1991)
– #18 STP/Kraco Galles Bobby Rahal (1992, deco modified)

MB153 Mission Helicopter
– Prepro in blue and white ‘Indy’ (see Dave Reynolds’ comment, below)

MB188 GMC Official Wrecker
– Prepro in red ‘Indy’ (1991 catalogue)
– Black/white IMS (1993)

MB189 Cadillac Allanté Official Pace Car
– Red IMS (1992)

MB203 Grand Prix Racing Car (#/sponsor/entrant/driver)
– #2 Pennzoil Penske Rick Mears (1991)
– #4 orange/white Indy generic (1991)
– #1 Indy generic purple/orange (1992 Superkings Speedway Team Transporter)
– #8 Scotch/Target Ganassi Eddie Cheever Jr (1992)
– #4 Pennzoil VDS John Andretti (1992)
– #6 Kmart Newman Haas Mario Andretti (1992)
– #7 Panasonic Dick Simon Hiro Matsushita (1992)
– #76 red/white/blue Indy generic (1992)

MB205 TV News Truck
– Prepro in white ‘Indy Racing Network’ (1991 catalogue)

MB228 Indy 500 Racer (small rear wing) (#/sponsor/entrant/driver)
– #1 Indy generic purple/orange (1992)
– #1 Kmart Texaco Newman Haas Michael Andretti (1993)
– #3 Valvoline Galles Kraco Al Unser Jr (1993)
– #5 black Indy generic (1993)
– #8 Pennzoil Hall VDS John Andretti (1993)
– #9 Scotch/Target Ganassi Eddie Cheever Jr (1993)
– #11 Panasonic Dick Simon Raul Boesel (1993)
– #15 Mackenzie Walker Scott Goodyear (1993)

Closest Finish Ever twin-pack (1993)
– #3 Valvoline MB228
– #15 Mackenzie MB228

CY111A Convoy Kenworth Race Car Transporters
– #2 Pennzoil w/ MB203 (1991)
– #5 Valvoline w/ MB137 (1991)
– #22 Amway w/ MB137 (1991)
– #1 Indy generic purple/orange w/ MB228 (1992)
– #4 Pennzoil w/MB228 (1992, not issued as a single)
– #6 Kmart Texaco w/ MB228 (1992, not issued as a single)
– #7 Panasonic w/ MB228 (1992, not issued as a single)
– #3 Valvoline w/ MB228 (1993)
– #9 Scotch/Target w/ MB228 (1993)
– #11 Panasonic w/ MB228 (1993)
– #15 Mackenzie w/ MB228 (1993)

CY104A Kenworth Conventional ‘Team Transports’ Haulers
– Valvoline (1991)
– Pennzoil (1991)
– Pennzoil (1992, unchanged)
– Panasonic (1992)
– Kmart Texaco (1992)
– Mackenzie (1993)
– Valvoline (1993, revised sponsors)

Superkings Speedway Team Transporter
– Black 75th Indianapolis 500 + 1x MB203 (white/orange),1x MB137 (yellow/black) (1991)
– Black 76th Indianapolis 500 + 2x MB203 (pink/orange, RWB) (1992)
– Red, white and blue Indy 500 + 2x MB228 #77 (RWB) (1993)

(find Matchbox Indy 500 on eBay)

(follow me on Instagram @diecast215)

4 Replies to “Drivers, start your engines! Matchbox at the Indy 500”

  1. As with everything Universal and Tyco delivered with the licensed special series, I loved the Indy line. I have pre-pro examples of the originally intended TV News Van in white and pink and GMC Wrecker in red plus an MB57 Mission Chopper in blue and white with Indy markings which was not pictured in the promo material.

    The Ross Bentley Agfa film model was also available in orange and white.

    1. Wow, those are some rarities, congratulations! I didn’t know about the Mission Helicopter, I’ll add it to the list!

  2. It’s a pity that I am unable to upload a photo here, as I have a shot of all three pre-pro models together that I once posted on the old Matchbox Collectors Forum.

    1. Dave, I’d love to be able to share that photo here. If you want to make contact I’m pretty easy to find via a Google search, via Instagram @diecast215 or through the MCF group on Facebook. Cheers!

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