This was a big deal:
It may not seem like it now. The two Mattel brands, Matchbox and Hot Wheels, are dropping Mercedes-Benz models left and right. The recent Deutschland Design mix in Hot Wheels Car Culture seems almost entirely dedicated to Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes is definitely become a big part of both brands.
But Mercedes-Benz had nothing to do with either brand when that Instagram post dropped back in March of 2016. For years Mattel didn’t have the Mercedes license. But finally in 2016, a licensing agreement was hammered out and the Mattel brands were finally able to create Mercedes-Benz models again. And as you can see now they jumped in head-first.
Matchbox really went for it, making the bonkers G63 6×6 their first Mercedes model. It was released in the basic range, but also used as the Toy Fair model for 2017, making it the showcase piece to show retailers where the brand was headed in the future.
It was the first Mercedes-Benz model to be released, and it ushered in the new Mercedes Era for both brands.
But that is not why it is on this list of most significant models of the Lamley Era. It is on this list because it is the model I think best represents a major development while I have been doing Lamley: the return of Matchbox.
“Return from what?” Good question. “And if it is really that big of a deal, hasn’t Matchbox returned multiple times from the dead, even by being bought by other companies, including Mattel?” Also a totally valid point.
I am including this return of Matchbox in this list because of how they did it, and because I got to see it happen. And it was a trip to be a part of it.
I don’t need to go into the full history leading up to this, but the first few years of Lamley was a weird time for Matchbox. It always seemed that Matchbox was the backburner brand for Mattel, feeding off the scraps of whatever Hot Wheels was doing. That wasn’t the truth by any means, but it was easy for collectors to think that. Around 2010, for whatever reason it was decided that Matchbox should be a little more kid-oriented than it already was, and so changes were made. New castings were created that were more cartoonish, realistic decos used on cars and utility vehicles were replaced by bright colors and outlandish graphics, and the line went almost entirely generic.
That obviously left collectors in the dust and totally frustrated, especially since Matchbox had been the same way ten years earlier. Back in the early 2000’s Matchbox was pouring out cartoonish models as well – think police cars shaped as police hats and whistles – until Mattel gave that up and took the brand ultra-realistic. All of a sudden, starting in 2006, Matchbox was dropping realistic current and classic models designed by Ryu Asada and decorated by Michael Heralda, and what was dubbed the “Matchbox Golden Age” was born.
Until 2011. Overthinking crept in once again, and Matchbox veered into a new direction, repeating the same mistakes of the early 2000’s. When I started Lamley, this was where Matchbox was.
But just like in 2006, around 2013 Matchbox once again pushed back again towards realism, and now in 2022 we have a basic range made up of almost entirely licensed models, a completely different line dedicated to moving parts, and even an RLC-like collector line. And it didn’t come easy.
I have always had a good relationship with the Matchbox Team, mainly from mingling with them every year at the Matchbox Gathering Convention in Albuquerque. For that reason I was quickly introduced to the new Matchbox Team headed up by Gerry Cody and Abe Lugo when they took over. Gerry and Abe were the perfect pair to take on Matchbox. They wanted to see the brand succeed, they listened to collectors when many at Mattel were inclined not to, and they had just enough rebel-rouser in them to take a ton of risks.
They saw the Lamley blog as a great way to keep in touch with collectors, so they started sending me info and sneaks to show, and in turn listened to and read the feedback from collectors. They even at one point had collectors post photos on Instagram of the Matchbox pegs at their local stores, and those photos were compiled to show the powers-that-be that the brand wasn’t being distributed properly.
In the end, the brand we see now is a direct result of that feedback. Things certainly aren’t perfect, but the fact that models being released are almost all licensed is a direct result of the work of that initial team, and their willingness to listen to us.
I was just in the middle of it. I heard stories of battles over budget, unrelenting arguments about what castings to choose, how to make keep them metal, etc. And all with the collector in mind.
The 6×6 signifies that uphill battle the Matchbox Team waged to try and do it right. Even that Instagram post wasn’t approved by Mattel. The Team just thought it would create buzz for Matchbox, and it certainly did. They soon dropped sneaks of the 6×6, to a crazy response.
I will always have a soft spot for Matchbox. I sympathize with how it has to maneuver around the behemoth that is Hot Wheels at Mattel. Gerry has since moved on to other projects at Mattel, but Abe is still there churning out collector-aimed realism, doing all he can to refine the line every year. And I’ve enjoyed being along for the ride.
I could honestly fill 100 posts with the stories I have about watching the Matchbox Team battle. One day I’ll tell them. Not now though. Needless to say, riding along with the Matchbox team has been a big part of Lamley. I’ll always root for the orange brand.