Nostalgia Nerd

Matchbox Cars Old vs. New

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Looking at Matchbox, Corgi and Hot Wheel cars past and present, including road structures and the cars themselves.

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If you were anything like my brother and I as a child, you will have undoubtedly played with toy cars, otherwise known as dinky cars or more commonly in the UK, at least; Matchbox cars. There were other brands such as Corgi and Majorette who came pretty close and even exceeded the Matchbox mark in some cases, but Matchbox had the largest share of the market, the largest number of accessories and the widest array of cars to choose from.

Renault Traffic Corgi Car
Renault Traffic Corgi Car

Tony Medland’s was the local toy shop in my home town of Cromer, and it used to have entire racks dedicated to these little scale models. All presented in “matchbox” like packaging with a clear window of plastic allowing you to see the wonderous vehicle inside. In our current age, both the local toy shops and the racks of cars have largely disappeared; instead, you’re likely to find a box of cars shoved in a tub on the bottom shelf of your local supermarket. I doubt the minds of future generations will recall the excitement of picking through a tub of misshapen, crumpled boxes featuring 4 varieties of car whilst Mum’s off buying cabbages quite as much, as the wonder and awe of a little shop dedicated and packed to the brim with toys.

My Brother and I
My Brother and I. Me sitting in my favourite AA car.

Now, I acknowledge that this video could rapidly descend into a whiny “It’s not like it used to be in my day” type of video. Which is great. Because that’s exactly what I want it to be.

The Roads

Before we delve into the cars, we should first examine the landscape these vehicles will be commanding.

Car mats have stead the course of time; essentially rugs, that have an aerial or sometimes isometric town printed on them, all for your car playing delight, whilst making it comfier to lay on the floor and eat biscuits. But what I remember most fondly is the joy of slotting together little pieces of plastic road and letting my imagination run riot. Creating my own towns, using the flexible world of Matchbox Metro sets (and their cheaper, but compatible counterparts). There were what seemed like countless versions of these sets, all which could be combined to create a mega town capable of taking over your parents’ entire house, subject to pocket money funds and parental willingness. Normally this meant you ended up with one set for Christmas and a few odds and ends picked up here and there throughout the remainder of your childhood. BUT no matter the size – it was still a town of YOUR imagination.

Security Van with some Matchbox Road
Security Van with some Matchbox Road

In present day, we simply have rugs and the occasional jigsaw road, which offers a limited interpretation of the Metro packs. So, then, 1 – nill to the past.

Hot Wheels Got Hotter

Every time I take a look at one of my boy’s dinky cars, I’m sorely disappointed. Every time I compare it to one of the childhood cars I cherished (until I smashed them all up in “crash tests”), and he has since lost, there’s a sense of deflation. Sometimes little details missing, sometimes it’s a sub-standard build quality and in some cases, it’s just plain size issues.

Take a look at some of these classic 80’s cars, all faithfully reproduced from real production line models;

Ferrari GTO Matchbox Car
Ferrari GTO Matchbox Car
Ford Sierra Cosworth Toy
Ford Sierra Cosworth Toy

Like I said I smashed most of mine up, so this is my brother’s cherished collection which I removed from my parent’s loft, after many hours of negotiation and written legal agreements to ensure their safety and return.

Now take a look at some of my son’s collection;

Modern Day Hotwheels
Modern Day Hotwheels

Can you see the difference there? Most of today’s cars are absolutely bogus and deranged incarnations which have spilt out of the minds of drunk designers at Mattel. The reason behind this is simple; It’s HOT WHEELS.

Hot Wheels did exist in the 80’s, it was the small selection you found tucked away in the corner. Featuring crazy cars from America (Yeee-HAW!), and being American and having a large company behind it – Mattel – it inevitably grew. Slowly it got bigger and bigger until finally, Mattel were in the position to purchase Matchbox. Now when you peruse shops you will mostly find Hot Wheels, with maybe the odd Matchbox car or perhaps a supermarket brand such as MOTOR CROSS, but largely Matchbox (and Corgi) now seems to be mostly relegated to construction vehicles or obscure bottle carrying trucks, with the odd Americanified “normal” car thrown in. But hey? consumers dictate production right? So we’ve only got ourselves to blame.

Lamborghini Above a Matchbox City
Lamborghini Above a Matchbox City

So armed with the knowledge that Matchbox are essentially now Hot Wheels… let’s dry our tears and move on.

The Cars

The first thing you’ll probably notice is the weight difference, the old matchbox vehicles certainly had more weight behind them than the newer, streamlined versions. Take these two Porsche vehicles, although original Matchbox model has been battered, it’s still stood the test of time. It rolls nicely, the doors open and shut, the suspension still operates and you can even read the number plate. Take the other Porsche, it’s new, so it’s not had a chance to stand the test of time. It does roll nicely, although it’s lighter weight prevents it from loop the looping properly on this particular track. The suspension is absent, presumed missing, as is the number plate, presumed illegal. You may also notice details on the original car such as the heated rear windscreen lines… now although a lot of modern cars have invisible heated windscreen lines, I very much doubt they’d be here even if they were on the original car.. the attention to detail is just lacking.

Matchbox Car
A Matchbox, including the collector card!
The more you look at the older cars, you more you realise that most of them had little functions or qwerks to keep you entertained and make them more interesting. Whether it be opening doors, movable arms, opening bonnets, opening boots, functioning roll doors. Modern dinky cars seem to mostly be a block of metal and plastic (increasingly plastic over metal), which certainly make good throwing weapons, but don’t really keep you interested. They’ve lost their individuality, they’ve lost what made them special.

And take a look at these Rally cars. The famous group B Peugeot 205 looks awesome. It’s got an opening engine bay, and even treaded tyres to represent it’s Rally status. This piece of turd might look reasonable but it’s about 3/4 of the size. In fact most of the hot wheels that are based loosely in reality, seem to come in different scales. Now, I might let it off if it’s a haulage truck or something, but it’s just a car. What’s it going to be in another 30 years? The size of a fucking grape?!

80s Dinky Cars
80s Dinky Cars

The available production models based in reality, like I mentioned before, are also somewhat lacking. If you’re looking to get the same car that your Dad owns, you’d be sorely disappointed. In fact the best range for that sort of thing appears to be Supermarket branded cars… but they’re all based on the most expensive Audis and BMWs. Back in the 80s you could happily buy a Renault 5, a Vauxhall Astra or even a Ford Sierra, albeit in Rally form in this instance. How is a child supposed to relate some Hot Wheel Monstrosity back to his parents’ car, or create a town that is essentially a mini version of the world.

Now, the only towns you can create are ridiculous clown like landscapes based in a static fibre abundant rug landscape.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us weeping in sorrow about what was, and what is no longer. It also leaves the scores at about 10 – nill to the past cars.

A Majorette Renault 5
A Majorette Renault 5

Oh, but before I go; I have to give some credit to Majorettee – the French toy company. Their line of current cars seems to be pretty much as good as it was. This one has opening doors, suspension and a lovely matt paint job, just like it’s 30 year old counterparts.

Well done Majorette.
Screw you Mattel.

Oh, and Disney, fuck you Disney.

Disney Cars Models
Disney Cars Models


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Hi mate-funny you mentioned Cromer, as I recall Medland being in the town when I moved to Sheringham in late 1984 from Suffolk. I agree that much of the Hot Wheels cars are tat, but their Lamborghini & Ferrari cars aren’t too bad, esp when still obtained in Pound stores. Look for Burago 1/64 size cars in the Poundworld or similar stores (they make a magnificent 16.4 Bugatti Veyron cabrio).
Matchbox seem somewhat limited in their range,but there ARE hidden gems like the Jaguar F-Type & Alfa 4C. I think Mattel cynically suppress Matchbox to promote HW instead. Finding info about the MB range is almost impossible online, but HW have a website with checklist.
The Holy Grail of my MB cars from 1970s/80s is the Gold colour Porsche 928…..

Nice! I’ll keep a look out for these. I had some of the “platinium” Matchboxes (or whatever they were called) as a kid with silver windows and real rubber tyres. Damn I loved them.

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