Mild to Wild to Weird: Early 70s Matchbox Responds to Hot Wheels

matchbox tyre fryer

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

In their early days, Matchbox made diecast replicas of sensible vehicles like farm plows, buses, and ambulances. Not the most exciting vehicles ever made, but the theme fit in well with their slow rolling wheels and axles. Back then, playing with toy cars involved pushing them around by hand. And with little competition in the 1:64 market, they sold like crazy.

By the late ‘60s, however the game had changed considerably. Matchbox was still making slow rollers, but they were more frequently based on sportier, fun cars such as the Ferrari Berlinetta, or quirky mainstays like the VW Camper. Their cars started to include some nice features such as opening doors and hoods, as well as working suspension and even steering on some models. But more change was on the horizon.

matchbox vw camper ferrariWhen Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning debuted with their wheels built for speed, Matchbox took notice. Not only were these new brands meant to go fast, but they offered some seriously crazy fantasy designs as well as models based on concept cars. All of which left Matchbox scrambling to compete. But how? They responded in phases.

By 1969, Matchbox was fighting back in the performance area. First, they created SuperFast wheels, which used free spinning, razor-edged wheels on thin axles for much faster travel. They even included sporty five spoke hubs for extra style. Several of the earlier models were updated to accommodate the new wheels, which helped sales tremendously (and resulted in more variants for collectors to chase). The updated models kept the same spot in the 1-75 count as well.

In the Early 70s Matchbox  cars debuted some wilder designs. Concept cars such as the Datsun 126 X were pretty far out, but at least rooted in some kind of reality. They also began to create their own fantasy designs… But not too fantastic, such as the Hot Rod Draguar and Gruesome Twosome. The Jag had a bubble canopy and a huge V-8 engine and wild side pipes, while the G.T. had two blown engines and a large magenta-tinted canopy. Both were wild, original designs, but it wasn’t a huge stretch to imagine these otherwise realistically proportioned models as plausible race cars.

matchbox datsun hot rod jaguar gruesome twosomematchbox flying bugThen Matchbox went bonkers. Starting in 1972, some new cars got less realistically proportioned and went for sheer crazy. Cars with monster engines and giant rear slicks resembled Ed Roth illustrations come to life. Some of them even included disproportionately large drivers, such as the Flying Bug.

The Tyre Fryer might be the pinnacle of these ridiculous designs, with very large block engine taking up almost half the car’s length. The cars also got funny names like the Woosh-N-Push. Even those sensible farm vehicles got this treatment in the form of the Mod Tractor with its giant Cobra engine.

matchbox tyre fryer woosh n push mod tractorBy the mid-70s, the Rola-matics series was carrying the banner for oddly fun cars. Each of these had some sort of moving feature, such as the rotating turbine on the Fandango. One drawback is that the peg on the wheel that triggered the moving part also slowed the cars down, making them less suitable for downhill racing.

matchbox fandangoPerhaps realizing they had strayed just a bit too far from their original mission, Matchbox designers toned down the craziness a bit by the end of the decade, with most cars resembling the early sporty Superfast models in nature. When Mattel bought Matchbox, this philosophy became part of their official strategy, allowing their former competitors to do the more fantastic designs under the Hot Wheels banner.

matchbox carsLove ‘em or hate ‘em (I have fond memories of some of these cars, myself), the early 1970s Matchbox deserve a spot in the time capsule you buried in your sandbox.

What are your favorite Matchbox cars from this era? Comment below!

Comments (3 Comments)
Karl S

"Then Matchbox went bonkers."  Exactly.  I was a kid collecting Matchbox in the late 1960s and started into their first Superfasts.  I always liked their realistic cars and trucks. The bonkers part really killed it for me though, and I stopped buying them.  I guess I was  strange kid.  :-)

By coincidence, I am reading Britain's Toy Car Wars: Dinky vs Corgi vs Matchbox,  an English book publsihed in 2016. The Hot Wheels phenomenon crushed all the diecast makers back then...

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How to Grade Vintage Action Figures

toypolloiA Guest Blog Post by Dave Moss
This article was originally written for Rareburg, who in 2016,  joined forces with hobbyDB to provide an excellent source of collectible knowhow for the community. 

Grading of action figures was not something I had looked into until recently. I had certainly seen graded figures for sale and that they often commanded a higher price than ungraded figures, but didn’t really see why.

Chief ChirpaSay you have a lovely mint on card figure and you want it confirmed that it is indeed a fine example. How to grade vintage action figures is a fairly simple process. You can send it to one of a few ‘expert’ grading companies like AFG or UKG, who will inspect your figure and give it a grade out of 100. The lower the number the lower the quality of the item.

For carded figures they look at three main areas.

The quality of the card: is it creased, does it have edge wear, etc.

The blister: is the blister yellowed, is it cracked or crushed.

The figure: is the paint applied correctly, is it yellowed, are there any flaws in the molding.

Each of these is given a mark and that determines the final grade.

R2-D2The figure is then encased in a plastic shell with the grade sealed inside. Many collectors go out of their way now to collect examples of figures that get the highest grade of 95. But very few items ever reach this high mark, and in recent years grading has become harsher and it is now almost impossible to get this mark.

But for me this grading seems very arbitrary. Different people and different companies give different grades for figures that are in the same condition. What one company sees as a 90, another will see it as an 80. And flaws are sometimes missed.

Also you have to remember that vintage toys were mass produced and were almost never perfect when they left the factory. Many have poorly applied paint, molding errors, and even paint rubs from being inside the blister.

U Grading

There is also a practice known as U grading where a figure on a battered or damaged card is removed from its blister by the grading company and graded as a loose figure with the prefix ‘U’ meaning uncirculated. The figure is taken direct from a card, graded and sealed inside a plastic case.

This annoys many collectors as by doing this they are reducing the amount of carded figures available to collect. And for many people who can’t afford mint carded examples of figures, damaged or beaten cards are a great way of starting a collection.

The only reason people get figures U graded is that collectors will pay more for a graded figure than one on a damaged card. Which seems crazy to me as I would much rather have the figure on a damaged card to display than a figure encased in a plastic box.

In recent months UKG have announced they will no longer be U grading vintage figures which is a great move on their part. But a lot of damage has already been done. There is currently a petition in progress to try and get AFA to stop this practice as well.

Figure preservation

Once you have a figure graded and encased in its perspex case many think they are safe from future damage. But this is not always true. You still have to treat them carefully as things can and do get broken. I have seen examples of graded loose figures where limbs have snapped off after it was graded.

In my own collection I have a MOC (Mint on Card) Return of the Jedi Chief Chirpa that has been dropped at some point (not by me) and cracked straight through the bottom of his blister.

Things to look out for:

  • The higher the overall grade, the higher the price.
  • Sometimes items will get graded low in one area (card, blister, figure) and that will bring the overall grade down.
  • Make sure the case is not damaged or scratched as this will affect the price.
  • U Grading means a figure has been removed from a card and graded and is un-circulated.
  • Figures can still get damaged after they have been graded, so treat them carefully.
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Rocky Mountain Diecast Club Archives now on hobbyDB

Rocky Mountain Diecast ClubThe Rocky Mountain Diecast Club is now hosting their Official Archive at hobbyDB. Having a collectors club post their history here is the beginning of what we think becomes a big movement in the collecting community.

Consider all the exclusive merchandise a club can generate over time…  special T-shirts, club exclusive cars, publications and newsletters you’ve created over the years. Wouldn’t it be great to put those things in a permanent museum here? Even better, each item is linked to variants and other related items and Subjects in the hobbyDB database, making it easy for club members to do research and for other folks to find you.

According to Kevin Feeley of RMDC, the club has been active for over 20 years, starting as the Rocky Mountain Hot Wheelers, and changing the name recently to be more inclusive of other brands and interests. “We are a group of car enthusiasts that enjoy getting together to discuss and trade, the latest releases, and treasured diecast vehicles of the past, he said.” Meetings have been held in various places around the Denver area, and they currently meet every other month in Boulder at hobbyDB’s headquarters, of all places. It’s a great space for collectors, especially diecast, specifically Hot Wheels.

Rocky Mountain Diecast Club

Kevin Feeley of the Rocky Mountain Diecast Club with a small portion of his collection. The club has produced very limited Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars for events.

In addition to the bi-monthly meets, the club does other events. “Several members attend the annual Nationals, and Hot Wheels Convention each year, Kevin said. “The club sponsored a diecast toy show at the local fairgrounds several years ago that was very well attended.” If you were there, you might have been able to snag some very rare collectibles. The club has produced some limited edition custom models from Hot Wheels and Matchbox to commemorate such club activities.

rocky mountain diecast club

A Sizzlers track is part of the Hot Wheels action at a recent club meeting.

The next event is April 15, 2017 at hobbyDB.The club has about a dozen regular members who attend, but they are always looking for more to join them in the hobby. “Everyone is welcome and we would really love to see some new faces at our bi-monthly meetings.  I would also like to thank HobbyDB for all of their help in attempting to expand our club in the Rocky Mountain region!” There’s a simple application and a $20 annual fee to cover the club’s basic expenses like their summer picnic.

rocky mountain diecast club

The RMDC visited the Shelby American Collection in Boulder.

Are you in a diecast collecting club? Or ANY kind of collectors club for that matter? We’d love to have you host your Official Club Archive here on hobbyDB. It’s a great way to publicize the club and promote events, and you might find a lot easier than maintaining an archive on your own site. Contact us and we can help get you started!

Comments (1 Comment)
Bud Kalland

Local collector clubs  have been the hub of activity for many hobbyists over many years . More than a few have supported the diecast hobby by assisting major manufactures with their major shows. Several like South Texas Diecast club( San Antonio ) holding the only Hot Wheels regional show or North Texas Diecast (Dallas) supporting Diecast Space shows and the Dallas Hot wheels convention. There are so many more throughout the country who have committed personnel and money to assist manufactures and collectors with local meetings.

Likewise manufactures assist these clubs with dedicated items that should be in the hobbydb data base but are possibly overlooked. More notable would be Hot August Nights, Temecula, Early Times, Woodward Dream cruise. These things don't just happen but are supported by clubs  and personnel that could benefit being in and supporting the data base.

I have followed the hobbydb blog and the announcement of International manufactures supporting the data base with their listed catalogs. Perhaps now I can see the continued interest of local clubs, along with international clubs and their special diecast releases.

Kudo's to hobbyDB and the RMDC  for adding local club information to the data base.



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Dave Chang of KustomCity Adds Official Archive to hobbyDB

kustomcity dave changThe latest Official Archive on hobbyDB is as much about a diecast model  company as it is about a designer and customizer. Dave Chang has added KustomCity as well as his extensive history to our database, and we couldn’t be more excited!

hot wheels scrape modifiedHe’s worked for Hot Wheels and Muscle Machines over the years, creating wild graphics for a wide range of models. For Hot Wheels, he is best known for the Scrape Modified, a heavily customized 1939 Lincoln coupe, and smaller scale models like the the 2003 Redline Club Drag Bus.

kustomcity evo drag busMore recently, Dave is best known as the mastermind behind the KustomCity Evo Drag Bus series. If you aren’t familiar with these models, imagine if the Hot Wheels Drag bus were crossed with a streamlined steam locomotive. These 1/64 models were designed from the ground up, a totally original take on the modest Volkswagen Bus. The long, sleek, aggressively tapered body work suggests an fiercely fast vehicle designed to do one thing: Go very fast in a straight line.

kustomcity firewagenHowever, on closer inspection, the Evo Dragster is designed for more than that. Besides, the Bus variant, there is a pickup version that has been further tricked out for all kinds of uses. There’s a tow truck model, from the “Big Tow” series. And a fire engine (the “Firewagen”). Actually, there are several versions with built in cargo, such as motorcycles or surf boards (the “Surfwagen”). But who are we kidding here… these things are anything but utilitarian.

kustomcity surfenwagenDave has created an enormous number of different paint schemes including candy chrome hues (aptly named “Over-Chrome”), drab military schemes that defy the word “drab”, and wild murals of crazy graphics. Depsite the limited production numbers, there are even rarer “chase” versions. With their large areas of relatively flat surfaces, the Evo vehicles have been popular with other customizers as well.

david chang diecast hall of fame

Dave Chang (lower left) and the rest of the original 2009 Diecast Hall of Fame class.

Dave is also a member of the inaugural class of honorees in the Diecast Hall of Fame from 2009, which should come as no surprise. In the almost decade since that honor he hasn’t slowed his roll one bit.

kustomcity evo drag bus

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From The Basement, Vol: 2: Autographed Baseball Cards: To Sign or Not to Sign

You can tell a lot about a ball player by the way they treat their fans, particularly their youngest supporters.

Both players and fans report to sun-soaked spring training camps in Arizona and Florida this month, creating baseball’s version of the Venn diagram, in which many of the barriers between athletes and common folk become blurred. This creates the perfect opportunity for fans to meet their idols up close and, oft times very, personal. This, of course, provides a unique chance to land some autographs like none other.

Determining Value

Celebrity signatures have always been a hot commodity, but their place in the trading card industry hasn’t always been so clear cut. On the surface, you’d think an autograph would infinitely raise the value of the card. But that’s not necessarily always the case.

The biggest question boils down to two factors. Is the autograph for your personal collection or for your personal gain?

The general rule of thumb is that a signed card is only worth as much as the autograph itself. Hence that Willie Mays (1961 Topps, No. 150) could witness its $900 price tag depreciate after the Say Hey Kid scrawls his signature on it. You can score a Mays autograph on eBay for as low as $25, after all.


Conversely, a Josh Hancock (2002 Donruss, No. 106) rookie card fetches more with his John Hancock, raising from $1 to the same price as a Willie Mays autograph on eBay.

Mays and Hancock had distinctly different careers.

The question of authenticity also plays a major factor. Without a certificate of authenticity or a photo of the player physically signing the card or ball, getting full value could be problematic.

Thrill of the Fight

Let’s be honest. An adult crowding a professional athlete for an autograph is a bit awkward. It’s best to leave it to the wide-eyed kid with a fistful of cards and Sharpie-stained fingers.

That was yours’ truly as a 10-year-old in Vero Beach, Fla., former spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

My most coveted signed card came from being crushed by a throng of fans seeking Orel Hershiser’s autograph. The result was a signed rookie card (1985 Topps, No. 493) and several (happily) bruised ribs. Orel took the time to connect with his fans. So, too, did the likes of Mike Scioscia (1986 Topps, No. 486) and Tommy Lasorda (1986 Topps, No. 291) — the latter who allowed us to ride in his golf cart with him.

Orel SciosciaLasorda

Other players aren’t so thrilled by your presence. Time and location is key to approaching a player. Hall of fame first baseman Eddie Murray wasn’t too thrilled about me and my younger brothers approaching him as he sat in his maroon 1987 Chrysler LeBaron. Other players sheer bitterness when it comes to being ripped from their routines, such as Detroit Tigers pitcher Paul Gibson. He begrudgingly signed my card during batting practice at Yankee Stadium in 1989. Karma turned on Gibson, however. Turns out the card he signed was a dubious error card (1989 Score, No. 595). Note the shortstop in the background. Score eventually issued a reprint, thusly increasing the original’s value.


Error card or not, the autographs should probably hold more of an intrinsic value and be worth about the same amount as the experience of obtaining it.


Christopher Wuensch (1988 Baseball USA Camps, No. 14)

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