Matchbox Posts

What I Learned From Toy Motorcycles: I Shouldn’t Ride One

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Toy Motorcycles hold a curious spot in the world of miniature vehicles. Consider this: A toy car or truck, especially one with a closed cabin, looks ready to drive, and requires no assistance to stand on its own when stationary. But a motorcycle? It looks weird moving without a rider, and it can’t stand alone without a kickstand, a sidecar or training wheels. In fact, without any assistance from such things, the only way to make one scoot around was to hold onto it the whole time lest it fall. That’s a lot to engineer into a small toy.

LEhmann Tinplate motorcycle

A typical tinplate motorcycle has at least three wheels, sometimes four. But it can’t go fast enough and far enough to sustain the momentum required to balance on two wheels for long. And that’s kind of disappointing.

matchboxcycle

Matchbox offered some motorcycle models in the 1960 and ’70s, but most had a permanent, fixed kickstand. Even this Honda cycle with posable kickstand was designed primarily as a trailer load. The message was clear: You can look, but you can’t ride.

Hot Wheels Rrrumblers Bone Shaker

Hot wheels eventually offered a series of freewheeling cycles, the Rrrumblers, which could do all the things their cars could do: zoom down orange track, go over ramps, get buried in the sandbox. And they had cool removable riders, too. But like the earlier toys, they still required some assistance in the form of clear plastic bases with training wheels. Some had two wheels, but their three wheeled choppers needed assistance, or they would get squirrelly on the track. (Eventually, I figured out they could go downhill backwards without assistance, but who wants to ride that way?)

Hot Wheels Sizzlers Chopcycle Triking Viking

Mattel upped the ante when they added similar trikes (These were all 3-wheelers to accommodate the battery-powered motor) to their self-powered Sizzlers line. Instead of going in a straight line down a hill with some difficulty, The Chopcycles could go in circles and figure eights at high speeds before crashing even more spectacularly. These also came with a sled-like removable attachment to keep them pointed in the right direction. It should be pointed out that most of the rider figures wore appropriate protection (except for the fancy lad who wore a top hat and the other fellow in the newsboy cap).

Kenner SSP Cycle Stunt Show

Kenner’s SSP line offered a few motorcycles in the early 70’s as well. With their gyroscopic flywheels, they demonstrated how to ride balanced and without restraint, no training wheels, no sidecars… until they came to a stop by either falling over as they slowed down, or by running into something and slowing down instantly. The full gold racing suit and helmet was pretty cool, though.

Evel Knievel Jet Cycle

In 1974, Ideal came out with a line of toys that boys of a certain generation consider the all time champion coolest thing ever: The Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle. The commercials were filled with promise… enthusiastic boys cranked up their motorcycles with fury, the gears whining to a loud, high-pitched shriek. And suddenly, the bike shot off at great speed! They showed it on pavement. And on dirt. And jumping!!! And perhaps as a warning, crashing, causing a floppy-limbed rider to go flying and landing in a heap!!!!! And when I got one for my birthday and tried it for the first time… It was even louder and more chaotic and more exciting than promised!!! And the harm that came to Evel was even more real. Mine even suffered a gash on his nose when his helmet ended up sideways on his head after a crash. Never mind the carnage Evel would inspire on a regular street bike, the series quickly expanded to include jet-powered bikes and dragsters.

ssp rockin rickIn the late ’70s, SSP offered a new series of cycles, this time resembling street bikes, with posable riders. The drive wheel was hidden in the middle of the bike, so they really had three wheels, (or four for chopper trikes) this time in a line. But the riders clearly cared more about looking cool than they did about safety. Sure, boys wanted to be Rockin’ Rick and girls wanted to be with him, but his long flowing hair and ill-secured guitar sent a questionable message about responsible cycling.

So what did I learn from all these toys? Ride too fast, you will crash. Ride too slow, you will crash. Training wheels look silly. Wearing a helmet is a good idea, unless you have long, flowing hair or a top hat, in which case, you ride at your own risk.

I’ve ridden a motorcycle exactly once since: It was a friend’s dirt bike, and I wore a helmet. The sudden acceleration from standstill caused the bike to do a wheelie, dumping me off the back in seconds. Somewhere Evel Knievel is shaking his head.

Math, Science, Randomness: The Origins of Model Scales

One of the key attributes of collectible vehicles is the scale in which they are reproduced. Most collectors know about 1/64 scale cars, such as Hot Wheels, as well as other popular sizes such as 1/18 and 1/43. But have you ever thought about HOW and WHY these particular model scales became the standards in their hobbies?

Buick Riviera scale models

1:43 and 1:64 Buick Rivieras

There are many reasons why model companies gravitate towards certain scales. As it turns out, a lot of scales are the result of simple math involving division by 2 or by 10. But several scales are the result of scaling down model trains, or more specifically the track they run on, which we’ll discuss in a moment.

So put on your thinking cap, get out your calculators, and let’s hop into the hobbyDB Shrink-O-Matic to discover the origins of the scales! (All images are approximately to scale.)

1/1 through 1/6 – The scales in this range are simple ratios, easy to calculate. These are of course, large scales, so they’re usually reserved for real items that are not particularly big. Of course, there are some larger objects modeled at full size.

1/8 – Hey, we skipped 1/7! It turns out you don’t get into a lot of prime numbers outside of single digits. Seven is hard to divide by. But 1/8 equals half of a half of a half, so the math is pretty easy. This scale has become popular in recent years for super detailed model car kits. 1/8 scale is often used for replicas of race car driver helmets as well as standalone models of engines.

1/10 – Not that commonly used, but, the math is pretty easy when you multiply and divide by ten. Think metric!

1/12 – Here, one inch equals one foot. This is very common in the world of action figures, as an “average” person of six feet tall scales down to six inches. 

1/16 – Not really used all that often, but it equals half of a half of a half of a half, so the math is pretty easy to convert.

1/18 – This is a widely used scale for model vehicles, but has only been in use since about the mid 1970s. It translates to two thirds of an inch equalling one foot, which is a weird ratio. In this case, its origin likely lies in model cars measuring in at a pleasing size technically known as “big enough for lots of nice detail but not too big to fit on your shelf.”

carousel1 jim clark lotus

Carousel1 Jim Clark Lotus F1 racer in 1:18 scale

1/22.5 – Wait, what? Perhaps you recognize this as “G scale,” popular for large scale outdoor model railroad equipment. It’s based on a measurement of 1.75 inches between the rails, yielding a strange ratio. G scale is often mistakenly referred to as “LGB” or “Lawn-Garden-Basement” scale, which are common locations for such layouts. However, LGB is just a brand name that has nothing to do with those words.

1/24 – This is a popular scale for model car kits, particularly in the U.S. But why? It’s pretty simple if you don’t live in the metric world… one half inch equals one foot at this size. Meanwhile, in other countries…

1/25 – On the other hand, this is a popular scale for model kits everywhere else in the world, as it divides nicely into 100, which is great for the metric system.

1/32 – This size shows up in cars meant as toys as well as some brands of model kits. Its use in toys probably comes from being small enough for little hands but not so small as to be a choking hazard. As with several scales we’ve visited before, the math is easy to calculate, equalling half of a half of a half of a half of a half.

1/36– This size shows up in cars meant as toys as well as some smaller model kits. Corgi popularized it as an alternative to smaller scales because it resulted in larger models without too much extra material, so it felt like a good value to the consumer. It’s also half of 1/18 scale, which may shed light on how that scale came to be.

1/40 – A scale divisible by four and by ten would be ideal for metric and English, perhaps: It never really took off, so who knows? Diapet is one company that used this size.

1/42 – Not familiar with this scale? It’s not really used that often. Tri-Ang, a British toy company settled on this size for their model trains and were consistent when adding model cars and trucks to their line. The standard railroad track measurement of 4-feet, 8.5 inches (don’t get me started on where that oddball measurement came from!) reduced to 33 millimeters, then rounded down slightly equals 1/42. For some reason, other companies settled on a different scale…

scalecomparison

1/43 – Honestly, this one’s a head scratcher. It’s one of the most-used scales for models of all kinds, but the ratio makes very little sense. It does come out to 7 millimeters per foot, but that’s a weird juxtaposition of measuring methods. The standard track measurement reduced to 33 millimeters, rounded UP slightly equals 1/43. Or close to it, anyway. Confusing? You bet. And having to multiply or divide by 43 all day will make your head hurt. Many theories suggest that 1/43 originated as a rounding error that went too far to fix. While popular for cars and trucks, this scale never really caught on for trains soon and was eventually replaced by yet another scale, which is not too much smaller…

lionel o scale catalog

Chewbacca lego minifig1/48 – This is technically the exact definition of “O Scale,” the size popularized by Lionel trains among other brands. It rounds out to 1.25 inches between the rails, which makes some sense. And 1/48 works out to .25 inches per foot, which makes for some easy math. When we get to smaller ratios like this, the difference of a few points is hard to notice, which is why 1/43 cars go along with 1/48 trains and no one seems to complain. This is sometimes called “O27” scale (that’s a letter O, not a zero), meaning an O scale train capable of handing a 27 inch radius curve.

Fun fact: a Lego Minifigure is equal to about a 1/48 six foot tall person, so this scale plays nicely in Legoland, too.

1/55 through 1/63 – You know what? we’ll come back to these seemingly random ratios in a minute. But first…

1/64 – This scale serves so many purposes in the hobby world. In its earliest uses it became known as “S Scale,” or “Standard Scale,” the size of American Flyer brand trains. The distance between the rail is .875 inches, but more importantly, 1/64 is basically half of a half of a half of a half of a half of a half. Whew! 

Of course, this is probably the most popular scale in the diecast world, representing most offerings from Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Johnny Lightning and countless other brands. But hold on a second… Many of these cars aren’t really 1/64. They’re all about 3 inches or 10 centimeters long. Even though the vast majority of them fall well above or below this exact scale, “1/64” it has become a convenient shorthand for vehicles around that size. So what gives? Well…

majorette jaguar xke

1/55 through 1/63 and 1/65 through 1/80 – Back to those larger scales we skipped a moment ago, plus some smaller ones. Many cars called “1/64” size are really smaller or larger than that. The key is that the model companies often use the wheels as the basis for what size the model will actually be. A toy Mini Cooper model might use the same wheels as a Hummer H2 and therefore be about the same length, but their scales will be radically different. Majorette is one brand who puts the proper scale on the bottom of their cars, usually falling in the ranges listed here. Tomica is known for this practice as well. Which brings us to…

3-Inch Scale – The wide range of 1/64-ish vehicles we just discussed ultimately fall under this umbrella, all about three inches long. This could include anything from a 1/30 scooter to a 1/2,000 model of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

1/72 –  Popular for many military kits such as planes, tanks and helicopters where the more standard kit scales produce very large models. They don’t look too out of scale when placed on an HO scale model railroad. The ratio itself is kind of a mystery, but Tri-Ang used it for many trains and accessories, similar to the way they used the “almost but not quite” 1:42 scale.

1/76 – Also known as OO, EM or P4 scales, this is a popular size in Europe. The exact origin of this number doesn’t relate to any particular ratio that makes sense mathematically. OO rails are 16.5 mm apart, which isn’t accurate to that ratio. Truth is, it’s a mishmash of a one scale of rail (the equivalent of HO, which you’ll see in a moment) and a slightly larger body. According to many sources, the larger body was to accommodate wind up clock mechanisms that were just a tad to big for smaller bodies back when this scale started. Got all that?

1/87 – You probably recognize this as the most common scale for model trains in the world. 1/87 is better known as “HO scale,” an abbreviation for “Half of O scale.” But it’s not precisely half, it’s just sort of close. HO represents .625 inches between the rails. Technically, the ratio is 1/87.0857142, rounded to 1/87.1 if you want to be a tiny bit less precise. The names “HO” and “OO” are often used interchangeably or as “HO/OO” since their appearance is close and they use the same track.

ho and n scale locomotives

Athearn HO scale and LifeLike N scale locomotives

1/120 – Also known as TT Scale, this is popular in Russia.  The ratio would be easy to divide by 12 or by 10, so it’s handy for English or Metric scales. TT stands for “Table Top,” by the way.

1/148 – 1/160 – 1/160 is known as “N Scale,” or more accurately “N Gauge,” which sets the distance between the rails for a standard train at .375 inches. Confused? In model railroading, “gauge” refers only to the rails, while “scale” refers to the size of everything else. There’s some wiggle room in that some models might be built to slightly larger sizes (all the way up to 1/148), but regardless of the discrepancy, the rails and the wheels that run on them must be exactly 1/160.

While we’re on the subject of “N Gauge,” this track is sometimes used on HO scale railroads. See, in many steep, mountainous locations around the world, railroads were built with rails much closer together than the standard width. If you were to create a narrow gauge railroad in HO scale, it would conveniently use N-Gauge track but with the height of the rails in HO and HO scale bodies.

1/220 – Also known as “Z Scale.” In this case, the track is .25 inches between the rails, which is tiny, about as tiny as a working electric train can be without needing a nanotechnolgy. As with the other train sizes, only the rail gauge is perfectly accurate, while many objects and details are slightly larger, especially the couplers that connect the rolling stock.

Gemini Jets Boeing 757

This Gemini Jets Boeing 757 doesn’t look so huge at 1:400 scale

1/400 and beyond- We’re getting into some really tiny scales now, best used to make manageable models of enormous objects like airplanes, ships and buildings. These scales simply take nice round numbers in multiples of 100.

1/1,200 and 1/1,250 – Somewhere in the vast range of tiny scales we should mention these two. Both are used for models of large warships, the first being a traditionally British model scale, and the latter being German.

There are many more scales of course, some of which are rarely used. If you know how any other scales came to be, let us know in the comments.

John Oliver Shows Some Toy Cars on “Last Week Tonight” *UPDATE*

last week tonight john oliver diecast cars

If you watched “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver this past weekend, you may have noticed an interesting graphic on screen during one segment… He was discussing the epidemic of shady, even predatory, used car financing, and this image appeared over his shoulder several times:

last week tonight john oliver diecast cars

As you can see, the cars are clearly some sort of small models. Regardless of your politics or interest in the story at hand, this is a pretty neat sight for diecast collectors. So, we’re going to toss this one out there to you hobbyDB Users… can you identify the brand, scale, and make/model of the cars in the graphic? (We’ve identified several of them already, but we want to leave the fun up to you!) As a handy helper, here’s the graphic again with each car numbered. Respond in the comments below, and we will publish them later!

last week tonight john oliver diecast cars

Also, we know that some of these cars are already in our database, but if you can identify any that aren’t, would you mind adding them?

And if you want to watch the segment, you can find it here. It’s on HBO, so there might be will definitely be some salty language. So, maybe watch the clip after work or with your headphones on. Enjoy!


UPDATE! Several folks have emailed us with at least part of the answer… let’s see if you can fill in the rest. First of all, these are all Johnny Lightning 1:64 scale cars, as most people figured out.

Here are the ones that have been correctly identified so far…

1.

2.

3. 1971 Buick Riviera (Big Boats Series)

4.

5. Studebaker Golden Hawk

6.

7. 1960 Ford Country Squire Wagon (Big Boats Series)

8.

9. 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado

10.1963 Ford Galaxie

11. Dodge Monaco Taxi  (Big Boats Series)

What’s That Toy Worth? Depends Why You’re Asking

by Ron Ruelle

by Ron Ruelle

” What’s That Toy Worth? ” Ahhh, it’s the eternal question among us collectors. And usually the answer we seek is “what’s the fair price to buy or sell that thing?” Of course, what’s fair depends on which side of that equation you fall on. But I’ve been thinking about the question a different way lately.

hot wheels 1967 redline rally case

I have an original 1967 Hot Wheels Rally Case in my office. I know it’s original because a) the copyright date is molded into the case and b) I’ve had it since I was a kid. And inside, it’s full of original Hot Wheels, mostly early Redlines, and a few from the mid-to-late 1970s. And yes, I know they’re original too, because I’ve had these since I was a kid as well.

A dozen original Hot Wheels in an original case. Without seeing it, what would you think it’s worth?

Okay, now take a peek inside.

hot wheels 1967 redline rally case

To describe most of these cars as “played with condition” is generous. They’re all scratched, their axles are warped in most cases, and some of them have clearly been stepped on. A few of them still have sand in their crevices from being buried in the backyard. One or two have the remnants of someone (okay, me) attempting to redecorate them with Liquid Paper and markers.

hot wheels redline custom amx heavy chevy cockney cab

So how much is all this worth? If you saw this pile of cars in a yard sale, you would be reluctant to pay more than a dollar for some of them. The Beach Bomb is pretty nice (not original surfboards, though), so you might be willing to shell out $30 or so for that. There’s a Custom Corvette that isn’t too bad either, which you might be willing to pay about the same for. That Mercedes might tempt you for $20. The T-Totaller is in good condition, but it’s a newer model, and not particularly rare… maybe $5-10 for that?

hot wheels redline beach bomb mercedes 280 sl custom corvette t totaller

matchbox redline poison pinto packin pacer mighty maverick deora

You’d maybe offer the seller $75. They would insist these are obviously worth more because they read that on the internet, and demand $500. Somewhere in between is a fair price, but it’s possible you part ways without a deal.

To me, on the other hand, this particular collection is priceless. If you offered me $1,000 for the whole set, I would think about it for about two seconds before I said no. And I’m not that interested in acquiring better copies of most these cars. There are far too many memories attached to these things that make them more valuable to me.

By the way, did you notice the interloper in my collection?

matchbox gruesome twosome

That gold car with the two engines and the magenta canopy is a Matchbox Gruesome Twosome, my favorite toy car of that era. Considering the amount of time it spent in my pocket traveling with me everywhere, and scooting around on every conceivable surface, it’s in amazingly good condition complete with both engines. Heck, it’s a miracle I didn’t lose it somewhere along the line. This is one car where I decided to pony up and buy a copy of it in very nice condition for about $15 a few years ago. But if I had to flee my house and grab only one of them, I would probably take the one with the memories in the trunk.

Knockoffs and Copies are Surprisingly Common (And Collectible)

A while back we took a look at how certain model cars featured unusual discrepancies that were also found on earlier models of the same car by different companies.  In these cases, even if the maker of the newer model was authorized to create a model of that particular vehicle, they incorrectly based some of their decisions on another model instead of the real car. It’s a fun phenomenon to track once you see it.

Here we’re taking a look at a different kind of copy, the kind that can only be called blatant theft. Knockoffs and copies are surprisingly common and sometimes collectible depending on type of vehicle and of course, quality and rarity.

Ford Cortina Estates by Matchbox (left) and Fleetwood Toys

Ford Cortina Estates by Matchbox and Fleetwood Toys

See these models of a Ford Cortina Estate? They look a lot alike, yet the one on the right is a little… off.. The details are a bit muddier than on the Corgi car, because Fleetwood Toys most likely used the original toy as the basis for a mold, which would blur some finer details. But there’s a really obvious clue if you have one in your hand instead of just looking at a photo: The entire car is made of plastic instead of having diecast metal parts. The question is, did they figure Corgi would be unaware of the theft, or just not care enough to do anything about it?

Bedford trucks by Corgi (left) and unknown Hong Kong company

Bedford trucks by Corgi and unknown Hong Kong company

These Bedford trucks present another interesting case. Again, the base model is from Corgi, in the form of a semi tractor, and an unknown company from Hong Kong copied the mold in plastic. But added the new models featured their own twist… their truck could be had as a milk truck, garbage hauler or other versions. It’s not clear whether they borrowed these features from other vehicles or created them from scratch. In this case, the second company is unknown, as they probably sold these toys as commodity items.

Pumper Trucks by Matchbox (left) and Gordy Mite

Pumper Trucks by Matchbox and Gordy Mite

Matchbox has offered many fire engines over the years, and one of the most iconic is the Model 29 Fire Pumper. The details are a bit crude by Matchbox standards, and the white plastic hose reels on the top usually warped over time. But that didn’t stop the folks at Gordy Mite from making their own version. In this case, some of the details that had been molded into the base of the original were transferred to the body casting, possibly to simplify production, possibly to avoid being guilty of a direct copy. Who knows?

Coomer Delivery vans by (from left) Matchbox, Blue Box and Blue Bow.

Coomer Delivery vans by Matchbox, Blue Box and Blue Bow.

Finally, the Matchbox Commer Van is the victim of a really interesting case of theft… A company calling themselves “Blue Box” stole the mold and made a slightly inferior plastic version, complete with similar sized box. But then another company not only knocked Blue Box’ model, but their box design and even the name. The result was called “Blue Bow” models. Yep, it’s a copy of a copy, right down to the typeface in the logo, with the expected degradation of detail along the way.

If you know of any others, let us know in the comments below!