Guest Posts Posts

A Brief History of Matchbox in Germany

A Guest Blog Post from Christopher Leon Gaas, a collector of Matchbox and other 1/64 scale diecast with an interest in the history of the hobby.

Beside its huge history in the United Kingdom, the Matchbox brand also has something to talk about in German-speaking countries. With its rich history, some very nice special models and today’s fast-growing collector’s scene, there are great reasons to bring this turbulent story of Matchbox in Germany closer to the rest of the world.

The LondonerMB 17-B

It begins in 1959: Jakob Prins, the founder of the Dutch toy company Edor, notices that the former dairy farm of the small town Rees in Northrhine-Westfalia was abandoned and buys the huge building as a new German branch of Lesney Products. Shortly thereafter, he purchased the distribution rights for Matchbox toys in the German area and expanded the company in 1964, 1966 and 1971 with three huge new storage halls.

The Airport CoachMB 65-B

The huge expansion notwithstanding, the main subject of the new factory in Rees was mainly packaging: the Matchbox products were produced in England and a lot of female workers from Rees and surrounding villages were responsible for packing these into boxes for sending to German toy stores. Only the game ‘Cascade’, made in 1971 without any car content, was ‘Made in Western-Germany’.

As Jakob Prins became too old to watch over the complete factory, he named another Rees resident, Theo Wissing, as the new manager. Wissing received his own flat in the main building and became head of nearly 70 employees. Everyday, two huge overseas containers from Rotterdam port arrived in Rees. After a check from the customs office they were re-packaged and were distributed across West Germany.

In 1980, after a few successful years in Rees and after the retirement of Prins, workers received a difficult message: The new managing director, Paulhans Handrick, told workers about a planned move to Hösbach in Bavaria and the closing of the Rees factory. Even a visit of the former Rees mayor Josef Tasch at the Matchbox headquarters in London wasn’t enough to keep this important taxpayer in Rees. As a native inhabitant of Rees, Theo Wissing, one of the most important men of the early years, stayed in his hometown and left the company in 1980.

Mercedes-Benz Container Truck MB 42-C

Everything started new in Hösbach. Handrick, the new manager, remained in his position until the 10th December, 1980 and was then succeeded by Ernst Zillig who held this job until the 16th of April, 1983. His successor was the well-known Ludwig Darmstädter who led the company until 1994. The work in Hösbach remained nearly the same as in Rees: the models shipped from the United Kingdom were now unpacked by Bavarian ladies and went to the many shops and department stores in the West-German area. One very remarkable feature in the new company was special-designed red and yellow boxes with an unusual version of blisters in a cardbox. Today, they are named ‘Hösbach boxes’ after the new location of the Matchbox factory.

Following a few management changes in the years between 1980 and 1993 the German branch was sold in 1994 to the American company Tyco and the budget raised from 1 Million DM to 17 Million DM in November 1995. In 1998 Mattel bought the company and the German Matchbox history was over.

Matchbox in East Germany

A very rare sight compared to  models from the Soviet Union, Matchbox was also present in communist East Germany. It was very difficult to obtain new models and they were more or less only sold in the ‘Intershops’ in bigger cities. Due to the issues between capitalist and communist countries at the time, some of these models were visually changed in East Germany because brands like BP and Esso were companies from the enemy behind the Iron Curtain. On the cover of the 1979/1980 catalogue for example, the American Space Shuttle was removed.

Leyland Petrol Tanker MB 32C

Special Models

Besides many British and American special models, Germany is one of the countries with the most issues of German commercial models.

The first German model was the Aral variation of the 23C Petrol Tanker in 1963, the first unofficial modified Superfast model followed in 1970: a ‘Bank von Klasse – Girokasse’ version of the No. 74 Londoner was used a a giveaway for customers of the German Savings Bank ‘Sparkasse’. During the course of the 1970s the numbers of commercial models increased every year. For example, Matchbox used the famous brands and clubs ADAC, Esso, Aral and Lufthansa for their models and even made a few German versions of the Mercedes Container Truck No. 42: A ‘Deutsche Bundespost’ (German Federal Mail), a ‘Confern Möbeltransporte’ (furniture transport) and a ‘Karstadt’ version that was only available at Karstadt warehouses and is hard to find today.

The only special edition made for East Germany was a K-15 Londoner variation for the 750th anniversary of Berlin, the ‘capital of East Germany’ in 1987.

 

Some other models for the German market

Matchbox in Switzerland and Austria

The two other German language countries, Switzerland and Austria, have a unique history of Matchbox which is even older than in Germany. From as far back as 1956 (!) the Waldmeier AG in Basel was the distribution partner for Lesney products in Switzerland. They held this position until 1979 when Matchbox looked for a new partner.

Waldmeier successor was the Joker Group from Zurich, which was founded exclusively for this purpose. With the end for Matchbox in Germany in 1994, the history of the Swiss branch also ended.

These ’65 Chevies Are Better Than The Real Thing!

Over the past few years, we’ve contributed articles to Die CastX magazine for publication on their website and in their quarterly print edition. We hope you enjoy our comparison of two Chevelle-based cars from 1965.

diecastx chevelle and el camino

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

The 1964 Chevelle was a pleasant and sporty mid-sized car, but fell just a bit short of being an exciting ride. Chevrolet quickly fixed that for ’65 with a more aggressive front end and some beefier engine options. For some reason, scale models of both years have been scarce compared to other years.

It only took about 40 years until Lane Exact Detail Replicas came out with a ’65 El Camino …  No one had offered a model of this year Chevelle, Malibu or El Camino before, and Lane offered versions of all of them. They retailed for over $100, a price that brought not only amazing detail, but limited availability of only 1500 copies.

Lane 1965 El CaminoAround the same time, American Muscle released a 1/18 scale Malibu SS model from their Authentics line. This car retailed for around $65, for which the buyer also got some incredible detail.

ertl 1965 Mailbu ssThe exteriors of both cars show excellent fit and finish, including different levels of shine on the grill as needed. Details like the headlights, marker lamps, and door handles are separate bits, carefully installed for extra realism. The El Camino features separately molded chrome trim on the sides and around the bed and windows. Each car also features a radio antenna that can be raised or lowered. As nice as these look so far, you really have to open them up to appreciate the quality of these models. By the way, the doors a realistically hinged, and the Malibu even has a tiny sprung button that holds them shut.

Lane 1965 El CaminoThe interior of the El Camino is astonishing. The vinyl seats have a realistic sheen and feature separate seatbelts with detailed buckles. The passenger seat flips forward to reveal the spare tire. Every texture from the metal dash to the roof liner (a detail found on both cars) is well done. You can even see the texture and logos on the “Body by Fisher” kick plates. American Muscle’s interior is also of much higher quality than their regular, particularly the simulated wood steering wheel, flocked carpets, and readable gauges.

Lane 1965 El CaminoThe Elco’s engine detail is full of surprises, with some very finely detailed and fragile parts throughout. The radiator cap, which is multicolored, has a small hose running back to the plastic reservoir, which is painted to look like it’s half full of fluid. There’s even a plate where the hood pin latches to the body. Best bit of all might be the tiny replica of the glass GM washer fluid bottle, complete with labels.

ertl a925 Mailbu ssThe Malibu isn’t too far behind under the hood, with far more separately molded and colored components than you usually find in a model. One detail that really stands out when the hood is up is the photo etched metal grill insert, which lends an incredibly deep bit of detail to the front end. Another thing you might not have noticed: The hood hinges work like the real car, complete with springs.

ertl a925 Mailbu ssSpeaking of hinges, the hood hinges on the El Camino are the type you usually find on a 1/18 scale model, but the tailgate is another matter. When you lower the gate, there are very thin folding metal straps that drop into place like a real pickup. The Malibu counters that with a trunk complete with houndstooth floormat, spare tire and printed jack instructions.

Lane 1965 El CaminoUnderneath, both cars show some innovative detail. The El Camino has quite a few separately colored components instead of the usual single-piece chassis molded in black. The Malibu has some great working features including separately sprung suspension on each wheel and a driveshaft that turns when rolled. Both cars were pioneers in packaging that didn’t require ugly mounting tabs and screw holes, so they deserve a lot of credit here.

ertl a925 Mailbu ssLane 1965 El CaminoThe attention to detail makes it hard to choose one of these ’65 Chevies over the other. Maybe get the Malibu for the lower price and grab the Elco because you can’t get one elsewhere. Then marvel at both.

Auto-Archives Car of the Month — 1986 Citroën 2CV6 Spécial (The Deux Chevaux)

Citroën unveiled the 2CV— The Deux Chevaux: signifying two nominal horsepower (initially it was only 12hp)—at the 1948 Paris Salon. The 2CV, conceived and designed by Citroën Vice-President Pierre Boulanger, quickly became a bestseller, achieving his aim of providing rural French people with a motorized alternative to the horse and cart the majority were still using in the early 1950s. It was unusually inexpensive to purchase and with its tiny two-cylinder, two-stroke engine, inexpensive to run as well. The early 2CV model pioneered a very soft, interconnected suspension, but did not have the more complex self-levelling feature that would appear later. The 2CV remained in production, with only minor changes, until 1990 and was a relatively common sight on French roads until fairly recently. It is astonishing to know that nearly nine million 2CV variants were produced, in eleven countries from France to Argentina, between 1948 and 1990.

The Citroën 2CV featured; low cost; simplicity of overall maintenance; an easily serviced air-cooled engine,  low fuel consumption; and an extremely long-travel suspension offering a soft ride and light off-road capability. Often called “an umbrella on wheels”, the fixed-profile convertible bodywork featured a full-width, canvas, roll-back sunroof, which accommodated oversized loads and until 1955 reached almost to the car’s rear bumper.

citroen_2cv-002_web
Over the next forty plus year the 2CV went through many iterations (including the 2CV Fourgonnette van, the ‘Weekend’ version of the van that had collapsible, removable rear seating and rear side windows, enabling a tradesman to use it as a family vehicle at the weekend, as well as for business in the week) and modifications, including different size engines (from 375cc to 435cc and then 602cc), revised lights, extra windows, re-styled seats, and even door locks! The key to the 2CV’s huge success was its clever, lightweight engineering, which combined a small, fuel-efficient engine with an extremely light body and drivetrain.
In July 1975, a base model called the 2CV Spécial was introduced with the 435cc engine. Between 1975 and 1990 a drastically reduced trim basic version was sold, at first only in yellow. The small, square speedometer (which dates back to the Traction Avant), and the narrow rear bumper was installed. Citroën removed the third side window, the ashtray, and virtually all trim from the car. It also had the earlier round headlights. From the 1978 Paris Motor Show the Spécial regained third side windows, and was available in other colours. Beginning in mid-1979 a larger 602cc engine was installed in some models.

The 2CV Special seen here was privately imported from Belgium (it still has a Belgian registration plate on the front), and had two previous U.S. owners, before the current owner Frank Barrett bought it in 2011. It is a totally original, un-restored car with only 53,000 miles (85,000km) on the odometer. This ‘Spécial’ features a four-speed transmission, front-wheel drive; shift lever on dashboard, and inboard front disk brakes, with drums at the rear. The unique longitudinal coil spring on each side works as both front and rear suspension. The roof folds back, and the seats are easily removable if you need them for a Picnic!

dsc_6658web

Auto-Archives Image of the Month — Remembering Daytona

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Last year’s Daytona 500 Grand National Winner, Marvin Panch, who copped first place in the automobile racing classic with a record 149.601 miles per hour poses with 1962 Dodge Dart which he will drive in this year’s race February 18th.

Watching the Daytona 500 last weekend got us thinking about past Daytona 500 races and some of the stars of the day that we have forgotten. A delve into the archive produced this image of NASCAR legend Marvin Panch alongside a rather ‘stock’ looking Dodge.

“Pancho,” most well known for his 1961 Daytona 500 victory driving for Smokey Yunick, scored 17 victories in his 15 years of racing in the NASCAR series. Driving for Wood Brothers Racing from 1962-66, Panch also had 21 poles and 126 top ten finishes in his Cup Series racing career. He finished his career driving for Petty Enterprises.

Panch’s 1961 Daytona 500 win was his first victory in NASCAR’s top division since 1957, establishing what was then a speed record for a 500-mile race at 149.601 mph. This record pace was no doubt helped by the fact that, incredibly, the entire 500-mile race was run without a single caution flag period. The caution free event was one of only three times that the iconic race ran the entire distance under green, with 1959 and 1962 being the only other two times it occurred.

“I was just setting a steady pace,” Panch modestly explained to the Daytona Beach paper, hours after his victory in a year-old Pontiac Catalina, the only non-1962 car in the field. Marvin took the lead on lap 187 of the 200 lap race when pole sitter and race leader ‘Fireball’ Roberts suffered a blown engine, and completed the race on just one change of tires. This would be the first of just three victories for Pontiac in the legendary Daytona 500, Fireball Roberts took a much deserved win for Pontiac in 1962 and Cale Yarborough the only other victory for the marque in 1983.

Just two years after his historic victory, on February 14th, 1963 at Daytona International Speedway, Panch escaped death in a fiery crash, driving an experimental Ford-powered Maserati in a test session. He suffered serious internal injuries and severe burns to his back, neck and hands. Among his rescuers was a South Carolinian racer named Tiny Lund, who won the Carnegie Medal for heroism for his actions. “We just jumped in and gave him a hand,” Lund told the Daytona Beach News-Journal shortly after the crash. “Marvin would have done the same for us.” Just ten days later, Lund drove the Wood Brothers No. 21 entry earmarked for Panch, to his first premier series victory in the 1963 Daytona 500.

After a hospital stay of several weeks, Panch announced in late April that he would return from his injuries in June at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s annual 600-mile race. He closed the 1963 season with three pole positions, a victory at North Wilkesboro Speedway in September, and top-10 finishes in all 12 of his starts for the remainder of the year.

Panch concluded his final year of competition for a variety of car owners, scoring his final victory in the World 600 at Charlotte. He announced his retirement from the sport on Dec. 6, 1966 at age 40, telling The Spartanburg (S.C.) Herald that his only regret was not winning at Darlington Raceway, NASCAR’s first superspeedway. Panch ruled out a comeback attempt, even though he declared his health the best it had been since claiming his lone Daytona 500 triumph. “I don’t have much more to gain by racing,” he told the Spartanburg paper. “Actually, I’ve been thinking about quitting for about a year. Just waiting for the right time.”

In 1963 Panch was presented the Myers Brothers Award to honor his outstanding contributions to the sport of stock-car racing, in 1987 was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and in 1998 he was named one of the top 50 drivers by NASCAR.

On Dec 31st 2015, following Panch’s death at the age of 89, NASCAR released the following statement. “For more than 60 years, Marvin Panch was a familiar and friendly face around NASCAR and Daytona Beach. He was one of the true pioneers of the sport, winning races across several NASCAR divisions, including the 1961 Daytona 500. As one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers, he represented the sport with class both on and off the track. Marvin will be missed dearly, especially as we approach Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, where he was a fixture.”

Guest Collector Highlight – ‘Slot Colin’ Hughes

This article was originally featured at safestore.com, a provider of personal and household self storage – something a lot of us collectors need 😉

Every once in awhile we come across a collector’s story that just seems to make sense to us. So when we came across an article that opens up with, “anything that’s got four wheels that looks good” we continued on and wanted to share this fun collector highlight with you.

Slot Car Collection

When asked how he felt about his collection being photographed Colin Hughes said, “I’ve never seen them all out of the box in one go…So I’m really looking forward to taking the whole collection out and talking about it.”

For self proclaimed car fanatic Colin Hughes, collecting began as it does for many of us, with a hobby. Colin’s hobby, slot cars.

Of getting into collecting he says, “I started collecting cars about 6 months after getting into racing. The cars were being damaged and I liked them when they were pristine so I started buying one to race and one to go on the shelf.”

Slot Car Collector - Colin Hughes

Colin is also passing on his passion for collecting to his kids by collecting LEGO, Skylander and Disney Infinity toys with his children.

Now Colin has amassed one of the largest slot car collections in the UK, with over 1,200 cars, it includes everything from classic rally to modern GT, LeMans, and prototypes; he even has a sterling silver Dodge Viper (with an edition size of 300!). Our friends over at Safestore (The largest self storage provider in the UK and second largest in Europe) interviewed and did a write up of Colin in their “Stuff is Great” blog series.

Colin seems very much the typical father of two and when asked about owning one of the largest collections of slot cars in the UK, he very humbly responds, “I’m just Slot Colin.”

That answer doesn’t do him or his collection justice and we never would have known his story if not for the safestore blog. A fun, quick read that highlights a fellow collector and shows that the love of collecting is alive, well and still being passed from generation to generation.

Check out the full highlight of Colin: ‘Meet Slot Colin’