Matchbox Posts

For Halloween, You’re Gonna Need an Ambulance or Hearse

1/64 scale ambualnce

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Halloween is a holiday associated with walking, specifically around the neighborhood seeking candy from neighbors. But if you need to drive on that date, there’s only one choice. Well, two actually: ambulance or hearse.

Both vehicles connote a kind of morbidity… one posthumously, one, umm… pre-posthumously? Humously? The point is, death, gore, all kinds of spooky stuff are easily associated with those vehicles, and even though they aren’t technically Halloween oriented, they fit right in.

johnny lightning surf hearseLet’s be more specific, though… we’re talking about car-based versions of these transports, not vans or other bespoke vehicles. Back in the day, coach building companies took standard sedans, stretched the wheelbase, extended the windshield upward, and added a long roof to create the basis for hearses and ambulances. There’s something kind of, well, ostentatious about a Cadillac hauling you to the hospital when a Chevrolet would do just fine. On the other hand, a Caddy hearse exudes a necessary touch of dignity and class to your final ride to the grave.

matchbox ambulance hearseSo, something about a vintage Caddy with curtains in the back just speaks to this holiday. There have been numerous models of these car-based body haulers built over the years, but let’s focus on 1/64 versions.

matchbox ambulance hearseMatchbox has offered a number of ambulances of all types in all their scales, often with removable stretchers and other goodies. When the early Benz “Binz” cars upgraded to SuperFast wheels, it was righteous fun. In the U.S., Caddy is far and away the leader in the hearse business. And they have been for a really long time. The long wheelbase helps, but really, any car can be modified into a hearse. Matchbox has since gone on to create various other models, mostly mid 1960s Cadillac based cars.

hot wheels 59 cadillac funny carHot Wheels has gotten into the Hot Hearse business as well, with the understatedly named ’59 Cadillac Funny Car casting. This thing is heavy, has a flip up body, and that’s all you need to know. And the 100% Hot Wheels Line also included a less souped-up 1963 Caddy hearse in several colors.

hot wheels 53 cadillac flower carOn a side note, there is also a Hot Wheels Custom ’53 Cadillac that looks like an El Camino’d coupe with a soap box derby car in the back. This is actually based on the old flower cars that used to be part of a funeral procession, so, yeah, that kinda counts.

hot wheels ecto 1Oh, did you think we forgot about Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters? Fun fact: The car used for the Ecto-1 was not a hearse, but an ambulance. In the original movie you actually get to see it briefly in gray primer, and honestly… it might be more awesome in that livery. The recent remake used a 1980s Caddy, which worked a lot better than it sounds on paper. Hot Wheels has them covered in multiple scales, even.

harold and maude hearseOf course, the greatest movie hearse of all time is Harold Chasen’s custom E-Type Jaguar hearse from Harold and Maude. There are a few larger scale models available, but 1/64-ish cars are hard to come by. Many folks have customized them over the years, like the Aurora ThunderJet slot car above. It’s the way Harold would do it, of course.

johnny lightning surf hearseJohnny Lightning has had some fun with hot rod hearses based on larger scale models. The dual engine Haulin’ Hearse dragster and the stately (even in lavender with flowers) Heavenly Hearse surf wagon were both based on kits made by Jo-Han.

johnny lightning meat wagonEven more fun was the Meat Wagon, a customized 1937 Packard Ambulance, based on a plastic kit by Aurora. This model also came decorated in honor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and a few other schemes. All of the smaller JL models were available in other livery (or should that be dead-ery?).

johnny lightning 57 chevy hearseOf course, they did a version of the Ecto-1 and repurposed that casting with surf boards. Heck, the folks at Playing Mantis would stick surfboards on just about anything given the chance. And there was even a 1957 Chevy Bel Air  hearse. Remember what I said earlier about being driven to the grave in a Chevy? I take it back, that would be pretty cool.

zylmex mash ambulanceZylmex had an interesting ambulance model in the late 1970s. Detail is crude, but it appears to be a 1953 Chevy. It came decorated in olive drab with M*A*S*H decals. It was part of a series of toys and playsets from the TV show. What’s not to like there?

There are also a lot of sedan delivery or panel wagon models of all kinds that would make excellent hearses and ambulances, with or without surfboards, but let’s not beat this topic to death. Can you think of any 1/64 models we didn’t include here? Let us know in the comments six feet below.

Mini Matchbox Models Create a Big Mystery

mini matchbox prototypes

Compared to a standard 1/64 Matchbox truck, these mystery models are tiny.

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

While digging through our latest stash of Matchbox prototype cars, we discovered models of a couple of tiny vehicles. They were much smaller than the usual Matchbox offerings. Unsure of what they were, we started sleuthing around. We asked our trio of former Matchbox designers for insight: Rob Romash, Matchbox Master Model Maker; Steve Moye, Matchbox Designer; and Glenn Hubing, Matchbox Model Painter.

As it turns out, these were two concepts for a Mini Matchbox sub-brand. Galoob’s Micro Machines were immensely popular throughout the ‘90s, spawning playsets and carrying cases. In fact for a few years, they outsold Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Majorette… combined. So it made sense for Mattel to tap into the tiny car market. In the early 2000s, Matchbox explored the idea, commissioning some unlicensed, futuristic tiny vehicles. The two designs you see here are among the few they worked on but ultimately never produced.

mini matchbox prototypes

There are painted and unpainted castings of the fire engine.

The two vehicles are a police car and a fire engine, a pair of can’t-miss tropes for toy cars. Each one appears in two stages of the prototype process: A plain, early resin casting, and a highly detailed painted version. In all likelihood, due to the scale, the cars were designed to be molded as a single piece body with the windows painted instead of being separate clear pieces.

mini matchbox prototypes

The collection features painted and unpainted castings of the police car, too.

A couple of things stand out on these designs. First, while much smaller than a typical 1/64 vehicle, they are bigger than the standard Micro Machines car (2.75 inches long vs. 2 inches). The fire engine actually comes close to the Micros trucks size, but the police car is huge by comparison to their cars. Second, they sit up pretty high. The mounts for the axles are below the rest of the chassis, so the finished cars would ride like a monster truck or a donk. Also, there are no cutouts in the fenders to allow the wheels to recess into the body, so they would sit completely outside or the body work.

mini matchbox prototypes

Compared to Micro Machines cars, the Mini Matchbox cars were sort of big.

It’s possible the final designs were supposed to have the wheels situated a bit closer to the mass of the car, but since these are painted prototypes, it seems the shape is close to the what was intended for production. Sadly, we may never know the full intent of the designs.

hot wheels atomix

Hot Wheels briefly offered the Atomix line including teeny models of popular 1/64 designs.

Meanwhile, Hot Wheels produced the Atomix series of cars, close in size to the Micro Machines. The first ones came packaged as a bonus vehicle on some 2002 mainline cars. The early designs were based on existing Hot Wheels cars such as the Deora II and the Snake and Mongoose funny cars (which even featured flip up bodies!) They were eventually released in sets, of usually five or so vehicles.

speedeez mini cooper

Playmates’ Speedeez cars were Micro Machine sized but had ball bearings for speed. They also had large scale models that folded out into crazy playsets.

For some reason, when Hasbro acquired the Micro Machines brand, they dropped the ball on it, allowing it to more or less disappear (aside from licensed sets such as the Star Wars sets). In fact, all the brands of micro sized cars (such as Speedeez by Playmates Toys) pretty much vanished by the mid 2000s. But why?

The cars sold well, but displaying a collection was tricky. The cars themselves were tiny, but the packaging was huge by comparison, since they usually sold in sets of 5 or 10 cars. But the most obvious answer is that the cars were tiny enough to be considered choking hazards. It doesn’t seem like there was an epidemic of kids eating tiny cars, but it probably wasn’t worth the potential legal headache. For Matchbox, it was over before it began.

Whatever the reason for the quick end of the Micro cars, if you’re a serious collector, you might want to grab these very rare examples. Yep, they’re for sale in the hobbyDB Marketplace! They might fill a big hole you never knew was in your collection.

More Matchbox Prototypes With More Working Details

matchbox prototype lead

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

A few months ago, we shared a treasure trove of Matchbox prototypes and preproduction versions of later production models from the collection of Rob Romash. Romash was a Master Modelmaker at Mattel, working primarily on 1/64 scale Matchbox vehicles in the early 2000s, but also on a surprising range of other toys. We also had the pleasure of meeting Steve Moye, who was one of the artists creating illustrated concepts for inspiration, and Glenn Hubing, who hand painted many of those prototypes and designed graphics for Matchbox cars.

The skill and precision required to turn a block of acetate into a finely rendered, highly detailed first rendering of a model car is beyond the comprehension of most collectors. Which is what makes these models so freaking cool. The ones you see here are early test shots made from the molds made from the original carvings, so only a couple of each one may have ever existed. Know what else is cool? These are all for sale on the hobbyDB Marketplace!

matchbox prototype ford explorerQuite a few of the cars in this batch feature moving parts, some with intricate detail. Take the Ford Explorer Sport Trac model. It’s a pleasant surprise for the tailgate on a truck like this to function, but in this case, the separate bed extender gate also works. That’s a pretty fine detail for a toy truck that sold for under a dollar! It’s incredible to see it in gray resin to see how much tiny detail is there.

matchbox prototype ramp trucksThere are two different ramp trucks in this batch. The first is a fantasy design, with a ramp extension that slides down from the main structure. The other flatbed tow is a little more restrained in design, not based on any particular real truck, but plausible enough to fit in with other licensed designs. The ramp on that one slides back flat before dropping down. The cab and chassis on the second truck are shared with another vehicle, a box truck with opening rear doors.

matchbox prototype cement truckThere’s also a cement truck with a spinning container on the back, complete with gear teeth to mesh with the rear axles. At this stage of development, the rest of mechanism wasn’t in place yet, so on the prototype, it just spins easily on its own. It doesn’t appear that this one ever made it into production.

matchbox prototype corvetteAnother car in the batch might not be recognizable to collectors. Sure, it’s a 1997 Corvette, the first year of the C5 chassis, but this particular model was never produced by Mattel. It features a very thin opening hood and more detail underneath that isn’t usually expected on a basic Matchbox car. The interior is also much better detailed than their usual offerings. Unlike most preproduction models, this one has a completely finished chassis complete with the text identifying the car, copyright dates, and country of origin. Also, this one has a clear windshield with graphics, not common on such models.

matchbox prototype tvrAnother car you really might not recognize is the TVR Tuscan, an oddball design from an oddball company (and as car enthusiats, we mean that sincerely). As rare as Tuscans are in real life, there are actually a pair of resin bodies in the collection.

matchbox prototype vw taxiThere’s also a Volkswagen Bug that feels like it’s’ actually made of metal. In fact, it’s a repurposed production body, but in this case, a tiny “TAXI” sign is fixed to the roof. It might not look like much, but that kind of detail had to be mocked up for production, too. On the finished car, the taxi sign was part of the main body casting.

matchbox prototype golf cartFinally, there’s a golf cart. While it doesn’t have removable accessories, it does have some remarkably finished golf bags in the back. It’s the kind of detail that usually gets simplified in the final process for cost or durability issues. On this one, you almost feel like you could pull out the driver and give a golf ball a ride.

And as we mentioned… All of these prototypes and more are for sale on the hobbyDB Marketplace. They’re one of a kind (well, except for the TVRs), so grab them while you can.

From Super Soakers to Redneck Roadkill: Rob Romash Outside of Mattel

super soaker prototypes

The handmade prototypes for Super Soakers had to look correct and be pretty much fully functioning.

We’ve recently brought you some stories of the designers who helped create many Matchbox vehicles from the early 2000s – Steve Moye, Product Designer; Glenn Hubing, Model Painter; and Rob Romash, Master Modelmaker.
romash super soakers

Romash at work/play in his Super Soaker days.

There’s a lot more to their stories, so here’s a look at Romash’s work before and after his days at Mattel. After his second year at design school, he was likely to be scooping ice cream in White House, New Jersey, when he spotted an ad in the local paper. “They were looking for a model maker to build prototypes of toys,” he said. “I had been building models since I was a kid, and figured I’d give it a shot.” To say it was a life-changing moment is an understatement. 

The job was for a local company called Professional Prototypes in White House New Jersey, whose client was Johnson Research & Development Co. who were introducing their Super Soakers squirt gun line. “We had to translate the drawings to life size models,” he said. But these weren’t just for looks. “These were basically fully-functioning models, complete with hollow tanks, tubes connecting everything… we were creating just about the finished pre-production designs.” Not only were these used as the basis for production, but they sometimes were painted and used in commercials, which had to be shot before the final product was available.

romash super soaker tv commercial

Chances are, if you saw an early commercial for Super Soakers, Romash’s working, painted prototypes were used as stand-ins.

The job went well enough that he postponed going back to school. Permanently, as it turns out. And thus began Romash’s career as a toy designer and prototype modeler. 

In 1996, Romash eventually Tyco to produce prototypes for radio control models. (In fact, one of his former co-workers at the New Jersey ice cream shop was working there… small world!) One of the interesting challenges of designing for slot cars or remote control cars is the pre-set design parameters. “Tyco had one chassis setup, so every single car had to be designed to fit those proportions,”Romash said. 

For an original fantasy creation, it’s not too hard to tweak the proportions. But for an R/C car based on a real production car, there’s a lot to consider. Consider this 1965-66 Mustang fastback R/C car (below). It’s instantly recognizable as such, even though the proportions are squeezed a bit from front to back, and the body is wider than the real car. Not only do the wheelbase and the width need to be honored, but the body needs to fit over the motor (which can be a real problem with convertibles).

RC Mustang

Even though the proportions have been modified, this model could only be a first generation Ford Mustang.

The trick was to get the folks at Ford Motor Company to sign off on the design, even though he had to take some liberties. When Tyco was bought out by Mattel in 1997, the electric train line disappeared quickly, but the slot cars and R/C cars became part of Mattel Racing. (You can read the complete history of his days with Mattel here.)

After Mattel closed the Mt. Laurel shop in 2005, Romash found a gig at Estes Rockets, based in Penrose, Colorado. Having worked with radio control cars, Romash had a good sense of how to create a model that looked great, functioned well, and could withstand some hard play time. He worked mostly on R/C airplanes there, developing unlicensed original designs that still had the aerodynamic chops to fly.

romash prototypes

Not all toys make it past the the prototype stage. For whatever reasons, Tyco did not produce this R/C rollover vehicle or this “Star Wars” landspeeder.

His work there also required him to travel to China to oversee various aspects of final productioin. While the Estes job ended when the company was bought out, the experience with Chinese plants proved to be a useful new asset for Romash. Having grown fond of Colorado, he decided to start his own company, Eclipse Toys, continuing his tenure in the world of R/C cars and planes. But instead of taking orders from an established company and hoping his designs would translate properly to production, he now made his own decisions and brought the prototypes to China himself.

There’s a noble purpose to Eclipse Toys as well. “I’m working with the Acadmey of Model Aeronautics to bring our models into STEM programs at schools,” he said. The idea is to inspire kids to think about areo engineering not just as toys and hobbies, but as a career.

On the other end of the spectrum, he has also designed modle aircraft for magicplanes.com. These are very high end, expensive RC planes for “exectuive playtime.” Besides precision performance, they are also limited edition works of art.

 

redneck roadkill

Romash now has his own company, with Redneck Roadkill R/C models as their latest success.

The latest new product is a series of RC trucks called Redneck Roadkill R/C. “I called my good friend Glenn Hubing and asked him if he would work on this with me,” he said. The Redneck Roadkill trucks have a seriously weatherbeaten, dirty patina, the kind of detail only a master model painter could create. “Seriously, there is nothing else like them on the market right now.”

 When he looks back on his career, he knows his success comes from hard work, natural talent, and great teamwork. But also a little luck. “I pinch myself sometimes,” he said of his good fortune. “ If I didn’t see that ad for that first job at Laramie, who knows how things would have turned out?”

Colorful Subjects: Meet Mattel Model Painter Glenn Hubing

glenn hubing

Glenn Hubing’s favorite toy line was the Tyco Dino Riders series.

Over the past few weeks we’ve brought you the stories of some of the folks who helped bring Matchbox cars to life at Mattel. Steve Moye,  and Rob Romash worked together for several years defining the shapes of those cars.

Now meet Glenn Hubing, who created the colorful designs on those models (and many other toys). Hubing was responsible for designing the livery on the 3” Matchbox cars, creating the graphics and helping to decide the color palettes.

In the order of production, Moye first sketched original concepts for unlicensed car models (and also created the technical drawings for those plus the models based on real cars). Then Romash created a series of hand carved prototypes, starting with a size study (to get the model to fit exisitng wheels and packaging) and then more detailed models from which molds could be made.

After those steps, it was Hubing’s turn to shine. He would decorate the preproduction models as accurately as possible, trying to represent what the final production toy would look like. This wasn’t just your average model kit painting exercise, however.“The painting process for most items included primer, and then auto lacquer. For vinyl parts, such as dolls, cel vinyl paints were used,” he said. “Designers provided PMS (Pantone Matching Sytstem) color chips for accurate product colors. Then we had to custom mix and match with Lacquer.”

The painted models were not just used for the approval process, however. In some cases, they were used for photos on promotional posters or for commercials that had to be produced before the final products were available. So they tended to be pretty close representations of the real thing.

dino riders ice age

The Dino Riders Ice Age series included early mammals too.

dino riders funko pops

Can you tell which is the vintage Dino-Rider and which is the recently customized FunKo Pop?

Hubing mentioned dolls in there, by the way. As it turns out, his tenure with Mattel started before Romash or Moye, and he worked on a lot more than just diecast cars. “I worked for Tyco, then Mattel after they bought the company, from 1987-1993. I was hired as an intern from my school, Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia. I started as a Blocks Designer,” he said. That’s Blocks as in the Lego style bricks made by Tyco at the time. Yes, Hubing got to play with blocks for a living.

For Mattel, he had even more opportunities to work with diverse toys. ”I lucked into a painting position that was needed for Dino-Riders in 1988 to ’90.  I painted all dinosaur samples and designed the final year Ice Age line.” To this day, the Dino-Riders remain his favorite toy series that he ever worked on. “Dino-Riders will always be my favorite. I taught myself how to use an airbrush on a Saturday, and by Monday I was painting a Triceratops for production.”

The painting gig became his full time job at Mattel. He worked on everything from R/C vehicles, slot cars, dolls, games, phones  and of course, Matchbox vehicles.

While Romash is selling off a good chunk of his various stages of preproduction models, you won’t be able to get your hands on a Dino-Riders prototype from Hubing. That’s because he has already parted with most of the physical models. “My only regret is selling all my casting sales samples in the late ’90s. , he said. “I also regret tossing 1 of just 2 samples of the original Brontosaurus accessories sets, and a Muppet Dozer working dump truck found in our storage from the late 80’s. I still have my 2-D color dino studies, though.”

Christmas Vacation funko pops

If you’re lucky enough to be on his “nice” list, Hubing might custoimize some “Christmas Vacation” ornaments or figures for you.

This kind of work must have been fun for Hubing, because after retiring from the business, he still enjoys it as a hobby. “I build custom Hallmark ‘Christmas Vacation’ ornaments for the holidays which sell well online, he said. “I also collect and make Custom Funko Pop figures… ‘Christmas Vacation, again, is always a favorite. Considering how many of his creations ended up under the tree as presents every year, it seems fitting that he would be a fan of the holiday.

Redneck Roadkill

The Redneck Roadkill R/C vehicles from Eclipse Toys are one Hubing’s latest projects.

He recently reunited with Romash to help create a new toy line, Redneck Roadkill R/C cars. “I was recently pulled back into the toy world by my old friend and Mattel alumni Rob Romash, to work on Redneck Roadkill,” he said. “They let me use all my design and painting skills to the fullest.The R/C trucks are weathered like nothing else on the market.” (We’ll bring you the more details of Romash and his recent endeavors soon as well.)

They say if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in life. Hubing, Moye, and Romash are living testaments to that saying.