Matchbox 1/72 Spitfire Mk. IX/XVI (OOB)

If a rolling stone gathers no moss, and time and tide wait for no man (or any other gender), then what happens if you sit still? Well, other than ending up as a mossy, soggy mess, in some cases, not much. However, in the crucible of war, one stays stagnant only at one’s own peril. When fighter pilots use the term “speed is life” they’re usually talking about energy management in a dogfight, but the ability to rapidly deploy ever-better weapons is just as important on a strategic scale, too. The development of threat and countermeasure, the increasing pace of technology and performance and the see-saw struggle of cost and capability are all hallmarks of the development of military aircraft.

In no other conflict did aircraft evolve so dramatically as they did during the years of WWII. Between 1939 and 1945, the performance and firepower of frontline combat aircraft improved so much that in most cases planes that started the war would never have survived at the end of it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there was a wholesale changeout of types during those six tumultuous years, but rather that there was a constant stream of new variants of existing types, and in many cases the aircraft involved metamorphosed significantly.

New engines, new aerodynamics and improved armament and electronics all played a part in shaping some of the most famous combat aircraft of all time. There were a good many planes, mostly fighters, that started the war shaped one way, and ended it another. Most of the really famous planes of the war went through all kinds of changes; it really was “evolve or die”. It can be argued that, in fact, it was only due to that evolution that these famous planes survived the war as true “winners”, regardless of what side they fought on.

Of all the planes from that time (and indeed likely from any time), the Spitfire is likely one of the few that needs no introduction, even to most laypeople. Reginald Mitchell’s thoroughbred fighter, which defined not only the Battle of Britain, but indeed the will and ability of Britain to stand alone on her own two feet against all odds, is a classic in any and every sense of the word. It served on all fronts and under multiple flags, proving in every case to be a superlative combatant and a very rare hybrid of aeronautical grace and murderous military efficiency.

When most people think of the Spit, they usually conjure up an image of the earlier marks, though. These were the famous ones that were the darlings of the media during the Battle of Britain, and which captured the hearts and minds of those they protected. However, those early variants, while excellent in 1940, would soon go on to prove inferior to newer German planes, and the cycle of evolution would force the Spitfire to take on many different guises as the war went on.

There were three major changes made to the iconic shape of the early Spitfires throughout the war. One was a change in nose contours when the Merlin engine was replaced by the more powerful Griffon. A second, more pronounced change was the fitting of a new, “clipped” wing for low-altitude operations. The graceful elliptical form of the classic Spitfire wing got a chuck crudely lopped off, reducing span and improving low-level handling. The third major change was the cutting down of the rear fuselage and the changing of the classic Malcom Hood to a more modern teardrop, or bubble, canopy. This made the already sleek Spitfire look even racier, and to my mind finally made the Spitfire look like the progeny of a racer that it was.

One of the weirder variants saw two of these changes come together: the LF Mk. XVI. The LF.16 (my shorthand for it) was based on the “interim” Mk. IX. Why the quotes? Well, the Mk. IX ended up being one of the most numerous of all variants, despite the fact that it was just supposed to fill a gap until more powerful variants were due to appear. Since the Mk. IX was doing so well, it was decided to go whole-hog and not only chop down the rear fuselage, but give in the shortened Low Flight-type wings. Combined with an American-made Merlin 266 (which meant “eyebrows” over the exhausts) these modifications create what, to me, is the strangest version of the Spit.

Now, with so many variants, and so much fame, it’s not a surprise that pretty much everybody makes a Spitfire kit. It’s a surefire thing, a “bank” kit, as it is sometimes known. So that means there’s a real wealth of kits, from all eras, to choose from. Even the lesser known Marks like the LF.16 are easy fodder for a model maker that breaks their kits up to allow for easy mould modification. So, then, how do you choose which Spit to build? Since I’ve already built the fairly nice Airfix F.22, I decided to get something a bit more classic, and you know what that means: IT’S MATCHBOX TIME!!!

Yeah, in among the various reams of Matchbox kits from my big Matchbox Haul was the Mk.XVI/IX kit. This was a kit I wasn’t even really aware of until recently. My brother built the “Plain Jane” Mk. IX decades ago, but I’d never seen a 1/72 Matchbox bubble top. Add to that it had the clipped wings and I was in love! So, let’s get ready for a trip down memory lane and see what this little chestnut has to offer!

The Box:

The Spitfire XVI/IX kit is a typical Matchbox Purple-Range kit. It’s small of box and doesn’t take up much room on a store, or a stash, shelf. That means it has to be eye-catching, and that’s certainly helped by the fact that this particular incarnation of the kit is from 1989, and was produced by Revell Germany. The kits, by this time, had the big “sunset stripe” along the bottom and up the side of the box, and believe me, this can’t help but draw your eye.

The front of the box is, clearly, a newer piece of art, as it doesn’t have any of that real gutsy, gritty “action” feel that so many earlier Matchbox boxes were overflowing with. This is a function of both the British decree to not show actual combat/destruction on model boxes as well as the fact that some of the box’s art is covered over by the sunset stripe. Still, the subject of the kit, the LF.16, is shown cruising along nice and level above some countryside. It’s still Roy Huxley art, which means it’s fantastic even if it’s not bursting with action or excitement.

It’s not crammed with action, but it’s still a nice rendering of a somewhat lesser-known version of the iconic Spitfire.

The light clouds add a nice touch of peaceful whimsy to the art, but it seems strange to me that an LF. 16 would be up that high among and over top of clouds, given it’s lower-altitude regime in combat. The plane itself is, no surprise, an excellent likeness of a Spitfire LF.16, clipped wings and all. Like most of the Matchbox kits from this era, the subject is allowed to cross the “Sunset boundary”, even if the background can’t, and that adds some visual interest.

On the box, it tells us that the kit is moulded in two colours, and when we look at the side of the box, we can see exactly what they mean;  the LF. 16 is shown in a darkish grey and dingy olive green-like shade. These aren’t as radical as those on some earlier kits, like the Buffalo, and in fact are rather tasteful and appropriate. Wait, that can’t be right? Matchbox, what are you thinking? Clearly, that’s the Revell Germany influence. It’s neat, in a way, that this kit is right at a transition point. It’s got the Sunset Stripe box and the German “Der Gruene Punkt” recycling sticker, but it still comes in two colours, and has a full-colour box.

Green and grey… that seems appropriate for a late-war, low-level variant of the Spit, doesn’t it? At least there’s no yellow!

As for that full-colour part, when you flip the box over, you get the traditional Matchbox full-colour paint plan. Like you’d expect for a Purple-Range kit there are two marking options, but there’s also something more. As it said on the front of the box, this builds either a Mk. IX or Mk. XVI, and thus the paint plan shows not only two marking schemes, but also two very different types of aircraft. The top one is the LF.XIV from No. 349 Squadron in Germany, 1945. This is the main variant of the kit, clearly, since it’s the one shown on the box and the one that is “new”. As such, it also gets a top view and bottom view, while the second colour scheme shows just the side elevation of a Mk. IX from No. 306 Squadron in Britain in 1942. Interestingly enough, both of these planes are from “expatriot” squadrons; No. 349 was a Belgian squadron, and No. 306 a Polish one.

Despite the dramatic difference of the clipped with and cut-down rear fuselage, the two schemes are very similar, both being Dark Green and Extra Dark Sea Grey over a lighter grey. The markings are also similar, although the LF.16 has white lettering and the Mk. IX has “RAF Sky” (a weird greenish-grey) letters and tail band. Basically, you’re building this one for the shape of the plane, not the colour scheme, because there’s little to choose from on that front.

While the planes look very different, they are, in fact, the same basic kit! Not a lot of colour choice…

The box shows that this is a 1989 offering, and while labelled as a Matchbox, there are numerous references to Revell Germany on the back of the box. It wouldn’t be long until this kit came offered in the “sunset pinstripe”- or “laser stripe”-type boxes. Thankfully, this is an earlier version, because I do like my full-colour boxes!

What Lies Within:

Like most Matchbox boxes (save the first and last ones, interestingly enough), the Spit comes in an end opening affair. Still hate that, but I have lots of places to put the parts while I work, so I’m okay with it. Inside, as you might well expect, there are two sprues of coloured plastic, and one of clear. This is where you start to wonder how closely Revell was paying attention to things, because the two sprues are black and dark grey. Sure, this isn’t a big deal, but usually the colours shown on the side of the box were correct. This substitution of colour reminds me of something FROG would pull, like how I have multiple Do-335 Pfeils in different colours!

The kit is pure Matchbox, meaning that it’s simple and is not awash in fine detail. The plane is broken over the two sprues fairly evenly, with the wings, wingtips, the tailplanes and radiators on the grey rack, and the propellor, fuselage and fiddly bits on the black one. An interesting thing to note is that the fuselage is just the Mk. IX one, and there’s a separate piece that has to be put in place for the cut down rear fuselage. It might have seemed easier the other way, but since Matchbox already had an IX, it makes sense that the IX is the default setup for the kit.

Here’s what you get. It’s not a lot, but it will build the two planes shown on the box. That darker plastic is NOT green, though.

If there’s one way to describe this kit it’s this: “Tired”. The moulds are clearly old, and have been well-used up to this point. The raised panel lines on the fuselage are anything but crisp, and the wing detail, which is much heavier (but still raised), is looking pretty iffy. In fact, the whole thing gives the impression of a kit that is more or less done with this world, and just wants to be left alone. Of course, you know that means I’m itching to build it…

The very few fuselage lines are raised, but fairly weak. Don’t let the pilot put you off, either…

A perfect example of this is seen on the underside of the wing, where the few bits of recessed detail are sloppy and don’t line up with much else. Also, the edges of the parts look “thick”, like plastic built up there, and overall, the kit is not as good as I’m used to seeing on a Matchbox. The control surfaces still have a fairly nice, but reserved appearance, and the landing gear legs are separate from the doors (not always a guaranteed thing). That’s about all I can say, though.

Oh… this looks bad. Look at those recessed panel lines. Those outer wing panels, particularly, look hurt, tired and pretty much just done-in. Yikes.

Wait, one other thing I can say is that the cannons SUCK. A LOT. TOTALLY, actually. If you look at any real Spit with the Hispano 20mm cannons, you’ll see the barrels encased in a very smooth, but bulky, fairing. This is just how it was done, and indeed how it looks in the paint plan on the back of the box, too. However, the Matchbox folk give you something that looks more like the post on a fancy house railing. The fairings are moulded with multiple contours, and it looks ridiculous in the instructions. There’s going to be some work here…

The transparencies are very thick and distortion is a given, but that’s good, because there’s almost no interior. In fact, the interior consists of… a seat and a pilot. Yep, that’s it. I guess it’s better than the Norm or Myrt, but it’s a far cry worse than the Airfix F.22 or almost any other kit. Controls and instrument panels are for sissies! This thing is flown using ESP, apparently! (Apparentlyh the RAF was using Newtypes during the war!) To add to the sparsity of parts, there aren’t any underwing stores, but there is a 30 gallon conformal belly tank. I have seen some pictures of Spits with this conformal tank, although not Spit XVIs. Still, that’s a cool accessory to have.

These are your transparencies. They are largely trasparent, yes, but disortion-free? Forget it!

It goes without saying that, if you’re looking for fine details like pitots, aerials and rear-view mirrors, this is not the kit to go to. The Matchbox Spitfire doesn’t come with that stuff. It’s a Spitfire-shaped model, and you can go to town on the details if you want to. Or, you can go with an Eduard or Fujimi or Tamiya kit. You’re the one in the driver’s seat on that. Mind you, if you choose the Matchbox kit, that’s all you’ll have…

Instructions and Decals:

The instructions are basically the same as the Matchbox instructions would have been had they been in the usual “long and skinny” booklet. However, they are on a twice folded single piece of paper that has printing on both sides. The “cover” has a history of the type, and the rest of that side of the sheet is paint plan and colour chart. The “mini paint plan” so typical of Matchbox is there, as well as the stencil plan for both airframes. The top and underside views of the cammo pattern on the Mk. IX are represented as well.

Here are the paint list, the top and bottom views of the Mk. IX, as well as a bit of information about your Spitfire. The small “mini paint plan” numbered 22 shows you the weird shape of the cannon housing. Not cool.

The instructions themselves don’t look too bad, clarity-wise, but they do show that this is going to be an interesting build. Some Matchbox kits are variants of others; this usually happened when a two-seater was made from a single-seater. In cases like the Two Seat Hunter, both the single- and double-seat cockpits were included, and it was a straight parts swap as to which version you made. Other kits, like the Viggen, didn’t give you the choice, since they were remoulds of the older kit.

This Spitfire, though, is a hybrid! The LF.16 is a remould of the Mk. IX, for sure, but it’s been modified to allow you to cut down the rear fuselage. However, it’s not like you got a whole new fuselage or anything… nope, you have to do the cutting down yourself, and then stick on the new rear-fuselage spine piece! When you look at the inside of the fuselage, you can see the crudely-moulded like where you have to cut. Thus, this kit is almost a conversion kit of itself! It’s been a while since I built a kit that required hardcore cutting and stitching to create the version shown on the box; that’s more of a short-run kit kind of thing!

Thankfully, the instructions make it clear where to cut, as well as which wingtips to fit for either the Mk. IX or the LF.16. I have seen a photo of a Mk. XVI with rounded wingtips, too, so you can create your own hybrid if you want to. Personally, I’m going with the LF.16, since I have a rounded-tipped bubbletop in the Airfix F.22. I was surprised to see that the two variants have different undernose intakes; I don’t think I’d have noticed that at all if the instructions hadn’t pointed it out.

The instructions are okay, but there are a lot of differences between the Mk. IX and LF.16, so stay alert!

The decals… well, they’re weird. They’re not the usual Matchbox decals. Those are usually really tough and very shiny. These are Revell Germany decals, which means they’re matte as matte can be, and they are likely nowhere near as tough as they need to be. I’m really not a Revell Germany decal fan; they tend to silver very badly and don’t take well to conforming to surface detail. Granted, the latter is not a huge issue on the Matchbox Spitfire, but the silvering and excessive matte-ness is.

Making things worse is the fact that while they’re good for colour there’s a bit of an issue with the concentricity of the roundels. In particular, the red centres on all of them are just a bit off, so they look like slightly googly eyes looking one way or another. If this was a short-run kit, I might be obliged to overlook it. However, on a mainstream kit from a maker that ought to know better, it’s rather disappointing.

Those are pretty “googly” roundels, Revell Germany! Also, that green… that’s NOT typical RAF Sky at all. that’s pretty bad…

The other weird thing about the decals is the “partial” TB900 codes. On the colour paint plan, you can see a faded letter that looks like half an “X” that comes after the DGE. I assume it’s an overpainted code from a previous assignment. However, it blocks out the TB900 on each side. I would have assumed that Revell Germany would give you a semi-translucent decal for this, but…. Nope. They give you a partial code for each side, but it’s up to you to figure out how you want to handle the “ghost letter”. Thanks a bunch, guys… FML.

One thing that this kit does have going for it is that it is a real, surviving airframe. It is now part of Kermit Weeks’ collection, and there’s a cool video on YouTube of it being started and taxied for the first time in a while. You can see it here: It’s worth noting that he did not bother with the “shadow” letter, and thus you could not bother with it yourself. I likely won’t. Hey, wait a minute… you could theoretically enter this kit as a civilian model in an IPMS show, since it is now privately owned! That’s kinda neat! My brother did that with his JAM T-33. (JAM is the Jet Aircraft Museum, a museum in my hometown of London, Ontario, that works to keep cold war jet trainers, like the T-33, flying.)


The Spitfire is one of the most famous, recognizable, important and even numerous airplanes in history. With an impressive pedigree and an equally impressive service life, the Spitfire proved time and again to be a gold standard against which other aircraft would very often pale in comparison. Because of this, and because making variants with minimal tooling changes is a great way to make money, the number of Spitfire kits available to modellers (in almost any scale) is tremendous.

So, then, what does the Matchbox LF.16 offer? While it pains me to say it, the truth is… nothing. (Just like Wheel of Fish – You’re so STOOOPID!) For the serious Spitfire enthusiast, there are multiple better kits out there in every scale, and you’re further ahead buying one of those than spending time accurizing this thing. This kit looks basic and rough, and it you’re looking for the ultimate example of R.J. Mitchell’s quintessential fighter, I can’t honestly tell you not to look elsewhere.

However, that’s not the whole story. (It never is, is it?) For me, there’s a real charm in Matchbox kits, and while this one is a bit rougher than I’m used to, I still love it. You have to take this kit in context. Remember, this kit was a pocket money kit for school boys who were more apt to shoot at this model with a BB gun while it hung from mum’s clothesline than they were to fret about getting the colours and markings just right for entry into an IPMS show. In short, it’s expendable.

To me, there’s a certain charm in preserving the expendable. I love to make something good out of crappy kits, vs. something awesome out of amazing kits. I like to work on the basics, and I like to see just what can be done with very limited resources? Why? No idea. It’s a quirk, I guess. Sure, this kit is simple and somewhat inaccurate and even calling it a “diamond in the rough” is a stretch. It’s great for beginners, because it’ll train you on the basics, but I fear that it’s so rough that you really need a lot of skill to make it even look halfway decent.

It boils down to this: If you want to memorialize the greatness of the Spitfire, get another kit. If you want to memorialize a simpler time in modelling, and want to give the past a hand stepping into the present, don’t just pass this little guy up. The Matchbox crew went out of their way to give us a single kit that builds both Malcom-hooded and bubbletop versions of the Spit. Despite its general crudeness, the germ of a really cool, modular kit is in there. You can choose your cockpit and your wings as you see fit, and there’s some value in having the different intakes and that belly tank too.

Matchboxes aren’t there to win shows or even to impress the rivet counters. They’re there to impress the builder with what they were able to achieve, and they still incite great joy in a lot of people that grew up building them. Just like the Spitfire itself, that’s a pretty cool legacy to preserve, so consider grabbing this one just for the old-school fun/frustration of it all. If it doesn’t work out, you can always fly it around the modelling bench for stress relief!

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