Matchbox Mega-Score – March 2021

You can’t see most of what’s in there, but trust me, a lot of Matchbox-y goodness awaits!

If you’ve seen any of my other “Score” articles, then you know one thing I love is being able to go to a model show, or on a hobby shop road trip, and find vendors or stores that have not only the newest, shiniest sprue, but also a good mix of old stuff. Okay, that’s a lie… it’s really the old stuff I’m the hottest for, especially when it comes to planes. I don’t now what sickness it is, but I really do find a lot of joy in older model airplanes.

(If you want proof, check out my Farpro Score as well as my Matchbox Collections… you’ll see what I mean!)

The catch is that, what with the Covid craziness still being in full swing (a year after it started, as I write this), road trips and model shows have disappeared. Now, it’s not like I don’t have a lot of kits; I do. So many that, like most of you reading this (or at least some… I hope…) I have far more than I can finish in my lifetime. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t want more of them, but there’s just nowhere to go. I’m lucky; my city (London, Ontario) has two great shops for all kinds of kits, plus an anime store that stocks more Gundams that some Toronto stores, and we have an RC shop with a great plastic selection too! However, NONE of these shops usually stock OLD stuff, unless it’s a reissue.

To get that, I have to go down the road to Hamilton, or Toronto, or across the border to Michigan… and all of that is a no-go right now. So that means all I can do is pine for some golden oldies, and enjoy the ones I’ve got, or I can rely on the kindness of others, like my good friend Alan. Or so it seemed.

During the winter, I stopped at a local shop that specializes in trains, but has a lot of plastic. He had some cardboard boxes on the floor and said it was part of a massive collection he’d just bought off a long-time customer. He showed me a list of kits. FIFTY PAGES, single spaced in Excel, 10-12 point font. Blown away, I asked if there were any Matchboxes. I figured that someone who’d been at it for a while might have a couple that I didn’t. He handed me the list and said to check it out.

It was like gazing on the Dead Sea Scrolls. I saw lists of arcane subjects, holy grails and things I hadn’t even known to look for. It was amazing. So. Many. Matchboxes!! He didn’t have one of everything, but he sure had a lot of them. I was heady with excitement, feeling this might be the one chance I had to get a hold of load of Matchboxes I wasn’t likely to find again. I told him it was easier for me to send him a list, and I went home and made a list of all the Matchboxes I wanted that I didn’t have. It was twenty-five kits long.

If you ever sent away for something in the mail when you were a kid, then you know the agony, the sweet torment, of waiting for it to show up. I waited for my friend at the shop to email me as to what he’d found. Finally, he did. He’d managed to find 15 of the ones I wanted. Not bad. Not bad at all! So, on a moderately warm day in March, after finishing raking my yard, I hopped into my G8 and headed across town for my rendezvous with my Lesney crew.

Transform, and Mold Out!!

When I walked in and looked on the shelves, I began reeling. The store had been transformed. On one side of the “Plastics” aisle was the usual; new kits, all shiny and crisp. On the other, where little had been before, were now stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks of ancients! It was as if I had walked into a model shop from 35 years ago, and they had mostly old stuff! There were reams of FROG, ancient Airfix (blech), old Hasegawa, LS and Heller kits. It was literally heaven. For me, this is what paradise looks like. So much ancient, not-so-shinily boxed sprue of dubious quality (and guaranteed worse fit). Where others may see trash, I saw what seemed like the treasures of the pharaohs, exhumed form the styrene Valley of the Kings.

But… there were no Matchboxes. None. Not a “PK” or Sunset box to be seen. Perplexed, I asked my friend what was going on, and why he hadn’t gotten to them yet. He laughed, pointed to a box on the rear counter and said “No worries. Yours is right here!”. What followed was an hour and a half of going over each kit, checking it for completeness, and then some additional shopping on top of that. I also found another crate of Matchboxes, and pulled a few more out of there.

When all was said and done, the box he’d set aside for me had to have the flaps taped up to hold everything. I had managed to find, no to limit myself, to 25 kits in total, with a whopping 20 of them being my beloved Matchboxes. Now, before you get thinking: “That’s a bit excessive…” don’t worry. There were only 19 unique kits – there was a free fire-damaged duplicate of the He-111H. It still has good decals, wheels, guns and glass, not to mention a slightly different iteration of the box, and I never turn down free styrene! (Wait… I did once. Someone offered me a 1/72 XB-70, but there was no place I had for that thing…)

Matchbox 20:

No, I’m not talking about the band, I talking about a collection of things that were designed for mass consumption by a less-than-discerning group of school-aged kids. Wait… that didn’t help things…

The main reason I went to the shop was, of course, to get my grubby little paint-stained hands on as many fine Lesney products as possible. You all know I love Matchboxes. I know they’re not the most accurate kits, they’re over simplified and they often miss key details, but darn it all, I love them just the same. They often choose weird subjects, or at least weird variants, and while they all need a tonne of work, they just seem to reward effort better than even some newer kits. I built a number when I was younger, but not enough that it’s a nostalgia thing. I just legitimately love them, and seeing this many all together was quite an experience!

Purple with Excitement:

One other great thing about Matchboxes is that, by and large, they’re small. At least, compared to new kits of the same scale and subjects (where possible), I find a Matchbox kit will only take up about 60% of the space when boxed. When you collect kits like me (and YOU, don’t pretend it isn’t so!), that kind of efficiency is important. The bulk of my purchases were of the smallest Matchboxes, the “Purple” series. Since that is also my favourite colour, maybe it’s appropriate that I love these things so much?

Matchbox boxes went through a lot of changes over the years. The excellent artwork of the earliest kits had to be “toned down” after a rule in Britain in the mid ‘70s banned the portrayal of violence on model boxes (and elsewhere). So, a lot of the corkscrewing, fire-belching, dogfighting bedlam-type art had to give way to more sedate “Flying along” art. While the new boxes are still nicely rendered, they’re not as gritty and dynamic as the earlier ones.

In the Purple Range, I was lucky enough to get four “old school” boxes. Ironically, none of these show combat action! The Gloster Gladiator is depicted on exercises in 1938; the CF-104 is shown during a Tiger Meet over Scotland; the Siskin IIIA is shown with squadmates breaking for landing in 1928 and the Tempest is shown with others on an interception exercise over Cyprus in November 1945. So, while these boxes could have been action packed, they aren’t just by coincidence. However, that doesn’t mean the box art isn’t awesome, because it is. Each one is an excellent rendition of the pane, with great background and sky effects.

While none are in combat, the artwork on these old beauties is typically gritty and evocative. Much better a painting than soulless CG!

Being only the small kits, Matchbox only gave the prospective buyer (schoolboys with pocket money to give their newsagents or hobby stockists) two colours of plastic. Of course, at that time, this was a unique approach to models! While the colours don’t always suit the subject (in fact they’re often grossly inappropriate) I do find a certain juvenile excitement looking at pieces in different colours. Revell all-grey reissues just don’t have the same visceral impact; the gang at Lesney had something figured out! In the case of these kits, the colour selection is shown on the side of the box, and ranges from fairly appropriate to out and out “WTF-ery”. While the Starfighter looks almost okay, and the Tempest can be given a pass for military colours, the two biplanes are just… yeesh. Yellow and blue? Red and RAF Sky? I’m having a Buffalo flashback!

Some of these colour choices are okay, others are weird. The red Gladiator, for example, is really bloody strange (pun intended).

Thankfully, the full-colour painting plans on the back are a bit more logical, and show what can be (and should be) done with the kits. As always two marking options are included, and it’s neat that the F-104 has Canadian markings with it! The Tempest is a great kit, too, since it can be built with either the inline or the radial engine, and you get early Post-War Royal Indian Air Force decals too! That’s not something you see every day. The Gladiator is a bit of a letdown, since it had so many non-silver schemes that Lesney could have chosen. The Siskin, on the other hand, only seems to have come in Silver Dope, and has the least option; both being British machines. The Siskin III was Canada’s first fighter in 1927, and it would have been nice to see decals for that. Guess I’ll be going aftermarket, or home-made, for that one!

Seen from the back, the lack of imagination on the two biplanes is more evident. At least they have colourful markings!

More numerous in the Purple Range were my acquisitions in what I call “Sunset Stripe” boxes. These are later issues, and have more sedate artwork. Some of these, like the Zero and Lysander, would have originally had more dynamic artwork, but some, like the F-5B, BK-117 and Spitfire XVI/IX only came in this kind of box. The boxes are more eye-catching, in a way, due to the stripe, but the art doesn’t take up the full front of the box, and that’s a bit of a waste, I find.  The F-5B is a retool of the earlier F-5A (which he sadly didn’t have and I’d love to get) and the Spitfire is a retool of the earlier Mk. IX, I believe, but this time with the option to be built as a bubble-top, low-flight (clipped wing) version. That’s moneymaker for me in this lot; I didn’t even know that there was a bubbletop LF Spit, so when I found out there was a Matchbox, well, I got pretty excited!

They’re not as action-packed as the old boxes, but these are still pretty eye-catching. I do like how the planes can leave the frame, even if the background can’t!

The sides of the box do still show you the colours the kits come moulded in, and in this case, it seems Matchbox reigned it in a bit. Most of the colours are appropriate, with greys, greens and browns for the military craft and lighter colours for the civilian or non-frontline helicopters. Granted, the Zero doesn’t look great, but the Matchbox Zero isn’t well regarded anyway, I hear. Not that I care… I think it’s my favourite Zero, and I have a number of them!

More subdued that the earlier kits, this lot actually seems pretty appropriate. Well, maybe not the Zero…

The backs of the boxes display the usual full-colour plans, but show an odd mix of obscure schemes for some planes, and expectedly boring for others. There’s only one cammo scheme shown for the Lysander; like the Gauntlet, the Lysander has tonnes of neat schemes they could have chosen, and it’s a shame they didn’t go a bit more esoteric on this one. The Zero doesn’t surprise, but purists will scream at a WHITE Zero, I’m sure. Don’t forget, that’s what they thought back then. Of course, I don’t know what they think now… Green it is! The Spitfire is just a marking variation, but the key here is the two grossly different variants you can build in the one kit! The two choppers offer nice schemes, and the F-5B brings it home with Dutch and Saudi markings – that’s what I’m talking about!

Sadly, there’s a little less variety here than I feel there could be, but full-colour plans are always nice to have!

Orange you Glad?

I also managed to score five kits in the larger “Orange Range”. This size was reserved for larger WWII types and small jets. In this case, I snagged a Panther, a P-38 Lightning, a Bf-110, an HS.125/600 and, the one I wanted most of all, the SB2C Helldiver. (I wanted it to go with my Matchbox Helldiver SBC-4 biplane.)

These particular Oranges are all from the same vintage, being “white box” variants, before they too got into the “Sunset Stripe”-style of packaging. However, closer inspection reveals that the Lightning, Bf-110 and HS.125 are older; they have the descriptions of the scenes on the box, something the other two lack. I always love this about Matchbox kits; the bit of context with the art is both engaging and educational, and is something I think they not only should have kept up, but that other makers should have done as well. Note, too, that the two warplanes with descriptions also show “stuff blowing up”, whereas the Helldiver and Panther don’t. Still, they’re all still awesome, and up to Matchbox Standards.

Bigger and better than Purple! Here come the Oranges for your enjoyment!

Since these are more expensive and larger kits, you get THREE (Yes, three!) colours. As with the smaller kits, the colour choices range from the subline (well, okay, passable) to the kind of ridiculous. The Helldiver’s in the right part of the spectrum, as is the Panther, and the HS.125 is passable. The Lightning, though… yikes. I’m not sure what that’s trying to be. Still, it’s better than the Bf-110. Look at that. Blue, brown and ORANGE?? Man… that’s rough.

These are some interesting colour choices, eh? I do pity that Lightning and the Bf-110 though.

The backs of the boxes show that, even if you get three colours, you still only get two decal choices. The Lightning and Bf-110 have the biggest variation in their Liveries, while the two Helldivers are pretty close. Why not do an A-25, or a British evaluation machine? (Hmm… nice…) The schemes on the HS.125 are kinda boring, and the Panther was almost only ever seen in Navy Blue, so the Blue Angels paint is a nice variation.

Some more interesting schemes here, although the Helldiver needs some variety. I need to research HS.125s, too.

“Red”y or Not:

One step above the Orange range was Red. These were larger aircraft still, either big WWII twins or heavy fighters/attackers. In this case, I got four of them. I got two He-111s as mentioned earlier, along with the classic HE-115 and the likely less-than-classic EA-6B Prowler. I didn’t really know there was a Matchbox Prowler until now; I’d never seen the kit in real life. I’m sure there’s a reason for that, but hey, it’s a Matchbox I don’t have and I don’t have the subject in 1/72 either, so “gimme gimme” was my response!

The art on these is great, because the boxes are so big. Sadly, the Prowler’s art is only somewhat interesting, showing it taking off, and that’s it. Much more dynamic is the art on the He-115, which shows a pair taking off to attack convoy PQ 17. I know this because it’s an old box, and it says so right on it! (See – education and entertainment together before it was even a thing!) Interestingly, this kit was also “smoke damaged” from a fire, although a quick soak in soapy water will fix that. I don’t know how the kit got smoked while the box remained perfect, but I don’t look gift horses in the mouth.

The two He-111s have the same art, yet they don’t. Both show the planes attacking oil tanks at Thameshaven. Both have the descriptions. But you can clearly see that there is a major difference in the artwork. For one thing, the older box has a much darker background and more interestingly, it’s zoomed-out. You can see more background (and more of the lead aircraft) in it. On the flap of the older box, it says “Mark 1”. On the newer, lighter one, it says “Mark 2”. That’s the first time I’ve ever noticed that. The He-115 is a Mark 1 box. 

Big boxes and generally cool art. Check the two He-111s. You want to talk “the same but different”?

While all four show you the outcome of the Matchbox team’s colour choices, the Mark 2 box also has something interesting. I show it in the shot below, because nothing like it is on the Mark 1 box, nor the others. Where the others have a cross-sell for more kits, the Mark 2 shows some scrap views of the engine and landing gear “detail” (in quotes because… Matchbox) and the dorsal gun. It’s nice extra art, but it’s a weird anomaly. The colour choices are a bit odd here; the greys/white on the Prowler are maybe sensible-ish, but the browns on the He-111 make no sense. Oddly, the fire-damaged He-111 is moulded in two shades of green and blue, but the box uses the same brown drawing. So weird. The He-115 in beige/brown and blue is just as nonsensical. Points, though, for blues on the undersides of things, as well as for no inappropriate oranges or reds!

Not perfect, but generally appropriate; these three-colour kits are a bit more subdued than the Orange ones. Interesting about the scrap views on the “Mark 2” box.

With the Red kits, you get three choices of markings, and this is Where Matchbox usually does a great job. The three schemes on the He-111 are interesting, especially since one is a Romanian machine!  The He-115 has the most variety, including the only one Finland used in the war. Sadly, there’s not much variety for the Prowler; it was never exported, so you get three Navy schemes. They’re nice and colourful, but a Marines one would have been nice. I’m sure there’s a tonne of aftermarket decals for Prowlers though, so if the “Grey/White” scheme isn’t your thing, you should be able to come up with something better.

That’s some good variety! Well, at least for the WWII subjects. That Prowler is a one-trick pony, eh?

A Single Brown Note:

The biggest kit, and one I wasn’t sure about at first, is in the even larger “brown” range. This was the biggest size Matchbox made in 1/72, and included 4-engined heavies and other large craft. A perfect example is the Supermarine Stranraer, a plane that, like the post-war Attacker, really gives no indication that Supermarine had any idea at all of how to use streamlining and apply aerodynamics. A coastal patrol flying boat that was not particularly well-liked, it did serve until mid-war in the front lines, and in Canada until after the war.

The Stranraer is in a “normal”, top-opening box, unlike all other types of end-opening boxes typical of Matchbox. From what I’ve seen, all Brown kits are like that, since they’re so large. The Stranraer, despite only being a twin-engined aircraft, does indeed appear to build up very large. The artwork on my example is badly sun-faded, but it shows one of these beasts lumbering into the air. Sadly, there’s no description, so I can’t give more context. See why we need that?

That’s a big box for a Matchbox kit. I think only the four-engined “heavies” have bigger crates than the lumbering and decidedly pre-war Stranraer

The one side shows the three colours that the machine is moulded in; in this case, green, grey and grey-brown. That’s not the worst we’ve seen given that maritime cammo is grey and green. We also see that the kit comes with beaching gear, which is a nice bonus!

These colours look very good, although they are not really correct. Not hard to see why they upgraded to the Canso, is it?

Since there’s no full-colour plan on the back, being a top-lifter box, we get the schemes on the other side. Sadly, we only get side views, so it’s quite inferior to the smaller boxes in this respect. All schemes are for British aircraft, with two in silver and one in wartime cammo. It’s neat to see that the cammo one has more guns sticking out of it, so you can get a feel for wartime exigencies.

Not a lot of choice here; you get silver or wartime cammo. at least the cammo one has more guns!

The Other Guys:

While the Matchboxes were the reason I went, I also picked up some other cool stuff! I do have a love of early (pre-F-4 Phantom) Navy planes, so I was very excited to get the Hasegawa Tiger. That’s really the only good kit of this largely forgotten fighter, and mine is the Minicraft version that’s supposed to have better decals. I also got my hands on a Block 152, an oddball French fighter that’s biggest claim to fame is having the engine mounted at an angle to offset the torque. What? Apparently, the kit reproduces this. Cool.

The big finds though were the Japanese subjects: The Jet Shinden (Shinden Kai) from Hasegawa has eluded me for ages, but not this time! I love me some project planes, and this has “46” written all over it!  Less esoteric, but no less weird is the LS Rufe. The fact it’s an LS made me buy it regardless, since their kits are very nice, but it seems to be a very good rendition of the A6M2-N “float Zero”. It also has beaching gear.  The big win, was the Raiden. If you’ve read my article on the Arii Raiden, then you know I love this plane. However, I’d never seen a 1/72 other than the Sword, and it was too expensive. Well, I saw this old Hasegawa and bought it even though I figured it’d be a bit rough, like most old Hasegawas. NOPE. This thing is GOLD. Finest panel lines I’ve ever seen, especially on a kit of this age. It is STUNNING. I don’t know how this thing can be this good when others of its age seem so poor, and I thought it must be an LS. It apparently isn’t, but honestly… I don’t buy it. Still, a fantastic kit!

That’s a lot of weird stuff, in addition to the Matchbox haul! The Jet Shinden has been a grail for a bit, but the Jack is the real treasure!

Conclusion:

While the pandemic might be doing its best to slow down my acquisition of ancient sprue, every now and then luck and fate conspire to give me a good shot in the arm. These awesome oldies are definitely the cure for what ails me, although many would say it’s a mental issue not a physical one.

While they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the Matchboxes I got are really treasures to me, and I am looking forward to building at least some of them before I get too old to do so!

Being able to walk into a store and see so many old kits, and find so many I wanted, was amazing, and really helped me to close some gaps in my collection.

Now here’s the hard part: Where do I start? The answer, as always, is with you guys! Tell me which one of these you’d like to see first. I separated the Matchboxes from the “others”, so you get two choices! It’s like having your moldy cake and eating it too!

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