O F F - T H E - S H E L F

The following editorial reflects the personal thoughts of Doug Breithaupt relating to our common hobby of miniature cars. It is intended to generate discussion relating to 'Tales of Toy Cars'. Your letters are welcome and may be submitted via e-mail.

UPDATE ON APRIL EDITORIAL: If you read last month's editorial, 'Thirty-Two and Counting', a list of 1:64 scale manufacturers was presented. Thanks to several readers, I was able to update missing Internet addresses and add four more listings. Click here to see the revised list, 'Thirty-Six and Counting'.

Is Matchbox still a 'toy car' maker?
During a recent visit to Toys-R-Us, I picked up free copies of the 2001 Matchbox and Hot Wheels posters. It's fun to add these to my collection of posters from previous years and to see all the cars I'll have to try and find during the year. When I had an opportunity to study the Matchbox poster, It became obvious that Mattel is finally making some clear distinctions between their two toy car lines and Matchbox appears to be the worse for it.

In 2000, the Matchbox line was increased to 100 models, changing over 40 years of the traditional 1-75 Matchbox line. It appears that this idea was not a success, as for 2001, we are back to the 1-75 series. While collectors may be pleased to see this return to tradition, we should look a little closer at what is included within the 75 models offered for 2001.

In addition to the toy car models offered by Matchbox over the years, there have always been trucks, commercial, farm and military vehicles, boats, trains, planes and motorcycles. On occasion, even snow mobiles, camping trailers and other oddities have been added to the line. With the models offered for 2001, the one item that seems to be missing from the Matchbox line is the one most popular with kids and collectors alike, cars. Here is how it breaks down.

Cars (street) - 10 (includes 2 police cars)
Cars (race) - 3
Trucks/SUV/Vans (street) - 10
Trucks (commercial) - 30
Boats/Submarine - 9
Planes/Helicoptors - 4
Off-Road Equipment - 5
Motorcycles/ATV/Snow Mobile - 4

At the same time, the boys at Hot Wheels are clearly into cars. Out of the 96 vehicles shown on the Hot Wheels poster, only 11 are trucks, 5 are motorcycles or scooters and 1 helicopter is offered. All the rest are cars, granted many of these are of the custom variety.

It seems pretty clear that Mattel has decided that Hot Wheels gets to do the cool cars and Matchbox is left with the trucks, planes and boats. What will happen to all the recent car models offered by Matchbox that are no longer in the line-up. All the recent muscle cars are gone. For the first time I can remember, no Ferrari model is offered. The nice '62 VW Beetle is gone as are all the Mercedes-Benz cars. No cars made in England are included in the line, which must be a first for what was Britain's best-known diecast manufacturer. Certainly the new Mini or Jaguar 'F' type could have been included, even if they are now products of BMW and Ford. While two Land Rover models are offered, they are the solitary standard-bearers for 'Old Blighty'. We can hope that some of these missing cars show up in the 5-packs or other special packaged products. Also to be considered is that the Matchbox 1-75 list shown here is for the North American market and the 'Rest of the World' (ROW) list is not quite as bad.

When Mattel bought Matchbox, many of us wondered if they would kill off this historic brand as they did for Corgi's small-scale cars. It appears that while Mattel sees a value in the Matchbox name, they have little regard for the true spirit of the matchbox tradition. Matchbox is currently receiving less than half the shelf space provided to Hot Wheels by major retailers. The 2001 Matchbox line is in no position to change this trend. The models left on the pegs because few want them are bulk of the Matchbox line. Kids and collectors are likely to pass on the pedestrian offerings from Matchbox in favor of the toy 'cars' offered by other manufacturers. Do you really want a street sweeper for your collection? It is very likely that with this move, Mattel has put the first nails in the Matchbox coffin.

On the day that Matchbox dies, many adults will shed real tears. Unless Mattel makes major changes soon, that day is far too close.