Road and Track - modified Matchbox castings go racing
by Doug Breithaupt

When Lesney and Matchbox were bought by Matchbox Toys LTD in the early 1980's, the new owners must have decided that many of the current models needed a bit more excitement. The solution was to re-work certain castings into race-ready versions. This had already been done by Tomica (separate story to follow) and would have been a cost savings over all new castings. Many other manufacturers have simply painted the same casting to look like a racing car or added different wheels. To qualify for this story, the original model had to have been produced in near-stock form and the racing version must have had casting changes to the body or base. Majorette, Corgi and Johnny Lightning have also used this same formula for certain models.

The Matchbox models also represent the shift from Lesney castings, 'made in England', to Matchbox Toys LTD. castings, made in China or Macau. While this may have been primarily an effort to jazz up the line at a budget cost, the result is an interesting comparison of models for road and track.

1974 Dodge Challenger #1-H
1974 Dodge Challenger & 'Toyman' Dodge Challenger

Lesney castings must have looked tame to the folks at Matchbox Toys LTD after they bought the company. The stock '74 Dodge Challenger received a new hood cut-out with a big air box. A new base provided side exhaust and massive rear tires required raised suspension. Ready for the drag strip, the 'Toyman' version has an authentic quarter-mile look. This same casting has seen continued use for over 20 years, including two Challenger R/T Premier Edition releases.

1974 Dodge Challenger 'Toyman' #1-J

1971 Ford Boss Mustang Cobra #11-H
1971 Ford Boss Mustang & IMSA Mustang

Lesney proved they could do American muscle cars with the '71 Boss Mustang. The opening hood displayed a big-bock V8. Matchbox Toys LTD used the Boss to create an IMSA racing version. Fender flares, front air dam and rear spoiler were added along with larger rear wheels. The Mustang did see service in the IMSA racing series although the velocity stacks and hood cut-out would have hurt aerodynamics.

Ford IMSA Mustang #11-I

1982 Pontiac Firebird SE #12-I
1982 Pontiac Firebird SE & Pontiac Firebird Racer

The 1982 Pontiac Firebird SE from Lesney was one of the very last castings to be 'made in England', before the Matchbox Toys LTD buyout. The original casting would be used for the next decade and be offered in a variety of colors. Recently, it was re-issued as the Knight Rider Star Car. The track version is a full Trans-AM racer with bulging fenders and rear spoiler. The yellow/blue STP paint scheme is one of my favorites.

Pontiac Firebird Racer #12-J

1971 AMC AMX Javelin #9-E
1971 AMC AMX Javelin & AMX Pro-Stocker

Toy AMC models are rare and Lesney's AMX Javelin is popular with collectors. While it was mildly customized, the stock version still did have a 'street' look. Matchbox Toys LTD offered a pro-stock version with front air dam, big fenders and side exhaust. The Javelin did race in the hands of Mark Donahue and others but the silver example here is rather generic.

AMX Pro-Stocker #17-H

1975 Chevrolet Laguna S-3 #34-H
1975 Chevrolet Laguna S-3 & Chevy Pro-Stocker

Perhaps this comparison is not as fair in that the original model was intended to be a 'pro-stocker' from the first. That said, it is an interesting car and one of the late Lesney castings. The casting was first offered (image courtesy Christian Falkensteiner) without NASCAR-style tampos and only the windows and side exhaust separate it from the production Laguna S-3 of 1975. The revised casting has a front air dam and large rear spoiler. The front grill has also been blanked-out.

Chevy Pro-Stocker #SF12-A

1979 Mazda RX-7 #31-H

1979 Mazda RX-7 and IMSA Mazda RX-7

Matchbox actually produced two castings of the original Mazda RX-7. The second casting is #31-H and has opening doors. Matchbox Toys LTD produced an IMSA version with flared fenders, air dams and spoilers. Again, this reflects an actual body style for the RX-7 race cars that were very successful in the IMSA racing series.

IMSA Mazda RX-7 #6-G

1980 BMW M1 #52-E
1980 BMW M1 and BMW M1 Series Racer

BMW's M1 was produced by Lesney and featured an opening storage compartment in the front hood. This plastic hatch was dropped for the racing version of the M1 by Matchbox Toys LTD. BMW's supercar was used in a single-marque racing series that followed the F1 schedule. F1 drivers raced in the M1 proceeding their F1 events. The racing version features more air dams, fender flares and a rear-deck spoiler.

BMW MI (single-marque racer) #52-F

Holden Pick-Up #58-F
Holden Pick-Up & Ruff Trek

Perhaps the most unique R/T set are the two variations on the Holden Pick-up. The original Lesney casting included two Honda motorcycles in the back. The Holden was an Aussie version of the Chevy El-Camino. Matchbox International revised the Holden to create an off-road racing truck complete with 'Roo-bar' up front, roll bar, lights and spares. The base was re-done to add side exhaust and the rear suspension raised. Treaded wheels completed this authentic Aussie truck, ready for the Outback or Baja 500. (images courtesy Christian Falkensteiner)

Holden Ruff-Trek #58-G

Corgi follows Matchbox with R/T models

Ford Capri 3.0S
Ford Capri 3.0S & Eurosport Racing Capri 3.0S

Corgi went 'road and track' with their Capri 3.0S model. The production casting features an opening engine compartment and a sun-roof. The racing version is set up for competition with the BMW and M3 (also done by Corgi but a separate casting from their 3-series BMW model). These cars raced in primarily in Europe but saw success world-wide. The Duckhams sponsorship shown here likely reflects an actual racing sponsor.

Ford Capri 3.0S racing

Johnny Lightning takes it's castings 'Road and Track'

Dodge Viper GTS #188
Dodge Viper GTS & Le Mans Viper GTSR

Johnny Lightning has seldom used the same casting for street and race cars. In fact, this is the only example I found where the road car shared the exact same casting with a race car, albeit, slightly modified. Perhaps due to the fact that the Viper GTS is virtually a race car anyway, the GTSR looks much the same. The racing version is in the correct colors of the GT class winner at Le Mans. The large rear spoiler and competition wheels are the difference.

Dodge Viper GTSR Le Mans #188

Majorette follows the R/T road
Renault 5 Turbo & Renault 5 Turbo Rally

Majorette has often repainted their street-based cars to look like racing cars. The result, usually combined with generic racing colors and sponsors has not been very impressive. here is an exception. The stock Renault 5 Turbo was a pretty hot number and Majorette could not resist a pro-rally version (images courtesy Mark Foster). racing graphics and wheels were added but the casting was actually altered to accept rally lights in the grill. The racing colors are also more authentic. More of this would be welcome.