Category Archives: Matchbox

Station Wagons Make Great Ambulances, Sometimes

An In-Depth Review of the Matchbox Super Kings Volvo Ambulance
By Frank Koh

The Matchbox Super Kings K-96 Volvo Ambulance was made by Lesney, England, starting in 1982.  With this ambulance, one would be responding to medical emergencies in style.

When Matchbox released its Super Kings K-74 Volvo Estate casting in 1979, coming out with a meat wagon variant was a logical consequence. Raise the roof by way of a plastic hump fitted with a light bar, antenna and even a diecast horn/loudspeaker, spray on some eye-catching ambulance graphics and throw in a pair of vinyl paramedics carrying a sick/injured bloke lying on a stretcher for maximum play value.

Don’t forget to modify the interior by ditching the rear seats and fitting a lengthwise platform where the patient on the stretcher can be secured. Even though this model features tinted windows presumably to ensure privacy, the overall effect is like that of a well-stocked sushi display chiller in a Japanese restaurant. Looking at the contents is free, but doing something about it will cost you money.

Very imposing, exceptionally convincing, ambulance graphics are on this Volvo Super Kings model by Lesney. It is joined in the photos by a dark red civilian Volvo Estate, reportedly the most common variant in the K-74 lineup, and the very, very rare K-69 Volvo and Caravan set. The latter brings forth the questionable logic of a Volvo station wagon packing just a little more than a hundred horsepower pulling a camper trailer that weighs several thousand pounds. Well, that’s the nice thing about toy cars… a great deal of the fun is derived from letting the imagination reach its outer limits. Now, would the glacial acceleration of the Volvo 240 series enable the ambulance crew to get the unfortunate patient to the hospital in time?

My research yielded two variants for the poor patient on the stretcher. The first one featured a patient who was secured in the supine position by what looked like a thick blanket. That version was nicely detail painted. Then there’s this unpainted, molded-in-white version of what appears to be a severely injured accident victim, complete with a makeshift cast on the left leg, a head bandage, a thick pillow that serves as a neck support and a tourniquet on the right arm. It’s difficult to see it in the pic, but the figure’s facial expression is that of agony, perhaps even abject fear of leaving the physical world too soon. And if you allow your imagination to go to the next level, then it wouldn’t be difficult to convert your take on this meaningful accessory from “emergency patient” to “mummified remains”. Macabre indeed, but in a cool, almost comical, way.

Aside from the tinted glass which appears to have been exclusive to the K-96 Volvo Ambulance, the plastic interior casting was different from all other K-74 Volvo Estate variants. The patient-on-the-stretcher figure fit nicely into the platform on the left of the vehicle, which means that diners could view the smorgasbord delights that lay behind the left-hand side windows, in traditional “turo-turo” fashion.

Two other features defy logic and prudence as well: (1) An all-orange interior (color last seen on the actual 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Indianapolis 500 Pace Car) that would have caused severe eyestrain to all those on board; (2) A sunroof/skylight on the roof extension of the model would have been more appropriate on a camper van than on an ambulance.

While the real Volvo 240/245 Estate was a roomy, comfortable conveyance, its adaptation to ambulance duties was questionable without substantial modifications to the internal/external dimensions of the vehicle, not to mention its anemic four cylinder inline engine.

Despite the evident lack of wisdom in planning and producing a real Volvo 240/245 Ambulance in this particular iteration, this Lesney Super Kings model has become a favorite of mine. Heartfelt thanks go out to my good friends Alexander and Kit for procuring this lovely piece from the Netherlands and sending it to me.

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Britain’s Toy Car Wars: A Book Review

By Karl Schnelle

Giles Chapman has written a book on his childhood toy cars combined with a fascinating history of ‘the big three’ in the Golden Era of British Toy Cars. The three British toy car companies are the obvious ones listed on the cover (below), and the Golden Age was the 1960’s, as the author calls it. Mr. Chapman is a well-published author, so he brings a good perspective.

This new book is the same format as his previous books like 100 cars that Britain can be proud of and  My Dad had one of those.  His books are known for a sound coverage of the subjects and some well chosen and presented pictures. Chapman has written over 40 books and is a well known motoring journalist and author in the UK; he has now turned his attention from real cars to model cars.

Britain’s Toy Car Wars might be the first book that tries to tie the big three together in a historical and toy collector context. Many books have been written about the copious output of each company, so do not expect a review of their entire toy car production. I was expecting some side-by-side comparisons and timelines of who did what when, or who came out first with a certain feature and how did the others react. There is some of that, but mostly it is the author’s reminiscing about his childhood toys and then explaining the background of the company that produced them. In fact, many of the nice photos are of play-worn cars, which reinforces the readers’ nostalgia for their childhood.

If you are a specialist collector of Dinky, or Matchbox, or Corgi, then you will get a better understanding of the other two companies.  As a kid, I collected all three and have read a lot about their history since then.  So I did not learn a lot of new information about them, but several interesting facts did pop out from Chapman’s research.

I had realized that Meccano was much older and more conservative in their approach to selling Dinky Toys, but I did not know that Dinkys were sold in only 6000 approved stores while Matchbox and Corgi were everywhere, in more than 20,000 shops.  Chapman portrays Smith and Odell as the ‘young guns’: they disrupted Meccano’s domination with Dinkys by selling pocket toys at a much cheaper price, available all over Britain at the time.

There has been a lot written about Hornby, Smith, and Odell, but this book also includes some history of the people at Mettoy.    Van Cleemput is already well-known and is covered here.  However, I learned a lot about the Ullmann and the Katz families and their involvement with the success of Corgi Toys.  In fact, Giles Chapman wrote Arthur Katz’ obituary for the Independent (1999).

If you would like the read about all three companies and their high-level rivalries, please read this book.  The author writes in a very engaging style and brings both the history and nostalgia into the story.

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New Matchbox Casting – Chevrolet Wagon

By Robin Godwin


Matchbox has recently introduced a new casting. This is of a 1959 Chevy Wagon (estate) – in Brookwood trim level. It is a great model for the $1.00 Canadian it is sold at in WalMart, about 60 UK pence at current exchange rates. It features the correct Brookwood side trim and even includes the side mounted fuel filler cover, something that Brooklin failed to include on their Brookwood Wagon.

The windows have a dark tint to conceal the lack of interior. The brown plastic canoe mounted to the rooftop luggage box is moulded in one piece. A one piece chromed plastic base includes both bumpers. Superfast type wheels are a bit of a let down in that they are way too large (diameter and width), but at least they are toned down somewhat. Scale is not a real concern for Mattel in this range, but it is slightly smaller than 1:64.

The photographs above show the new release beside the original Matchbox #57 Chevrolet Impala, which was first illustrated as a line diagram in the second version of the 1960 catalogue. The original was listed as 1:80 scale.

This new Matchbox casting is a nice addition to an inexpensive range.

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