In 1973, Matchbox, until that time known chiefly for their range of diminutive diecast vehicles, entered the plastic kit market. Their most numerous products were 1:72 scale aircraft, of which they produced about 120 up to the end of production in 1989. A variety of warplanes and civil aircraft were modelled, including both classic warbirds and some unusual subjects. The range was notable for containing parts moulded in 2 or more bright colours. Many of the moulds were subsequently acquired by Revell, who continue to release some of them to this day.
The warbird par excellence is, of course, the Spitfire, and it is unsurprising that this iconic aircraft was one of the first releases made by Matchbox. It’s a great starting place for examining the Matchbox range.
Spitfire Mark IX
The Spitfire will always be associated in most people’s minds with the Battle of Britain, 1940. However, the aircraft served throughout the Second World War and beyond. To do that, it had to evolve considerably in order to keep up with the frenetic pace of aircraft development that occurred during the conflict.
In late 1941, the Germans introduced their new fighter, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. The Fw 190 was faster than the Spitfire Mark V then in service, and in response a new version was developed with a more powerful engine which became the Mark IX. Entering service in July 1942, about 5,600 aircraft of this Mark were produced. The Mark IX had a top speed of over 400mph (c650kph), and a ceiling of 43,000 feet (c13,000m) – a significant improvement over the Mark V, which could reach 370mph (c600kph) and 36,500 feet (c11,000m).
The Matchbox Kit
Matchbox Aircraft Kits PK-2 Spitfire Mk.IX
Year first produced: 1973
L184 x W120 x H35 (box), Plastic 61g, Scale 1:72, Parts 26, Features 4
The kit is enclosed within a box, adorned with an exciting illustration of the Spitfire in combat. A German bomber falls from the sky trailing smoke, while an escorting Fw 190 dives – too late – into the attack. The box carries a brief sentence of explanation: “A Spitfire of No. 124 Squadron takes evasive action after attacking a German J.U.88 over the French Coast”.
Within the box are two sprues of parts. It is immediately noticeable that they are in different colours: the fuselage is moulded in green, while the wings are brown. The parts are numbered on the sprues, and the sprues are cleverly arranged so as to enclose and protect the smaller, more vulnerable parts within the runners and larger, more robust wings and fuselage halves.
Also included is a clear cockpit canopy, and a three-part stand for the model, which by virtue of a ball-and-socket joint enables the aircraft to be positioned at various angles for display.
The folded instruction sheet includes a very brief history of the aircraft, and a set of diagrams illustrating the step-by-step construction of the kit. The leaflet is multilingual, and the diagrams use only numbers referring to the parts on the sprue, and symbols to indicate what should be done. For example, assembly stage 2 involves gluing the pilot and seat into the fuselage; gluing the spinner and propeller into a collar; and then gluing the two fuselage halves together around the propeller assembly, taking care that no glue gets onto it so that the propeller can spin. I think it’s all admirably clear.
Also in the leaflet is a page of ‘hot hints’, giving guidance on basic techniques for assembly and decoration, and which tools would be useful.
The final inclusion in the box is a decal sheet, providing markings for two aircraft. The painting instructions and placement of decals for these aircraft are shown in colour on the underside of the box. The aircraft flew with
- 124 Squadron RAF
- 306 Squadron RAF (Polish)
Matchbox clearly thought carefully about how they would present and market their new kits. We can see from their advertising the features that they thought important
- they were easy to assemble
- they came with options and choices
- they were colourful and attractive to display
The kit does, indeed, appear to be easy to assemble. There are a limited number of clearly numbered parts, and the instructions are simple and well-illustrated. I have one quibble, though. The instructions show the undercarriage being assembled in the lowered position, but it can apparently also be fixed in the up position, for an aircraft in flight. This is not mentioned…
The kit offers decals and a paint plan for two aircraft. In addition to this, as noted above, the plane can be constructed with undercarriage up or down.
Matchbox kits can be extremely colourful out of the box. Our Spitfire has sprues in bright green and a more muted brown camouflage colours, and a set of standard RAF red-white-and-blue decals. The aircraft can be displayed on a flat surface if the wheels are down, or in a variety of attitudes if the stand is used.
So – we have a kit that is colourful, easy to assemble and comes with options. That’s not at all bad for an entry-level kit retailing at the then cheap price of 23 pence*.
*Equivalent to £2.80 in 2019 prices according to the Bank of England.
In 1989, Matchbox updated the Spitfire kit and released it as PK-50 with extra parts and instructions for making either a Mark IX or Mark XVI aircraft. The latter was the same airframe but fitted with a US-produced engine; many of these had clipped wings, a larger ‘teardrop’ canopy and a lower fuselage back to improve the pilot’s field of view, all of which are included in the kit. The two decal and paint options in the kit were:
- Mk.IX 306 Squadron (Polish)
- Mk.XVI 349 Squadron RAF (Belgian)
Matchbox produced a good selection of other classic WW2 warbirds including PK-4 Mitsubishi Zero, PK-13 P-51D Mustang and PK-17 Messerschmidt Bf 109E.