The packaging that a kit is supplied in fulfils a number of functions. Primarily it gathers and protects the contents of the kit from damage prior to sale, but of course it also has a role in both identifying the subject of the kit, and persuading you to buy it! In these latter regards, the most significant feature of the packaging is the colour illustration on the box top. Airfix blazed the way and are famous for the quality of their box art, especially the iconic images painted by Roy Cross. With this example in front of them, Matchbox had a lot to live up to, and live up to it they did!
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When manufacturers release kits of contemporary subjects, they usually represent the version currently in service. Sometimes, in the haste to release a kit of a new subject then in development, they have to base their research on prototypes. This can pose a problem of accuracy if the subsequent production version differs to any great degree. But even an accurate kit can find itself left behind if the subject it models is upgraded and visually altered during its service lifetime, as often happens with successful aircraft. What does a manufacturer do in this situation?
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Unique Selling Point
When it came to choosing subjects for their aircraft kits, Matchbox seems to have followed a policy of backing two horses. On the one hand, they followed the other major manufacturers in creating kits of the most well-known and popular aircraft but on the other, they also modelled some very unusual subjects.
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Choices are good. The more choices there are in a plastic construction kit, the more attractive it can seem, because the purchaser has agency over how the finished model turns out and the kit has more potential. Further, it may be worth buying multiple copies of the kit in order to create the different options. So, what sort of choices might a manufacturer offer? To look at this, let’s turn for a change to a largely civilian aircraft, the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter.
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Style vs Substance
Matchbox were keen that their models were attractive to young people, so attached a lot of importance to their visual attractiveness, and their ease of completion. But did this focus compromise the quality of their kits? Were they less accurate as a result? To check this out, I’m going to take a closer look at the Matchbox kit of the Hawker Hunter.
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Matchbox kits were colourful. Very colourful. In fact, some people think they were too colourful! To understand why, let’s enlist the help of a small Finch…
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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.
Continue reading “Matchbox Aircraft Kits – Introduction”