by Jarek Skonieczny and Derek Redmond
This page is an overview of the diecast Jeep toys (typically 1/56-scale) made since 1964 by Matchbox (now part of Mattel Toys). See also lots more pages of Matchbox photos on the Toy Jeeps Pages.
This new release from Matchbox is a puzzle -- I think we need somebody from the company to explain the thinking here. Out of left field they come up with what is apparently a completely new casting of a Willys MB? Not as accurate or detailed as the Johnny Lightning MB, but certainly miles ahead of the flatfender they were flogging for over 30 years (see below.) Did Chrysler want Matchbox to do a more accurate "antique Jeep" as part of renegotiating their licensing? The backwards name "Jeep Willys" suggests the Corp. had some influence. But why not Jeep Willys MB at least? Or maybe even Ford GPW? I guess not.
And then there's the two paint schemes that limped onto store shelves in the "Jungle Explorers" series this year (see the cards, 140 K JPEG.) Either olive drab (above) or tan (80K JPEG), each with some quasi-military graphics that make them look like they belong to some obscure rebel group somewhere. Maybe Matchbox is just testing the waters, and will soon make some good use of this casting. But wouldn't starting with a basic WWII jeep make more sense than these generic versions?
Well, let's wait and see what happens in 2011. A decade or two ago I would have been pleased to see this toy appear for about $1 in stores, and maybe there will be some surprises yet. By the way, this casting is labelled on the plastic base as 1:52 scale, although quick measurements suggest it is closer to Matchbox's usual 1:56. It uses the solid transparent plastic windshield with painted-on frame, a solution which has looked OK and been fairly rugged on the Matchbox Wrangler.
According to Matchbox Toys, by Nancy Schiffer, the first Jeep product that was cast by the British firm Lesney in their Matchbox series was the No.71 Gladiator Pick-Up Truck in 1964. The Gladiator featured opening doors. Two colours of interior were made -- white and light green -- although red was the only exterior colour available.
The pickup was followed by the Jeep CJ-5 (No.72). It had yellow plastic wheels, but later received the "Superfast" wheels inspired by the 1969 introduction of Mattel's "Hot Wheels" toys. It was only available in one color: yellow.
The conversion of No.72 to Superfast wheels (left) was sort of half-done as the spare wheel remained the same. The yellow paint on the Superfast version tends to be brighter, although there are variations of both.
Christian Falkensteiner, who has photos of most Superfast varieties on his Matchbox Pictures website, mentions that "Some early issues of this model were fitted with white instead of red interiors. Those may have been pre-production parts which were released alongside the normal red ones more or less by accident. In any case the white interior #72 is one of the most sought-after Matchbox regular wheel variations."
There was also a CJ-6, No.53 in the Superfast series, dated 1977, with a front winch and an oversize plastic soft top which made it seem a bit top-heavy. It came in yellow (30K JPEG) and red (35K JPEG), as well as the metallic green seen here, and was sold through 1981.
The Hungarian Matchbox CJ-6 was produced under licence in a wide range of colors and variations in the late 1980's, and the CJ-6 was also produced in Brazil.
The venerable flatfender casting was first released by Matchbox in 1971 as the hoodless Jeep Hot Rod (No.2 in the Superfast series). The detail of the shovel on each side of the Hot Rod suggests that the casting was originally intended as a military Jeep.
Five years later a revised version of the casting finally appeared in U.S. Army livery, in a dark olive drab as well as the more common lighter olive green (below).
Christian Falkensteiner provides this chronology of the Superfast flatfenders: "The first military Jeeps (without guns) issued in twinpacks in 1976 still had 'No.2 JEEP HOT ROD' baseplates, and were quickly followed by ones saying just 'JEEP' with no number.
"Later in 1976 the 'No.38' baseplate appeared, coinciding with the release of the Jeep with the gun as a single issue. From then on the Jeep casting with the gun was also used in twinpacks.
"The year 1977 saw the release of the Gliding Club Jeep (30K JPEG) in another twinpack. Although a pre-production version was shown in catalogs in silver-gray, the regular issue was yellow; in addition there was a later short run in red (30K JPEG) which is very rare."
A half-moon cutout was added at the top of the windshield of the No.38 "Armoured Jeep" for the recoilless rifle to rest in, and all subsequent versions of the casting had the cutout. The introduction of the gun also resulted in an opening in the rear floor for the plastic gun mount, which was closed once the gun was no longer offered. All the early versions of the Jeep included a plastic tow hook, and the ease with which the (No.32) Field Gun unhooked during play prompted the introduction of a steel over-rider which was part of the casting (30K JPEG) and disappeared when the hook did.
Collectors have identified a number of other variations from this period, including different hood stars (30K JPEG) on the military Jeep, and a "Site Engineer" version (25K JPEG) in yellow paint, which did not go into production.
The blue U.S. Mail Jeeps, originally labelled on the base as "No. II Sleet-N-Snow," first appeared in 1978. See Postal Jeep Toys on The CJ3B Page for more details and photos.
Both the "No.38" and "No.II" baseplates were used on all versions of the flatfender Jeep in any livery during 1978, and the No.5 "U.S. Mail Truck" baseplate gradually replaced the other numbers on all Jeeps from 1979 onward.
The "Desert Dawg" was No.20 in 1982. Identified on the base as simply "Jeep 4X4", it also appeared in many more paint schemes in the 1980's and 90's. See a photo of some of the variations and packaging (35K JPEG), including the "Military Hospital" set.
Besides the paint and plastic parts differences (color, roll bar, hard or soft top, brush guard, tow hook, wheel size and lift) the flatfender casting itself underwent over a dozen variations.
The original Hot Rod had no hood (room was needed for the large V8) -- later models did have a hood. The two rear wheelwells/seats used to be plastic, but became part of the casting eventually, allowing for mounting holes for the roll bar/soft top/hard top.
Another piece of surgery was done to create the Monster Truck Jeep, which has the intake part of a large V8 above the hood; two holes were opened up in the hood to allow for attachment of the plastic chromed part. There were also novelty versions with large plastic figures such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck replacing the interior detail (see Cartoon Jeep Toys.)
For obvious reasons, the original Lesney MB had right-hand drive (meaning the glove box was on the left side of the dash and that the U.S. Mail Jeep was the only correct version for the North American market.)
Lesney Products Corporation went out of business in 1982, in the face of competing toys manufactured more cheaply in Asia. The Matchbox name was owned by Universal of Hong Kong until being sold to Tyco in 1992, and Tyco in turn became a part of Mattel in 1996. The MB has been converted to left hand drive, resulting in the construction method of having the steering column come through the glove box (!) which remained on the left side.
The 1991 Jeep 50th Anniversary model was part of a Jeep Jamboree playset (70K JPEG), which came in a box with the Jeep illustrated as a YJ Wrangler. (The later Camp Jeep set, issued in 2000, included all the Matchbox Jeeps except the flatfender.)
In 2001 the front and rear of the casting received a facelift as Elvis Presley's 1960 Jeep Surrey, making the model look more than ever like a CJ-3B rather than an MB. (See The Matchbox MB: Is It Really a CJ-3B?)
The new "Jeep 4x4" CJ-5 was released in 1984 in the U.S., with off-road features like full roll cage, no windshield, full size spare, brush guard with winch, whip antenna, and large tires. It was available internationally starting in 1994. Christian Falkensteiner points out that "Matchbox purchased the mold from Kenner in 1984; the model had previously been part of the Kenner 'Fast 111s' series by the name of 'Gravel Grinder'. This non-Matchbox origin is the reason why there is no scale cast on this model's baseplate."
Over a dozen color varieties exist, but the hardest one to find is the gold version from the Challenge series (35K JPEG), a "limited" edition of 10,000 gold-painted copies of each of the 75 matchbox cars, including the #5 Jeep MB and this #37 CJ-5. The "Challenge" on the back of the package was to have your picture taken with at least five different Challenge models and mail it in to be entered into a draw for one of only 750 "super limited edition" cars.
The last version of the "Jeep 4x4" was part of the Camp Jeep set in 2000. See other liveries on the Jeeps in Playsets page.
The second CJ-5 was replaced by the 1:56 TJ Wrangler which appeared in 1999 and was issued in a large variety of paint schemes over the next decade. See Matchbox Jeeps of the 21st Century.
Marked on the bottom (25K JPEG) as a "98 Jeep Wrangler," the TJ has a solid clear plastic windshield with no metal frame.
The two-door Sport model Jeep Cherokee has also been perenially popular in the Matchbox 1-75 line and in special sets. Introduced in the 1980's, it comes with Superfast wheels. See Mike Albright's photo of most of the variations (100K JPEG) of this model.
More recently, Matchbox added a Grand Cherokee (which usually appears with an inflatable boat grafted to its roof) in the year 2000 and Jeep Liberty (still known as the Cherokee in Europe) in 2001.
Mattel has always been interested in merchandising arrangements with other corporations; the Coca-Cola vehicles have been very popular in the Matchbox Collectibles line. They will also do custom promotional models for the right price, and one example is a Matchbox version of the Cherokee XJ from the fleet of the HILTI tool company.
See also Jarek's photo of the real thing (50K JPEG) seen on the street in Toronto.
Matchbox celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2002 (as did the CJ-3B). Since then, several Jeep concept vehicles have been added to the line: the Jeep Willys in 2003, Jeep Compass in 2004, and the Rescue and Hurricane in 2005.
This PTF ("Pre Toy Fair") version of the dual-engined Hurricane (right) was a giveaway item at the New York Toy Fair in 2006.
New for 2012 was the Superlift Wrangler.
Thanks to Jarek Skonieczny and Christian Falkensteiner for their contributions. Also Mike Albright, Mitch Hosford, Toshimi Ohashi and Duncan McInnis. -- Derek Redmond
See more Matchbox Jeeps in the Toy Jeeps Pages of The CJ3B Page.
Elsewhere on the web, Christian Falkensteiner's Matchbox Pictures website includes photos of all significant variations of the Lesney Superfast Jeeps, grouped according to the numbers used in Charlie Mack's Matchbox 1-75 Catalog.
There is also an extensive list of Jeep brand vehicles in the Matchbox Picture Dictionary from Germany.
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