Some of the 2021 Matchbox Best of ... range of vehicles [Pic: Lamley Group]
Some of the 2021 Matchbox Best of ... range of vehicles [Pic: Lamley Group]

Matchbox is back and it’s bringing exciting new collections to South Africa

By Pritesh Ruthun Time of article published Apr 4, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - Mattel, owners of Matchbox, known for its authentic and realistic vehicles and diorama play sets, is relaunching the brand in South Africa in 2021. To celebrate the occasion, Matchbox is celebrating the most iconic car manufacturers in Europe across the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Russia. The new European or “Best of ...” line features 100% licensed vehicles with realistic details from famous car manufacturers including Land Rover, Audi, Mercedes-AMG, and Porsche.


Matcbox was founded in 1947 by Leslie and Rodney Smith childhood friends (not related). The pair became acquainted with each other during their tenure in the Royal Navy during WWII.

Upon returning from the war, they combined the “Les” from Leslie and “ney” from Rodney to form Lesney Products and set up shop in an old, closed pub, The Rifleman, in Edmonton, North London. Rodney Smith, however, left Lesney Products in 1951 to pursue other interests which led to Jack Odell becoming a full partner with Leslie Smith. Odell worked for The Die Casting Machine Tools which made and sold die casting equipment, but soon joined Lesney products full-time.

A replica of the first Matchbox vehicle

Odell’s daughter, Anne, needed to bring an object to school that could be no larger than what could fit in a matchbox. He made a miniature version of the larger Aveling Barford Road Roller that fit would into a matchbox and that became the very first in the 1953 Matchbox die cast line product number.


The Lesney company managed to build and grow Matchbox into a massive brand with reach across the planet between the in1950s and early 1990s despite increasing competition from brands such as Hot Wheels and Micro Machines. In 1992, Tyco bought the brand for $135 million but in a relatively short space of time, Tyco itself was bought by Mattel for $755 million.

Since taking control of the Matchbox brand, Mattel continued to build a connection to the Matchbox collector culture through various collectibles. The brand also worked with Nickelodeon, Warner Bros, Coca-Cola, the NBA, several feature films and TV studios to create collectible cars and trucks. In 2009, it introduced successful interactive, large sized talking robot lines using work-type trucks like “Rocky” the construction truck. These robot trucks sat up, talked, sang, and danced.


Some of the Matchbox Basic range of vehicles for 2021 [Pic: Lamley Group]

“Matchbox first invented vehicle play as we know it almost seven decades ago, and we have taken inspiration from those original roots to evolve the brand for this next generation,” says Roberto Stanichi, Global Head of Vehicles at Mattel.

“With this year’s brand relaunch, we've identified the values that have made Matchbox so enduring and focused the brand on encouraging kids to explore through realistic play and enhanced design. With captivating die-cast details and relevant play sets based on the world kids see around them, Matchbox provides tools through play for even more open-ended adventures."

In developing the new ‘Best of ... Car Assortment,’ the Matchbox design team worked closely with regional automotive manufacturers to determine what models would be best suited to represent each country. From Germany’s Audi R8 to France’s Renault Kangoo Postal Service van, popular models based on cultural preferences were selected along with vehicles such as fire trucks and ambulances.

The latest range of Matchbox Best of Europe vehicles and play sets is already on sale at leading toys stores if you’ like to add them to your collection.


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