Matchbox die-cast cars have always been assigned a model number. While the system created early on worked well for some time, it eventually began to become very confusing. This article will briefly explain the numbering system and changes over the years.
Each year the cars would simply be numbered 1 through 75 on the package. The actual model number would be MB# (# is the model number). The model number did not change from one year to the next unless a change was made. For example, the very first Matchbox ever, was the Road Roller in 1953, or model MB1. When a change was made, like the new paint color in 1956, the model number was changed to MB1b. This change still makes sense as it is the same vehicle with a slight variation. It follows suit that the model number should also remain the same, but with a slight variation. This basic version of the system is extremely easy but it will get complicated quickly.
In 1967, the Road Roller mentioned above, was removed from the line of vehicles and replaced with a Mercedes Truck. What was the model number for the Mercedes? MB1e. By this time the Road Roller had undergone a few more changes and was currently at model number MB1d, which explains why the new number ended with an ‘e’. However, some wonder why it was continued to be an MB1. When the vehicle changed completely, should not the model number also? From the beginning, Matchbox decided to limit the number of models produced in a year to 75. (This was the case until 2008 when it was increased to 100 cars.) In order to keep the vehicle line to 75 model or numbers, that means that they had to reuse the numbers 1 through 75. While the logic here is understandable, it created confusion since one model number over the decades, ended up representing multiple vehicles that had nothing in common.
When Matchbox was sold by Lesney Products to Universal Toys in 1982, the numbering system was re-evaluated. The numbering system posed problems, especially from manufacturing perspective. Universal changed the numbering system so that when a new vehicle was added, a new number was added to the MB# list. (They were well past MB600 as of 2002.) However, they made this change on the manufacturing side only. The customers continue to see cars numbered 1-75 (or 100). Another reason that Universal adopted a new numbering system was the fact that cars where produced for five different regions of the world. These regions were the Americas, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and the Rest of the World (aka ROW). The line of cars produced by each region was similar but naturally, there were many variances as well. This meant that even within one year’s production, there may have been up to five variations of any model number.
While the numbering system may only be of concern to collectors it has been updated to drastically reduce the possibility of variances among one model number. However, it still poses problems when collectors are seeking older vehicles since the model number they desire represents multiple vehicles. The year is very helpful in narrowing down to the specific vehicle in this situation, but be assured that some verification will be required when looking for a specific vehicle.