Rare Matchbox Cars: Where They Started and Where They Are Now

A collection of very special vintage cars

An unusually colored sea green 1966 Opel Diplomat, a 1968 crane truck with a 360-degree swing arm radius, and a Swinging London double-decker bus are only a few of the rare Matchbox cars that collectors worldwide dream of adding to their miniature car collections. From mechanics to toy enthusiasts, anyone can enjoy these scaled-down automobiles, and if you're looking to make a quick buck, it just might be time for you to rifle through the boxes filled with your childhood bedroom's keepsakes for the Matchbox cars of yore.

The First Matchbox Car

Shortly after World War II, Leslie and Rodney Smith began Lesney Products, a toy manufacturing company. They were soon joined by Jack O'dell, a tool and die maker. From 1947 to 1953, the company manufactured larger die-cast vehicles and other toys to market around to the London shops to drum up business in time to make Christmas orders. Their first die-cast toy was a road roller manufactured in 1947, and this road roller became the first Matchbox vehicle when Jack O'dell created a smaller-scale version of it for his daughter to take to school. This was actually prompted by a school rule which stipulated that only toys that could fit inside of a matchbox were allowed in school. From there, the idea of marketing the little vehicles of a box similar to a matchbox began, and the rest is history.

Rare Matchbox Cars to Watch Out For

Things like factory errors and model prototypes have always fascinated collectors thanks to their limited numbers and specialty appeal. The same goes for collectors of model cars like Matchbox, Hot Wheels, and so many more. Despite how many of these toy cars were manufactured during the mid-century, Matchbox cars can rack in a lot of money at auction or in private sales between collectors. Take a look at some of the most valuable and sought after Matchbox cars and see if you might have one of them tucked away in your closet or attic.

Matchbox collection

Opel Diplomat Sedan

One of the rarest Matchbox cars is an Opel Diplomat, painted an unusual beautiful turquoise also referred to as sea green. Introduced in 1967 as part of the car transporter gift set, G2e, this highly coveted Matchbox commands prices of approximately $9,000. Meanwhile, the common metallic gold colored Opel can sell anywhere between approximately $25-50. This 1964 Lincoln Matchbox car shows this turquoise colored paint, and in of itself can bring in around $25 give or take depending on its condition.

No. 30 Crane Truck

Many of Matchbox's most rare cars are considered valuable thanks to their unique paint jobs or limited production runs. This is the case for the unusual brown colored no. 30 crane truck that was manufactured from 1961-1965. Most recently, a copy of one of these crane trucks sold at auction for approximately $13,000 to famous car collector Jim Gallegos.

Wreck Truck Matchbox

Aveling Barford Road Roller

The first 1:64 sized Matchbox car, this green road roller was first released in 1953. Coming in two versions --one with a short roof and one with an extendable roof--you can find copies of this momentous piece of Matchbox history selling for around $50-$100 each, depending on how well they've held up over the years.

BP Dodge Wrecker

In the mid-1960s, Matchbox released a new toy wrecker from the BP company; however, many of these cars were misprinted and appeared with the inverse coloring. Meant to be, and marketed as, a truck with a green cab and a yellow bed, some of the toys that were shipped out had yellow cabs and green beds instead. This factory printing error created one of the more infamous Matchbox cars, with high-quality copies being worth between $150-$200 depending on the market's current climate.

Matchbox Foden Breakdown Tractor

Major Scale Quarry Truck

There are only eight known Major Scale Quarry Trucks to exist, having been created as prototypes, designed by Ken Wetton, for a toy car that never went to market. Only one copy is known to have survived, kept in the Lesney archives until it was sold to a Japanese toy collector, Takuyo Yoshise for $15,000 in 2010.

Mercury Cougar

Unlike the usual avocado green of the 1970s, that Matchbox's original 1968 Mercury Cougar was painted in a cream color with white interior. If you happen to stumble across one of these cream Mercury Cougars, you could be on the brink of becoming about $4,000 richer.

Matchbox KINGSIZE

What Makes a Matchbox Car Rare?

Being such a prolific toy for Baby Boomers and subsequent generations, it's hard for people to separate the wheat from the chaff, so-to-speak, of their childhood collectibles. Of course, not every vintage Matchbox is going to have more financial value than sentimental value, but some will. If you think you might have a vacation-winning car on your hands, then you'll want to check out a few criteria --some of which might include professional consultation or a bit of extra research--to figure out what cars you've got are really worth.

Toy vintage car on wooden background
  • Original Production Years - Any Matchbox car that was printed during the first run of any specific model is going to be worth more than any following models. However, you'll need to consult a guide on all of the Matchbox cars ever created to determine if you've got a first production.
  • Factory Paint Problems - Many of the most valuable Matchbox cars are considered rare because they exhibit a factory mistake with their paint jobs such as inverted colors, limited runs of a specific hue, or unique undercarriage colors. Thus, you'll want to look up a model guide that comes with pictures of the cars that you currently have in your possession to see if you have one of these unique misprints.
  • Condition of the Car - Another substantial factor that can influence your Matchbox cars' values is their condition. Have they been frequently played with? Are they exhibiting severe signs of rust or have deteriorating paint jobs? Have they lost a wheel or other original piece? A matchbox car in its optimal selling condition will show very little signs of actual use.
  • Box Included - Packaging can make or break the price on a high-ticket item, and Matchbox cars can have significant price differences depending on if they come with their original packaging or not. Even beat up packaging can add some extra value to a car over not having any packaging at all.

The Hot Wheels Before Hot Wheels Was Cool

Families have been collecting Matchbox cars for generations, and anyone can continue carrying that torch into the next couple of decades. Although the financial costs associated with the idealized, rare Matchbox cars might be out of your reach, if you keep hunting for them, you just might stumble across one of them in the wild which you can either add to your personal collection or resell to invest in another area of collectibles that you're a fan of.

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Rare Matchbox Cars: Where They Started and Where They Are Now