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The Best 1980s Matchbox Cars

Leslie and Rodney Smith started Lensey Products just after World War II and the company took off quickly. They were soon joined by Jack O’Dell, an engineer and tool creator. From 1947 to 1953, the company made larger die-cast vehicles and various other toys to sell during the Christmas season. They created their first die-cast in 1997, which was a road roller. It is said that Jack O’ Dell made a small version of this toy so that his daughter could take it with her to school. The school had a specific rule that the toys that could fit inside of a matchbox were allowed on their campus. Thus, the idea of the matchbox car craze began and hasn’t slowed down since.

Magirus-Deutz Truck

Matchbox truck with red crane
Photo credit: matchbox minimalist https://www.flickr.com/photos/coll9110/10605352425/

The Magirus-Deutz Truck is modeled after the old type of crane, from the 1960s. This is very uncommon, and according to the Drive, only a few have been found in the color combination of tan with the crimson jib and metal double-hook. This strange little matchbox is worth up to twelve thousand dollars. This is because almost all of the Magirus-Deutz Cranes were known to be silver with a crane arm tinted orange. There were some minor differences in the way the wheels were made and the way the rivets were made, but otherwise, the two models are almost the same. That is, except for the pre-production models. The first models were light brown. They came with either a red or orange crane arm, but there are not many of these today. They’re so rare, it’s almost impossible to find them.

Ferrari 308

Ferrari 308 red car
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carpictures-dot-com/4409938750 Car Pictures dot com

Back in the 80s, there was a hit TV series called Magnum PI starring Tom Sellek. The star of the series drove a Ferrari and all kids wanted one. Of course, most children could not buy a Ferrari and they certainly couldn’t drive one, so they had to settle for the matchbox version. The red model with a white interior is now worth more than $1,000. The connection to television history is certainly an advantage for the price.

1965 BP Dodge Wrecker

BP yellow and green Dodge truck
Used with permission from lulu-berlu.com

One theme in this list is that factory mistakes are especially valuable; the 1965 BP Dodge Wrecker is a great example of this. At least the valuable version is. Yet again, we see how a tiny color mishap years ago leads to a valuable collectors item today. This vintage matchbox is considered the Holy Grail of rare matchbox cars. The reverse color scheme is exceptionally rare and hard to find, and according to the Matchbox Wikia, it was a factory mistake. Almost five years ago, a similar model sold for $8,500 on eBay.

1966 Opel Diplomat

Opel Diplomat matchbox with faded paint
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

The Opel Diplomat is a matchbox car made in a variety of colors, some being more popular than others. There weren’t many made because the popularity bunked and many kids considered them ugly. Today, that makes them very valuable. Historical Vehicle says that in its day, the Diplomat was a very cheap car. It cost only 45 cents for a kid. Today it is worth more than $9,000. It’s amazing that such a small toy made of a certain color can lead to such an extraordinary increase in the cost of the item.

Mercedes Benz 230 SL – Apple Green 1967

Mercedes Benz 230 SL cream colored
Used with permission from lulu-berlu.com

This vintage matchbox is a bit strange because there isn’t as much information on it as most others. We do know that the Mercedes Benz 230 SL was produced in three colors: white, white (Superfast), and yellow (Superfast). We don’t know where the green comes from. However, it’s a very rare model that’s available only in Apple Green; it was made in 1967. And while the first run of cars was from 1966 to 1968, that color is not on our list of released vehicles. Even more, there’s hardly any information on the car at all.

What we do know is that it very, very seldom appears on market. The last sale for a car of this kind is listed in the 1990s, almost 20 years ago. This hidden treasure was sold for a startling $6,765—that’s more than $10,000 today. There hasn’t been a sale mentioned since and any information on how or why the car was created is no longer available to the public.

1961 Magirus Deutz Crane

When it comes to discovering Matchbox treasures, there’s only one story that tops them all—a story about a man named Charlie Mack, who one day in the early 1980s found a brown No. 30 crane truck at a neighbor’s garage sale. He is said to have purchased the car for ten dollars and sold it three years later for ten thousand dollars. Another famous Matchbox collector, Jim Gallegos, who is estimated to have more than 150,000 die-cast miniatures worth more than $1.4 million, reportedly bought a brown No. 1. 30 cranes in 2004 for $13,000.

1968 VW Bug

White VW Bug matchbox
Photo credit: Douglas F. Henrique https://www.flickr.com/photos/gestalteando/3281698853/

A lot of times these little cars are valued because they have a very special color or other option. That was the case with the 1968 Volkswagen Bug. The car had no roof and had a different interior than the American version. The rare Volkswagen without the sunroof was only sold across Europe. It had a right-hand drive interior and no windows. The orange, red, green, and copper are the most valuable of the cars made and can be worth more than $1,500 each.

Aveling Barford Road Roller 1953

Road roller green matchbox
Photo from Wikipedia Commons

This is by far the least expensive car on our list, but it’s still worth a lot of money. When the company began, they had to roll out the first line of cars and this was one. The Road Roller was made as a large vehicle, but it was made small enough for children to carry in a matchbox. This was the first-ever 1:64 scale Matchbox car made. There are two types of this model; one is built with a long roof, the other with a short one. Even though it’s the firs it isn’t the most valuable. And of course, one is more valuable than the other. In this case, the longer roofed model is the most valuable.

It’s not difficult to find a good one if you know how to look for them. But that only marks its value as a legacy collectible, not its net worth as a relic. The monetary value comes in if you can find a car still in the box.

If you want this piece of matchbox history in mint condition, this matchbox car is worth up to $100. The shorter roofed version comes in at $50 with box included. While there are cars that are more valuable than these two versions, the value of the history far outweighs the dollars.

Ford Fairlane Police Car – Gray Wheels

Ford Fairlane inside a transparent toy packaging
Used with permission from lulu-berlu.com

Like other items on our list, this is not your ordinary car. This car is mainly sold in two colors, white and blue. For the most basic version, there’s not much of a difference in price. Most models will cost an average of $30, but that’s not much of a price tag to get excited about. The famous police car in question had a rare feature. Some models were made with grey wheels. While the slight difference may seem small to non-collectors, it makes all the difference to the most devoted fans. The gray-wheeled model is so rare that a recent sale of a used model was recorded at a price of nearly $2,000.

Major Scale Quarry Truck

The Major Scale Quarry Truck is the holy grail of Matchbox cars. It needs a little more history to explain why it made the list. This truck is not of the typical Matchbox 1/64 scale. It’s much bigger. Most Matchbox cars are about 2 inches in length, but this big truck was about 11 inches long. When Lesney first started, they had planned on making larger toy cars to sell in London for Christmas. However, the Smiths hired a man called Jack O’Dell. He wanted to make a school-friendly toy for his daughter. He made a version of the popular Lesney Road Roller which could be put in a matchbox. The chief model maker, Ken Wetton, made eight prototype proof of concept models; but these were not to be sold; and most of them have since disappeared.

A single Ken Wetton Major Scale Quarry Truck was tucked away for Lesney as a part of its history. This is one of the few remaining works of Ken Wetton, and to top it all off, it’s a beautiful vehicle. Many believed that this matchbox car would be kept in the company indefinitely. That is, until out of nowhere the Matchbox community learned that it had been sold to a Japanese collector by the name of Takuyo Yoshise. This one of a kind toy car keepsake was sold for a record price of $15,000. That makes it the most valuable Matchbox car ever made, even though it’s just a smaller version of the original. Honestly, you never know what a toy could be worth today.

Delorean (1981)

From 1981 to 1983, the DeLorean Motor Company released the famous DeLorean. The stylish coupe, with the iconic gullwing doors, enjoyed only a fleeting two-year production run but was immortalized shortly after in 1985 by numerous appearances as the time machine in the Back to The Future franchise. While the DeLorean Motor Company filed for bankruptcy in 1982, the DeLorean’s representation in the Back to The Future films has given it a cult following, with models appreciating greatly in value; and in many ways was unappreciated for its avant-garde design. For example, the strikingly unpainted steel chassis with the gull-wing doors feels like a direct influence of the new Tesla Truck. On top of this, the DeLorean’s rear-mounted motor made sure it was truly the most eclectic car of the 1980s. As a car, it was middling, overpriced, and famously low quality, but the true value of this car lies in its design and vision. A 1980’s iconoclast, it’s not hard to see why the matchbox models are so coveted. The matchbox model released in 2011 had a similarly limited supply run, with Hot Wheels only releasing 4,000 door-open models into the wild. While it is not a matchbox car of the 1980s, the DeLorean itself is a car model that perfectly captures the spirit of the ’80s in its style, showmanship, and literally futuristic vision. Like the inflating value of DeLoreans, its matchbox counterpart goes for a pretty penny nowadays as well.

Ecto-1 (1985)

Photo credit: clement127shorturl.at/cpxR1


Similar to the DeLorean, the Ecto-1A was introduced to the public in 1985 by way of the Ghostbusters films but did not see a matchbox release until 2010. While the Ecto-1 is actually a loaded 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Futura Duplex, the car in its Ecto-1 form is right behind the DeLorean as far as iconic 1980’s cars go. So to see a matchbox release for the Ecto-1 in 2010 is a huge win for fans of 1980’s matchbox cars, as we get to welcome an absolute icon into the mix. The real story, however, with this matchbox car is the Ecto-1A version, that is to say the model from Ghostbusters II, seeing as they are now worth around $1000 a piece.

Garbage Truck (1979)

Photo credit: Dave Parker https://www.flickr.com/photos/daveparker/4374125493/in/photolist-7Ewx7M-5kVhbe-5kVh3M


The Garbage Truck (Refuse Truck in the UK) matchbox model is based on a 1979 model garbage truck, with a hatch on the back that opens and closes. Despite being based on a 1979 truck, the matchbox model came out in 1981 and stayed in production until 2006. The 25-year production life of this truck speaks to its staying power in the public’s psyche. Just about every kid in America has played with some form of this matchbox car at some point in their lives. Despite the originals only going for around $30 today, it is still one of the most valuable Matchbox cars simply because of the way it captures the imaginations of children.

Toyota MR2 (1984)

Photo from Wikipedia Commons


Not much is known about this release, as it is scheduled for 2021. We do know that it is a hot pink 1984 Toyota MR2, and it is honestly quite hard to think of a mainstream car that captures the 80’s quite like this car does. Originally introduced in 1984, the Toyota MR2 is a mid-engine, two-seat, rear-wheel-drive sports car that attempted to balance fuel economy and driving pleasure for the middle class. With the black leather interior, stick shift, pop up lights, sharp yet futuristic lines—every design choice on this car seems to epitomize the decade. The car has seen a modern resurgence in popular culture, as the car can be seen used in stylized vaporwave music artwork in places like Soundcloud and YouTube. As such, it is likely somewhat romanticized which could explain the 2021 release date, although until any further marketing or news about the car is released then this will be little more than speculation.

Chevy Monte Carlo (1988)

A legendary Chevy model, the Monte Carlo was introduced in 1970 and stayed in production until 2007. It has always been a 2-door coupe, but the model’s 37-year production life saw it undergo several drastic redesigns. A large chrome slab in the 1970s, the model adapted to the times and came out with a complete redesign in the ’80s. It gave the car a tighter, meaner grille, and more modern lines and light, and the sharp angles of the car lent themselves well to the 80’s aesthetic following the redesign. The matchbox equivalent of this car, much like the Toyota MR2, is scheduled for a 2021 release in a similarly striking shade of pastel blue with neon green doors. Alongside the hot pink MR2 model likely to be released in the same line, it seems as though the 1980s are being remembered through vaporwave glasses. Vaporwave is a popular musical genre and aesthetic that reimagines the plasticity of the ’80s and manages to alchemize it into a sort of warm nostalgia. Since there is a notable lack of valuable vintage matchbox cars from the 1980’s due to different manufacturing techniques, companies are only now capitalizing off the 1980’s nostalgia; albeit very delayed limited supply releases.



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