Around 1976 Matchbox came out fighting with their own 1/32 scale polythene figures which were, in my opinion, the only sets comparable to Airfix's. The initial offering came in the form of a set each of British Infantry, American Infantry and German Infantry. These were advertised in the 1977 Matchbox Kits Catalogue. 1978 saw the addition to the range of a set of Afrika Korps and a set of British 8th Army. As I've mentioned on my home page, I feel that these figures were the closest thing to Airfix's with regards accuracy and quality at the time. These were definitely my second favourites!
These boxes had variations, just like the Airfix ones, but apart from dates, these variations seem to be restricted to the addition of text stating that these sets were not suitable for children under three years old! The artwork on all but the 1983 boxes carried on round one side and one end flap. The "cut" of the box changed for 1983 to have both end flaps opening in the same direction, rather than opposites. That meant that the artwork no longer carried round to the right end flap. And strangely, the artwork stopped carrying round to the side for the Commando set only.
1983 ISSUE - CHINESE COPIES (possibly 1994 onwards)
The last picture here shows the sets as they come in bags within the Chinese manufactured boxes. They also have the little quality control slips, just like the original Timpo Action Packs.
All boxes came with an illustration of the poses contained within. As mentioned above, the artwork carried over to one end and side until the 1983 box was issued. The box set-up changed also for the 1983 issue, as can be seen in the last photo.
Matchbox's figures came with numbers or letters denoting the mould number. For the sets the numbers/letters were on the mould lugs.
They were numbered either 1 to 15 or lettered A to O. Some duplicate poses had both!
The above images show each set in order, 1-15 or A-O. All moulding lugs are in place. The only figures without lugs are the prone crawling British Infantry and Afrika Korps. The British definitely came without lugs anyway and I haven't been able to find the Afrika Korps with them so assume they did so too. The Commandos set is interesting in having a scaling ladder and dinghy complete with a scaling figure and rowing figure to suit. Please note that the British Infantry set has two prone figures crawling. One looks like he is missing his bayonette but this is correct, one with and one without a bayonette.
In the same tradition as Airfix, Matchbox threw in at least one red herring. Above is a set of American Infantry in the blue plastic you'd normally find the German Infantry in. They are original Matchbox mouldings, having the same excellent quality finish to them. I thought they might be Chinese mouldings from the nineties and later but those are definitely lower quality (see below).
Like Airfix, there are colour variations between boxes of the Matchbox soldiers. The German set doesn't show much difference but the first photo shows the Chinese moulding on the right. The second shows two originals on the left and a Chinese moulding which has very inconsistent colouring. The middle row of pictures shows not only the variation in green but the blue and also the Chinese mouldings (far right figure). You might notice that, like the USAirfix figure issues, the Chinese Matchbox issues are not so good quality. They seem to have lost any sharpness to the mouldings as well as, in the British Infantry, losing consistency in the colouring. The last row is back to the original variations in colour. I haven't seen any of the last three sets produced by the Chinese manufacturer.
Just as a point of interest, I had always wondered about something and Dave Fleming from Scotland brought the point up when he contacted me in June 2008 through the site so I thought I'd air it. The artwork on the Matchbox sets appears to pay tribute to some famous actors. See below for my thoughts.
British Infantry - Sean Connery
American Infantry - William Holden
Afrika Korps - James Mason (The Desert Fox) with Robert Shaw on heavy machine gun
British 8th Army - Michael Caine - Dave thought Roger Daltry
Commandos - Roger Moore
I'm not sure about the German Infantry although the main figure does look a bit like Billy-Bob Thornton (but he's not old enough!)
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