The news came down this morning, dropping like a bombshell in the diecast world. For 2016, Matchbox will add two Japanese icons to its lineup. The first is a no-brainer: the ND Miata is Mazda’s latest sportster and the most exciting new car to come down the pike in a long time. The second surprised the hell out of everyone: the Hakosuka Skyline.
For those not familiar with Matchboxes, this is a sea change. Since parent company Mattel purchased the British-born brand in 1997, it has struggled to differentiate the two diecast brands. In recent years, they seemed to settle on a theme. Hot Wheels would represent speed, style and prowess on the orange track. Matchbox would represent realism, big machinery and heroism.
In practice, that meant Hot Wheels had cool cars like tricked out muscle cars, hot rods and J-tin, while Matchbox had trucks, construction equipment and emergency vehicles. It was no secret that the latter have languished on the pegs, but it wasn’t always that way.
At one point Matchbox was full of spectacular J-tin. In the 90s, the lineup was flush with the JZA80 Supra, FD RX-7, 3000GT VR-4, and Z32 300ZX. Before that the “Superfast” era saw the likes of the AW11 MR2, Z31 300ZX, and Celica Supra. However, in its most recent incarnation, the J-tin has been keeping with the truck theme — Toyota Tacoma, FJ40 Land Cruiser, 1984 4Runner.
Sadly, an endless parade of fire trucks and made up off-road vehicles hasn’t really done any favors for the Matchbox brand. Many collectors have abandoned the brand because a large portion of the models aren’t real cars you and I can buy.
After years of complaints from collectors, it appears that Matchbox might indeed be going back to their roots — realistic, licensed cars. Hot Wheels will still hold dominion over slammed sleds with external oil coolers and protruding velocity stacks, but Matchbox will feature true-to-life, bone-stock examples.
To usher in the new Matchbox renaissance, Mattel is taking a page from the Hot Wheels playbook and focusing on none other than what is currently the hottest segment in the diecast world, Japanese nostalgic cars. And as the poster child for the JNC movement, the Hakosuka is the perfect choice, but a surprising one as well. There was already a Hakosuka in Hot Wheels’ lineup, and a Toyota 2000GT or Mazda Cosmo Sport would have seemed like the most obvious choice for the more formal Matchbox.
Furthermore, because it’s Matchbox the Hako will be a bone stock Skyline 2000GT-X, another mind-boggling choice if you think about it. After all, so few Hakos, especially GT-Xes, in the wild are actually stock. The GT-R, due to its rarity, does appear stock but the GT-X is the blank canvas for kyuusha tuners. In fact, with the factory wheels, ride height, and tall sidewall tires, they look somewhat ungainly until they are lowered with a proper set of Watanabes or SSRs.
The ND, too, will be a great addition to the lineup as there has never been a Miata in the Matchbox lineup. The last Matchbox Mazda was a Mazda2 that debuted a decade ago. In any case, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of JNCs and hopefully the addition of these icons will help draw new blood to the Matchbox line, which will open the doors for even more J-tin in the Matchbox lineup. You can see the rest of the new-for-2016 castings at The Lamley Group.