The launch of Hot Wheels by Mattel in 1968 sent shockwaves through the diecast world. With their low friction wheels and track sets, they were faster than anything on the market. Lesney had been selling a lot of models in the States, but with the introduction of Hot Wheels, Lesney’s US Sales plummeted. In response the following year, 1969, saw Lesney introduce Superfast wheels to its Matchbox model line. Some models were adapted from regular wheels to Superfast, three brand new models were introduced for the Superfast wheels: #20 Lamborghini Marzal, #5 Lotus Europa and #56 BMC 1800 Pininfarina.
The first Superfast wheels were very thin and buckled easily, later they were made thicker. Some bases had to be supplemented with a plastic insert to accommodate the thinner axles.
In the 1970 catalogue they suggested the fun you could have “matching a Lamborghini Miura against a bus, or a fire engine against a refuse truck. That’s racing with a difference – Superfast style.” In my opinion turning the cars Superfast was fine but making the trucks Superfast was a mistake. There were some new models but most were just regular wheeled castings with new Superfast Wheels. There were also new colours, the Ford Mustang went from white to an orangey red. Not all models went immediately Superfast, the Foden Concrete Truck and Horse Box were listed in the 1970 catalogue as “Non Superfast”, they would later become Superfast models. Some like the Case Bulldozer with its caterpillar tracks would never become Superfast.
I was 5 in 1969 but remember the thrill of seeing the first Superfast cars.
Hot Wheels also introduced hot rods and fantasy vehicles, Matchbox would soon follow suit but it was too late, the seventies saw a dramatic fall in sales of European diecast brands. The giants of British diecast floundered first Dinky went bankrupt in 1979, then Lesney in 1982 and finally Corgi went into liquidation in 1983. The brands continue today, Matchbox has been a brand of Mattel since 1997, so a stablemate of former rival Hot Wheels. In this the anniversary year Matchbox have brought out some premium models to commemorate the 50th Anniversary like a Mercedes 300SE, which harken back to their history.
I don’t expect I’ll find the new premium models here in Tbilisi, but I’ll continue to look out for the Superfast models from the transitional period when regular wheels became Superfast.