Friday, August 11, 2017
Here are two Matchbox cars of the early 1990's that define the American luxury car segment in the Matchbox line. They may not be the best, but each car has a character of its own.
Cadillac was one of the last automakers to sell a convertible before succeeding to government regulations in 1976. Since then the market has flooded back with convertible revivals in the 1980's and Cadillac wanted to cash back in by going after the Mercedes-Benz SL convertible. The body was designed and made by Pininfarina in Turin, Italy then shipped to Detroit for final assembly with the mechanical components of the car. This was an expensive ordeal to ship Italy-made bodies to America but since the Fisher body plant closed down it was Cadillac's only option. Unlike the rear-wheel drive competitors it uses a 4.1L V8 motor that produces 295 horsepower through a 4-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. A better 4.6L Northstar V8 motor with dual overhead cams was introduced in 1993. The exterior was clean and simple, very Cadillac with an European twist, while the interior has a vast assortment of modern electronics at the time including an all-digital gauge cluser. The high price and complicated manufacturing limited output and the car only lasted seven years after its 1987 introduction. After that Cadillac had only aftermarket conversions of the Eldorado coupe before the XLR arrived in 2004 and itself lasted only a few brief years like the Allante.
There are many replica's out there and quite honestly none of them are fantastic; in fact, all of them look dated and unrefined compared to today's castings. The Matchbox version is the best because it has that excellent details that is known to Matchbox cars and it looks great here. Preferred is the silver with red interior over the pink (Yikes!) version; note how the wraparound lower betline trim is the same color as the interior. The front has flush rectangular headlights that are part of the window trim, eggcrate Cadillac grille, and lower bumper with foglights in the lower chin spoiler. The sides have a nice clean profile with detailed character lines, flared lip fenders, exterior mirrors on the doors, and a slight kick up in the fenders toward the rear trunk. The rather tall rear-end has the clear taillights that are part of the interior trim and look great here. The 8-dot wheels are a perfect match for this vehicle and while the suspension does not have a lot of motion here it works quite well with the stable handling of this car. The interior has a basic layout of two seats, shifter on the console, basic dashboard layout, and the convertible nestled behind the rear seats. Again not the best replica out there but at least this Matchbox version is far better version than many others out there.
Lincoln Town Car Limo
And now for a lesson on why a long-wheelbase car in a constraint box dimension world is not a good idea: Take this Lincoln Town Car that is considered a Limo, but thanks to the restrictions to make every vehicle fit in the same blister or box the Limo looks more like a stretched Town Car sedan. Either way this car looks really neat. The Town Car is based on the Ford LTD Crown Victoria and moved to the new, smaller Panther platform in 1978 and remained there until it's final demise in 2010. The Town Car name was adopted from the Continental line in 1980 and finally became it's own name in 1981. The sedan was smaller than before and offered better fuel economy and better turning radius than before. Being the top model it also has the latest creature comforts at the time. Styling was similar to the 1970's Lincoln's but with a more aerodynamic surface and flush headlights instead of hide-away units as before. The most common engine is the 5.0L pushrod V8 that produces 150 horsepower through a 4-speed automatic transmission. The big Lincoln was also well-known for stretched Limousine conversions and continued that way until the Town Car was phased out and large SUV's started to take that role.
What better way to review a Town Car than a pearl white with red interior version that looks great on this car. The front has quad square headlights with peaked front fenders that have integrated signal lights, a tall and square Lincoln grille in the center, and a lower bumper with dual front pads. The lower chrome trim from the base also adorns the lower side sections of the vehicle and adding to the center chrome roof stripe gives a nod to luxury. From the side I still think this is a stretched Town Car and not a limo, all thanks to packaging restrictions. The rear has tall taillights that connect to a center bar and all of it is part of the interior, while the trunk has the boomerang antenna commonly found on limo's at the time. The black base underneath has the detailed drivetrain and exhaust layout of a typical rear-drive sedan and the basic Matchbox wheels look great on this model. The interior has a front bench seat that sits in front of a flat-faced dashboard with a two-spoke steering wheel, comprehensive gauges, center radio and HVAC controls, and chrome knobs for the controls. The rear seat is a posh bench with two more rear-facing seats just behind the front seats and between them is a small center console or refrigerator. The rear window looks rather odd on this car as it looks smaller than it should be. Despite the constricted size this is one nicely done Lincoln Town Car and even Matchbox knows it as the Limo name is missing from the base.
Matchbox is known for making some really neat cars based on real life with excellent detailing and accuracy and also without the wild colors and hyped-up look that can be found at the blue brand from Mattel. Here are two examples of Ford vehicles not sold in the U.S. that have a unique niche of their own.
Ford Courier Panel
The name Courier has been long-serving in the Ford line, yet it's model designation varies between years and countries. The original was a panel truck for Ford's other World markets, then morphed into the pickup based on the Mazda B-series pickup in the 1970's and 1980's. By the 1990's the Courier returned to the panel truck roots with a panel van based on the Ford Fiesta. The basic layout starts with a Fiesta-like front-end from the B-pillar forward then from after that a tall and boxy panel box is added for more cargo versatility. Some models were offered as pickup trucks and even an all-electric version was offered as well. The interior has the same dashboard layout as the Fiesta, but with more cargo room and better access thanks to the dual panel doors at the rear. The engine is a 1.5L SOHC ZETEC I-4 that produces an estimated 95 horsepower through a 5-speed manual transmission to the front wheels, while the rear suspension uses a torsion bar setup for better durability under loads. The Courier panel was eventually replaced with the Ford Transit Connect in 2003.
This version shown here is the more common version: the purple Milka Chocolate version. There were a few rare promotional models and an even more rare passenger vehicle in red with side windows and a rear seat. The look is smooth and very 90's despite the tall boxy roof at the rear. The front has flush headlights that are part of the window trim, a narrow grille just above the front bumper that is part of the interior trim, and a lower grille that is part of the body-colored plastic base. The side profile has a conventional look with a stretch length, boxy roof at rear, and over the cab is a sloping roof to meet up with the taller rear section. The rear has dual panel doors with detailed hinges and tall taillights, a very similar setup used in the Transit Connect in 2003. The plastic base underneath has just an exhaust detal and the 8-dot wheels come with a working suspension. The interior has a left-hand drive layout with two bucket seats, shifter on the floor, 2-spoke steering wheel, and simple dashboard layout of an econo-car. It's a very unique offering that no other diecast manufacturer makes and considering the very limited promotional release of this casting throughout its life it's a special one to hold on to.
Now for a more rowdy side to Ford with the RS2000 rally car. This was the result of Ford's entry into the Group B rally car segment and in order to comply with rules Ford had to offer road-going versions during its two-year run from 1984 to 1986. Ford started getting into rally car racing with the Escort and after the new 1980 Escort they wanted to try and see how it works, but thanks to everchanging rules and increase competition from the winning Audi Quattro models Ford went to work creating a Group B rally car that is mid-engine and has the four-wheel drive to counter the successful Audi's. The body is made out of fiberglass sourced from Renault, the transmission is mounted at the front for better weight distribution to the mid-mounted engine, and while the body was unique there were some Ford parts bin sharing with the windshield, modified doors, and rear taillights from the Ford Sierra. The engine is a 1.8L SOHC turbocharged I-4 that produced 250 to 450 horsepower depending on street or track models and through a 5-speed manual transmissions. The cars had great poise but suffered from turbo lag and was underpowered compared to the competition. With several crashes, a few of them fatal ones, and the cancellation of Group B rally racing the RS200 was done after one season.
This is one unusual model that looks cool and it's great to see Matchbox doing a replica right when the car first came out. This white version with blue Ford racing decals looks great and uses eight-spoke treaded tires for ultimate grip (and grinding noises with the body with the working suspension). The front has a smooth hood with round headlights bulging up from the hood, lower grille with RS200 plate, and blue foglight covers with RS logo's. The side profile shows off that wedge shape mid-engine coupe design like the Lancia Stratos with taller side scoops after the B-pillars and on the roof to aid in airflow to the rear engine. At the rear the rear spoiler is a wedge shape design, the taillights are clearly Ford Sierra, and the rear bumper has more holes for better ventilation for the engine. The rear window also has open slots for even more ventilation. Behind the vented rear glass you can see the I-4 motor and the associated exhaust plumbing and fluid resovoir's surround the engine cover; it would be nice if the rear engine cover could be opened. The metal base underneath shows off the front-mounted transmission and the dual driveshafts for the four-wheel drive system, the off-set lower engine, and the rear exhaust muffler. The interior has a two-person layout in right-hand drive layout with a very basic race-car interior with only the necessities: a 3-spoke steering wheel, comprehensive gauges, shifter, and maybe a radio system. This is one interesting rally car and even after years of play wear this RS200 still looks good today.