When I got this tiny vehicle it was part of a larger lot and I couldn’t really see what was going on with the wheel in the seller’s photos. I figured that some kind of playtime disaster had befallen the poor thing. When it arrived I could see that the car had never been played with, and that the wheel in question seems to have been installed backward. But that’s just the beginning of this car’s weirdness.
The Matchbox 67b was produced with two different wheel types, according to the experts. In the early phase of production, from August ’67, the car had black plastic wheels that were recessed on the front, and silver “hubcaps” were laid into the recessions. The backside of this old-style wheel was flat, as seen above. It’s hard to see in the photos, but if you could pick up this car and look at it closely, you’d see that shiny hubcap which is supposed to be on the outside of the car sitting pretty inside the wheel well.
Now things really get weird. If you examine the other three wheels on this car, you’ll see they are an entirely different wheel type. By 1968 Matchbox outfitted the VW 1600TL with silver wheels fitted with black plastic tires. In other words, the tire is an actual ring that you could theoretically take off the wheel. The old-school black plastic wheel/tire, on the other hand, could not possibly be taken off due to its design.. Fundamentally different, but when on the car and installed correctly the two different wheel “systems” appear very much the same.
It’s not unheard of for two different types of wheels to be found on the same vintage Matchbox car, especially those created during a period of transition between the two types on the production line. But to have one very rare original wheel installed with three common wheels, and to have that rare old wheel installed backward? It’s a freakshow. It might even be one of a kind.
The backward wheel gives this car two factory errors in one; it also makes it a lot easier to notice and identify the fact that the car has two different types of wheels. How many 67b’s are out there with both types of wheel, but installed correctly and thus much harder for the layperson to notice or care about? I know of at least one other 67b that is outfitted with both types of wheels, thanks to the very experienced collectors at the British Vintage Diecast Forum, but nobody seems to know of another like this, with the backward old-style wheel.
How does something like this happen? There are many possible ways for the two types of wheels to get mixed into the same box. Then the person installing wheels on axles picked up one of the old wheels without realizing it and slapped it on the axle without thinking about which way it needed to be installed. The newer wheel style could be installed in either direction and would look the same, so the error seems quite plausible.
I considered the possibility that the backward wheel was added by some huckster, but the axle does not appear to have been altered, which it would have to have been to swap wheels post-production. Experts have reviewed detailed photos and see nothing nefarious.
It is clearly a rare “piece,” as they say. It’s rare to find a 67b with the old-style wheels, as they were only installed on the car for a few months at most in late ’67. 67b’s with the old wheels have fetched well over $100, without the box, simply because the old wheels are so hard to find on this model. You could search through hundreds of 67b’s on the internet and not find a single one with those old wheels. Much rarer still to find one with both types of wheel on the same car, although apparently one or two others are known to exist. And, finally, still more rare to find one with both types of wheels, and the old-style wheel installed backward. As far as I know this car is one of a kind. [UPDATE: It seems this car could be the only known example of a Matchbox car with this kind of double wheel error.]
MATCHBOX LESNEY No. 67b VOLKSWAGEN 1600TL NEAR MINT WITH MYSTERIOUS FACTORY ANOMALIES • Not for sale at this time