Volkswagen 1600TL With Bizarre Factory Error

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

’69 Lamborghini Miura

Eye candy. Or I candy. I for Italian.Mert and I would be driving this nearly near-mint 12-cylinder 1969 speedster right now but frankly we’re scared.

Twelve cylinders is ridiculous, isn’t it? You can see em all through the clear back window there. Putting all that weight toward the back of the car will have some interesting effects on the overall handling.

MATCHBOX LESNEY No. 33 LAMBORGHINI MIURA EXCELLENT-PLUS • $20 SOLD

Alfa Romeo P-33

“Mid-life crisis, Bob?” Mert asked slyly when he saw this little gem shining in the lot.

“More like a two-thirds life crisis, if you want to get technical.”

“I guess that’s quite a bit more realistic.”

And with that happy thought we decided it would be cool to jump in the shiny, near-mint vintage Alfa Romeo (made in Hong Kong by PlayArt, 1970s), and cruise around attracting attention.

Unfortunately we didn’t get too far because, in typical Alfa fashion, the pretty little thing made a sound like a long fart and broke down within about two blocks. But it sure looked great doing it.

PLAYART ALFA ROMEO P-33 NEAR MINT • $15

Greyhound Coaches x2

I was suddenly awakened from my afternoon nap by a roaring noise and the overwhelming smell of diesel smoke. There was a tiny massive silver 1960s vintage Greyhound bus gleaming in the sun outside the office.

I went out to tell the driver that this was not in fact the bus station, but the driver was Tiny Mert.

“How’d you get your hands on a Greyhound bus?” I asked.

“A super clean, like new tiny Greyhound bus you mean.”

Tiny Mert—right as usual. This bus didn’t have many signs of use. I couldn’t recall ever seeing one this clean. It was so nice I had to let out one of those long whistles. “This thing looks brand new! But you didn’t answer my question.”

“No I did not. Now if you’ll excuse me I gotta find a place to park these buses.”

“BusES?? Mert!”

This was all part of Mert’s plan to start a shuttle service for tiny gamblers. 

One of the buses has a little sticker anomaly on one side, that’s about it. Both of these have the later squared-off stickers; the earlier edition of the bus had an angled sticker.

MATCHBOX LESNEY No. 66 GREYHOUND COACH • NEAR MINT • $12.50 SOLD

MATCHBOX LESNEY No. 66 GREYHOUND COACH • NEAR MINT • $12.50

Iso Grifo

After the quick success of our ’69 Ford GT sale we decided to roll out another late 60s supercar grand tourer with a massive engine and sultry lines, the Iso Grifo.

Mert had some questions about this car, not least of which, “What the #*!* is an Ifo Grifo??”

This car (the giant-sized version) was built for about 5 years in the late 60s by Iso Autoveicoli S.P.A. The Grifo wasn’t just pretty, it had a Corvette engine and could achieve serious speeds. Not many American farmboys from Brooklyn (what Mert claims to be) have laid eyes on one. When Mert found out it had a 427 small-block Corvette under there he started talking excitedly and didn’t stop for six days.

MATCHBOX LESNEY NO. 14 ISO GRIFO VERY GOOD – EXCELLENT • $16 SOLD, GOODBYE ISO GRIFO

’69 Ford GT

“Notice any patterns emerging with the cars you’re featuring on the website, Bob?” Mert asked. Always speaking in riddles.

It didn’t take long to figure it out. Red. One red car after another.

“I like red.”

“Sure, who doesn’t like red? All I’m saying is it would be nice to see something different once in a while.”

So we rolled out the white ’69 Ford GT with its unusual wheels: thin, five-spoke wheels, not the fat ones we usually associate with the Matchbox “Superfast” cars of the 1970s. This was one of the “transitional Superfast” cars that Lesney made in 1969, when the company was in a cold sweat and suffering night terrors about its new flashy, fast competitor from the West, Hot Wheels. This car is the embodiment of existential fear. It represents a moment in time, when one era ended and another began.

“A real piece of history right here,” Mert said.

He was right as usual. The GT is more rare and more important than most Matchbox cars, and this one doesn’t have too much paint wear and rolls great. Still, I put it on the block for a very sober price of $18.

MATCHBOX LESNEY No. 41 FORD GT EXCELLENT • $18  SOLD ON EBAY FOR $29

Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, Metallic Red

Mert and I just sat in this car, taking it in. It’s probably the nicest car we’ve got on the lot right now. Neither of us wanted to get out, but we were both afraid to drive it for fear of dinging the paint.

“Smell that?” Mert asked. He took a long sniff.

“Corinthian leather?”

“No, man. Corruption. I can smell it.”

“Smells pretty good,” I noted.

“Yeah, we’d better get out before we stink it up beyond repair with our stinky tiny bodies.”

And he was right as usual so we went back to the office and watched Chuck Woolery on the tiny tiny television.

I gotta put the color in the title for this post. It is so…lustrous. Luxurious. Like the car is coated in red velvet, or maybe the blood of the proletariat. Red. Deep metallic red.

MATCHBOX LESNEY No. 69 ROLLS ROYCE SILVER SHADOW NEAR MINT • $20

’64 Pontiac Grand Prix

People from all corners of the earth love this Grand Prix. 

One day, I wondered aloud to Mert, “Why do people love this Grand Prix so much?” But Mert offered few satisfactory answers, at first. He just let me stew in my juices about it all day, the way he does.

Then later on Mert sidled up and asked cryptically, “What do people love as much as this Grand Prix?” Then he sidled away.

I thought about it for a long time then went and found him and said, “Drugs.”

“You are correct,” he said.

And with that we both went over to the Grand Prix and started taking apart its wheel wells, for we figured that somebody must have hidden a large cache of tiny drugs in there.

We didn’t find the drugs, but we did mess up the Grand Prix’s fender a little bit (see photo).

It’s still an impressive car, apparently, because people from all corners of the earth love this Grand Prix.

MATCHBOX LESNEY No. 22 PONTIAC GRAND PRIX VERY GOOD-EXCELLENT • $22 SOLD

Volkswagen 1600 TL

When Mert drove this beauty onto the lot this morning my eyes lit up.

“I used to drive a Fastback just like that!” I yelled at him, running from the office hut with my arms flailing.

 “You used to drive one like THIS?? How freakin’ old ARE YOU, MAN??” 

Sometimes you gotta just ignore Mert.

“Except mine was yellow, and the entire right rear quarter-panel was missing. This thing is sweeeeet.” I ran my hand over the smooth shiny red fender. Then I proceeded to relate to Mert the whole story of my old VW that used to spray snow at me through the vents in the morning and which ended its useful life perched on a fire hydrant, front wheels spinning in the air while “Radioactive” by The Firm continued to play on the radio. Mert pretended not to listen but I’m pretty sure he was really into the story.

Truth is I have never been in the presence of a nicer-looking vintage VW than this Excellent-plus 1967 model. It has very minor paint wear, looks great.

“Mert, whatever you paid for this, it wasn’t enough.” He just pretended not to listen.

MATCHBOX LESNEY No. 67 VOLKSWAGEN 1600 TL EXCELLENT-PLUS • $20 SOLD