In recent years Hot Wheels has been THE collectible die-cast car. But it wasn’t always this way. We’re happy to see Matchbox cars making a comeback. Lesney Matchbox cars started the trend, and they are coming back to take over again. Much like Hot Wheels, many of them are still affordable — especially if you enjoy restoration. But some, like in every collecting hobby, transcend the norm. There are a few incredibly valuable Matchbox cars waiting to be found in collections.
Lesney also did something no one else did when they were still one of the early die-cast companies. They realized that collectors like us love their cars. What’s more — they realized that adult collectors were just as big of a market as kids. So Lesney did something unheard of at the time — they began to make limited edition cars for collectors. While most of those did not make the list, we feel it’s important to mention as this started a trend for companies going forward. They began to recognize that collectors are valuable fans, and other companies fell in line to make higher quality products for us! Sorry, we’re colossal collector history nerds here at Gemr — and sometimes we get a little too excited.
Back to focusing on the most valuable Matchbox cars. 1:64 scale Matchbox cars started the die-cast trend, and these ones have the rarity and value to prove they are still hot items today. To keep the focus on vehicles, we’ll avoid talking about the vintage Matchbox display cases (even though the 1970’s rotating ones sell for a cool $1000 in box). This is for cars only! We will also avoid sets, given that they can jack up the price just by containing more than one car. You will also notice this list is all Lesney Matchbox cars. While there are valuable Mattel Matchbox cars (We’re looking at you, 2017 Toy Fair exclusive), the most valuable ones tend to be vintage.
Aveling Barham Road Roller 1953
This is by far the cheapest car on our list, but it’s still worth a fair bit of money. When Lesney began producing Matchbox cars, there had to be a first. The Road Roller was created as a larger vehicle, but it was scaled down so it would be friendly for kids to take to school — more on that later. For now, what you need to know is that this was the first ever 1:64 scale Matchbox car ever produced. There are two versions, one with an extended roof and one with a short roof. But despite it being the first, is it really one of the most valuable Matchbox cars ever?
The longer roof Road Roller is the more valuable of the two editions (and the older). There is some good news! It’s not too hard to find one in played with condition. But that just makes it collectible for the legacy — not value. However, finding one with its box is rarer to find in good condition. If you want this piece of matchbox history — and the car that started 1:64 scale die-cast cars as a whole — in mint condition, expect to pay around $100. If you’re interested in the shorter roof version, it tends to run about $50 for mint. While there are cars that are more valuable monetarily — in this case the legacy outweighs the dollar signs.
Ford Fairlane Police Car – Gray Wheels 1961
Much like many of the items on our list, this isn’t the average model. This car was sold predominantly in two colors, white and blue. For the basic versions, there isn’t too much of a difference in cost. Most models will make you only about $30, which isn’t really anything to write home about. The one we’re talking about had one main difference from the average blue Fairlane Police Car.
See, the Ford Fairlane in question had a rare feature. Some models had gray wheels. While the slight difference is minor to non-collectors, it makes all the difference to avid fans. The gray wheeled version is so rare that one recently sold in mint condition with its box for just over $1,200 on eBay.
Mercedes Benz 230 SL – Apple Green 1967
So this one is one of those weird areas that there isn’t as much information as we’d like. We do know that the Mercedes Benz 230 SL was issued in three colors: white, white (superfast), and yellow (superfast). We don’t know where the green falls into this. However, the valuable version is sold in Apple Green and was from 1967. And while the original run of cars was from 1966 to 1968, that color is not on our list of released vehicles. Even worse, there is almost no information anywhere about what makes this car so valuable.
What we do know is that it very, very rarely appears in the wild. The last sale we can confirm was in 1999, more than 20 years ago. This little die-cast treasure sold for an astonishing $6,765 — that’s more than $10,000 today if you account for inflation. The thing is, we can’t find a successful sale since, or any information on the rare color choice.
The best we can guess is that it was a production model that was never released to the public. The most obvious reason we haven’t seen one sell in the last 20 years, (and likely the ones you can find are fakes) is because they never entered public hands. We assume the one sold in 1999 was verified. But we also don’t have hard records on the transaction. It’s doubtful you have this unicorn in your collection, but if you do, you’re holding something incredibly rare and valuable.
Opel Diplomat 1966 – Sea Green
The Opel Diplomat in “Sea Green” is considered by many Matchbox collectors as “grail worthy.” We don’t throw around the term grail lightly, but this car is actually that — in fact, most things on this list are. Finding the Opel Diplomat isn’t that hard if you’re looking for the more common Metallic Gold version. Most collectors already have that one, though, as it won’t run you all that much on a second-hand site.
The Sea Green version is a different story. It was initially sold in the earliest transporter set — and you might expect the collection to sell for an even more substantial amount. But most other cars within don’t come close to the Sea Green Opel Diplomat
BP Dodge Wrecker 1965 – Reverse Color
When it comes to collecting, one of the coolest things to find is a factory error. Sometimes printing the card the wrong color is all it takes to drive up the value. But in the case of the BP Dodge Wrecker, well, they released it in the wrong color. Most of these trucks were yellow with a green bed, but the version that is worth the big bucks was reversed!
The reverse color version had some notable differences that make it easy to spot from a fake. The base of the crane on the reverse color version is narrower. The standard color version will have more support at the base where it attaches to the truck. Secondly, you can tell the age of the model by looking at the BP logos. They should be decals, rather than the paper ones used on later trucks. The reverse color version was only produced with decals, so it’s a dead giveaway if the BP logo is a paper sticker.
The green versions also had a silver sprayed grill and headlights — later versions did not. If you keep these things in mind, you should be able to spot a fake. If you find a real one, get ready for the price tag. These rare reverse color BP Dodge Wreckers are known to sell for a lot. In 2005, a mint in box, reverse color wrecker sold for $9,500.
Magirus Deutz Crane 1961 – Light Brown
This crane isn’t always a valuable collection piece. In fact, most versions of it sell for about the price of a nice dinner. However, one variant is worth its weight in gold. See, most Magirus Deutz Cranes were silver with an orange crane arm. There were minor model changes from rivets to wheel size, but overall — they are pretty much identical. That is, except for the pre-production models.
The pre-production models were light brown and had either a red or orange crane arm, and there aren’t many of them. They are rare enough that it’s unlikely you’re going to find one in your collection — but it’s not entirely impossible.
The brown Magirus Deutz Crane is one of the most valuable Matchbox cars ever made. In fact, this car is so valuable it made our top 10 most valuable die-cast Car list! It is also the most valuable 1:64 scale Matchbox on our list. If you want to add this rare car to your collection, we hope you’ve been saving. The last one we know of sold in 2004 for $13,000.
Major Scale Quarry Truck
Now, this right here is the rarest Matchbox car ever to exist. It requires another little history lesson to provide context as to why it made the list. This truck isn’t in 1:64 scale. It’s a lot bigger. While most Matchbox cars are about 2″ in length, this large truck was about 11″ long. When Lesney was starting out, they originally planned to make larger toy cars to sell in London for Christmas. However, Leslie and Rodney Smith (they merged their names for Lesney), hired on a man named Jack O’Dell. He wanted to make a school-friendly toy for his daughter — and designed a version of the popular Lesney Road Roller that fit inside a matchbox.
This changed the game for Lesney, and thus the Matchbox line was born. These tiny cars were a huge success, and the larger cars were eventually abandoned. At the time the small Matchbox cars were on the rise, the company was considering something they called their Major Scale line. The Chief Model Maker, Ken Wetton, made 8 prototype proof of concept models. Sadly, the line never got off the ground, and most of those prototypes disappeared. We don’t know if they were destroyed or carted off by employees. All we know is that they haven’t resurfaced, so we have to assume they are gone forever. All except one.
A single Ken Wetton Major Scale Quarry Truck was tucked away by Lesney as a piece of their history. This truck is one of the only remaining works of Ken Wetton, to top it all off. We thought it would remain as a company treasure forever. That is, until out of nowhere the Matchbox community got