Words: David Tilley
Matchbox used to make their models from MB1 to MB75, and when a new tooling was created an older tooling was deleted from the basic range. In the mid-late 1970s with the launch of twin packs, they found they started re-using a few older tools. To avoid confusion at the factory these were assigned a “manufacturing number” (known as MAN#) that started with either a 7 or an 8 before their old number (for example an older “replaced from basic range” MB59 Mercury Park Lane became MB859 Mercury Park Lane for use in twin packs).
However, in 1981, it was decided to split the basic range between the USA market and the rest of the world (known as ROW). It was too much to mark down dual numbers for various models that were slotted into different places in both ranges, so the official manufacturing number process began. They started off with the 1981 basic range as it appeared in the ROW markets and then everything else was added on top of that. We actually started off after MB075 with 3 almost cancelled models they were working on to replace some older models that were created in Japan, but they only eventually saw the light of day in 1983 as MB076, MB077 and MB078 (Lesney England prepros exist for these, but when they eventually saw production they were made in Macau), then a number of re-tools and exclusives for the USA market for 1981 from MB079 up to MB093, and then every new casting from 1982 onwards saw a new number added to the list.
Many models have seen alterations to the castings over the years, and as such receive a new number if the older casting is still available. Sometimes an older casting is completely over-ridden with the new casting update (old tooling deleted from potential production for various reasons often due to breakage or manufacturing issues) and as such will just over-ride the MAN# too. The original twin pack models from the 1970s were kept in the MAN# list, although due to a mistake a few were assigned with new models in addition (known as MBxxxb). A few times 2 versions of the same model also sport the same MAN# (civilian and police variant usually) and again were referred to as MBxxxb for the second variant. In 2016 Matchbox passed the MB1000 mark.