The Fine Art of Restoring Matchbox Cars

Did you have anything planned for the next hour or so? No? That’s good because if you’re anything like us, watching even one of the restorations performed on [Marty’s Matchbox Makeovers] is likely to send you down a deep dark rabbit hole that you never knew existed. Even if you can’t tell the difference between Hot Wheels and Matchbox (seriously, that’s a big deal in the community), there’s something absolutely fascinating about seeing all the little tips and tricks used to bring these decades-old toy cars back into like new condition.

Sketching a replacement part to be 3D printed.

You might think that all it takes to restore a Matchbox car is striping the paint off, buffing up the windows, and respraying the thing; and indeed you wouldn’t be too far off the mark in some cases. But you’ve got to remember that these little cars have often been through decades of some of the worst operating conditions imaginable. That is, being the plaything of a human child. While some of the cars that [Marty] rebuilds are in fairly good condition to begin with, many of them look like they’ve just come back from a miniature demolition derby.

The ones which have had the hardest lives are invariably the most interesting. Some of the fixes, like heating up the interior and manually bending the steering wheel back into shape, are fairly simple. But what do you do when a big chunk of the vehicle is simply gone? In those cases, [Marty] will combine cyanoacrylate “super glue” with baking powder to fill in voids; and after filing, sanding, and painting, you’d never know it was ever damaged.

When a car needs more than just paint to finish it off, [Marty] will research the original toy and make new water slide decals to match what it would have looked like originally. If it’s missing accessories, such as the case with trucks which were meant to carry scale cargo, he’ll take careful measurements so he can design and print new parts. With some sanding and a touch of paint, you’d never know they weren’t original.

There’s plenty of arcane knowledge to be gained from folks like [Marty] who have experience with scale models. We don’t often see much of that come our way, but when we do, we’re always impressed at the lengths individuals will go to get that perfect end result. Whether or not you think you’ll find yourself rebuilding a pocket-sized school bus anytime soon, we think there are lessons to be learned from those who might.

17 thoughts on “The Fine Art of Restoring Matchbox Cars

  1. The thing that surprised me is the sheer extent of YouTube’s Matchbox-restoration subculture. It’s not just Marty out there doing this kind of thing, but baremetalHW, WheelsNThangs, TimeRider, Diecast Resurrection…the list goes on and on. The raw material can easily be picked up for a buck or less apiece at toy shows and yard sales, so why not?

    1. Yeah, it’s like tool restorations. Once you watch a couple of these videos and the YouTube algorithm catches on, you’ll be getting similar recommendations and realize just how many people are in these different niche restoration communities.

      For all its problems, YouTube does offer a unique ecosystem for these super specific interests.

      1. I can’t say that I have ever checked at length but what about the adult gear enthusiast community? Is there something equivalent where consenting adult makers do things like restore or make new gear or toys or clothing and the like or is that just not a thing that people do? Surely there have to be enthusiasts out there, right?

        I have seen a book about some home brew machines that shares more information about the people who built them so there have to be at least a few people out there? Not sure how well YouTube gets along with those communities specifically? Or Hackaday for that matter?

        1. There’s a lot of maker channels, but like the GP says you have to stumble on the gateway channels. For example, if you watch a bunch of Alec Steele (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWizIdwZdmr43zfxlCktmNw) you’ll get into the blacksmithing part of YouTube. His swordmaking could lead you to MichaelCthulhu (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGca03sbLq7OUnXMdvRHyBQ) and his ridiculously large swords, and soon all your recommendations are about metalworking, welding, machining, etc.

          And that’s just a very narrow field.

    2. After watching a bunch of these videos, that’s the same way I felt. I can’t say I was ever into these cars as a kid, but Marty (and others, like you said) makes the process look pretty fun. I’ve definitely considered picking up a few of these little beaters at yard sales and giving a restoration a shot myself.

  2. Cool! Never thought of this but not surprising people do this. I painted a few of my cars without caring too much about quality, but I might just restore them so they look less junky before passing on to the kids.

  3. Matchbox vehicles. -sigh-

    I’ve never quite gotten over letting my folks give away our collection of Matchbox vehicles. I did manage to locate some minty versions of my favourites on auction sites before they became pricey. I also acquired some beaten-up ones that I might attempt to restore.

    But I don’t know if I would go quite to these extremes…(except maybe for the flashing light on the firetruck; that was cooool)… these after all are still toys, and weren’t often very good scale models. But if this sort of restoration, detailing and visible craftmanship appeals to you, and you maybe want to get more into visual and operational realism, do I have the hobby for you – model railroading.

  4. Check out BaremetalHW as well. Great info on electro polishing and plating zinc, along with moulding and small scale fabrication techniques while you watch soothingly voiced Hot wheels restoration.

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