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Monday, May 18, 2015

Massive Comparison - the Car Carrier Extravaganza!!!

When I was a kid, I dreamed about how cool it would be to have a Matchbox tractor trailer that could actually fit a real Matchbox car inside of it.   I thought about this a lot, since I had a Matchbox 1-75 series 18 wheeler (one of the early ones, with the Matchbox logo on the trailer), but the box of the trailer was too narrow to fit a Matchbox car into. And, I had the awful Matchbox 2.5 inch long car carrier from the mid '70s (#11 - pictured to the right, in the foreground), with 3 tiny plastic cars permanently affixed to it, but even the 9 year old me knew that it was not what I wanted.

In the early '80s some manufacturer (Road Champs?) had a whole series of relatively cheap quality big rigs, and one of them was a car carrier (My cousins Joey and Shawn Sherburne had an example - I think it was orange).  But again it was too smaller and narrow to let any car other than perhaps a tootsie toy onto it.  My friend Andy Bradshaw had 2 kingsize car carriers from his brother's collection - that fit 4 and 5 cars onto them - but they seemed too big and out of scale - certainly bigger than my above-mentioned 18 wheeler... (Later as an adult, I realized that the King Size trucks were actually closer to true 1/64 Matchbox scale than the trucks in the 1-75 range...). 

Then Matchbox expanded their tractor trailers into the 'Convoy' series, and brought out a glorious tractor trailer that was pulled by an ordinary 1-75 truck (a red Kenworth COE - the right hand example in the below photo) but that fit 3 real Matchbox cars onto it, with even a ramp that lowered so cars could drive up onto it. I was simply bowled over, awestruck, by how perfect it was....  To this day it represents an excellent example of how a toy company could make a functioning toy while still staying within reasonable size dimensions.   

Since that time I've considered myself a connoisseur of car carriers and have eagerly collected them, with the provision that they had to be able to carry ordinary 1-75 Matchbox cars.  And it now seems like a good time to run a comparison test, to see which one is best.  Can my childhood favorite Convoy series rig win the crown for best carrier, withstanding severe competition from some of my newer additions?

I found 17 unique castings in my collection, across 5 distinctly different scales.  The smallest is undeniably the worst, and the clear loser in this competition, the earlier mentioned 2.5 inch long Bedford car carrier with the tiny affixed plastic cars.  It has nothing going for it - little detail, no interior, un-removable cars, etc. 

The next size up is where the fun begins - in roughly 1/90 scale (though these pieces were sold as part of the 1/64 scale collections).   I have 4 examples - the early blue/grey Lesney grey wheel Accessory Pack example, a yellow EFE piece with an Atkinson tractor, the earlier mentioned red Matchbox Convoy series pulled by the Kenworth COE, and a rather customized Hot Wheels Adult Collectible pulled by a classic Ford COE.  I forgot about the Hot Wheels unit until after the main photo-shoot - so I have a separate photo of it below.

The Accessory Pack and the EFE tractor trailers will fit smaller cars onto them - particularly the grey wheel or smaller regular wheels cars from the early-mid 60s.  However even with those, only the smaller examples of them will fit onto the bottom rack.  The Accessory Pack piece does not have a movable rack or any way to manually load the cars, and also doesn't have an interior on the cab.  In contrast, the EFE tractor is a beautifully detailed piece, a real show piece.  The top rack drops down and there is a ramp to allow car boarding.

I've already talked about the red convoy series.  It'll fit most matchbox cars onto the bottom or top racks, as long as they are not extra wide or too tall.  A huge plis is that tt can be pulled by any 1-75 series tractor.  The example pictured is my actual childhood example - though I also have a version in blue that I picked up as an adult.  The Hot Wheels piece is more different than the others with a very different trailer design.  The lower rack is artificially low so it'll only fit the specific cars that it came with (a Midget Sprint car and a C1 Corvette). 

Then I move into the next size of carriers - which I think are closest to 1:64 scale.  The picture to the right shows 7 of them, although the 2 in the middle are identical Corgi units but with different cabs (for the sake of the comparison test I will only include 1 of these). 

Starting from the left, I have the Lesney Major Pack #8 with the Guy Warrier tractor.  This is a nice piece with a folding top rack and a loading ramp, holding 4 total cars.  There's not much to critique on it, other than the fact the cab is permanently attached to the trailer, the loading ramp is a little steep, and there is no interior in the cab.  Next up is the Lesney Super King #11 DAF car carrier in yellow.  Again the cab (I love the DAF cabs) is permanently affixed to the trailer.  The trailer fits 5 cars with adjustable chocks.  I love the bright yellow color (its also available in a rarer blue color which I don't have). 

Next up is a Corgi Juniors Volvo unit from the '80s.  What is so unique about this carrier is that it has a trailer that can carry an additional 4 cars.  Both ramps drop and allow easy loading and unloading.  This unit also has adjustable chocks for each piece. 

The next 2 newer Corgi units (in blue) also have trailers - but these trailers run flush with the first trailer - allowing the cars to be driven from one trailer to the other.  In addition, this is the only design of them where the ramp for the front most trailer only drops half way down, requiring usage of the rear-most trailer to actually load cars (refer to the right photo).  This ramp design actually feels like the most realistic ramp design among any of them.  These are nice units - with a very modern and sophisticated feel.  One has a Renault cab, the other a Scania tractor. 

The last 2 units in this (approximately) 1:64 scale are the newest units and are widely available in the US at Walmarts and similar stores.  The first is by M2, and features a classic Dodge tractor.  Only the back half of the top rack actually drops down, but it is works fine, or would if there was a ramp that actually reached to the ground.  While I'm pleased to have this carrier, and like the old fashioned look of it, I'm a little disappointed that they didn't make it feel even higher quality.  The trailer has a plastic feel to it.  The last of these units is from the newest Matchbox tractor trailer series.  It looks nice from a distance, however the trailer is 100% plastic which really hurts the feel of it.  There are no wheel chocks at all, adjustable nor cast.  It holds 5 cars, but it really doesn't feel as nice as the '80s Convoy version. 

Now I start getting into the larger scale trucks, which still hold Matchbox size cars, but where the cabs seem a  little out of scale... 

First up is the coolest - the Corgi Tri-Deck carrier.  This version is so cool precisely because it has 3 (three!) car decks, allowing it to hold 7 or more cars.  It also has a retractable set of dolly lifts for when the trailer is separate from the cab.  This unit is a very rare unit and one of my favorite pieces - I like it so much that I have 3 examples of it! 

After the Tri-deck Corgi is another Corgi - the blue Carrimore Mark 4 with the Ford tractor.  While this one doesn't have 3 decks, it looks and feels very high quality, again has retractable dolly wheels, and the COE cab tips up to reveal the engine. 

The Lesney Super Kings K-40 Courier transporter is next.  This has a nicely molded set of ramps/racks, with molded in wheel chocks.  It feels nice until you compare it with the high quality Corgis, when it suddenly feels like a toy rather than a collectible. 

The yellow SIKU is a more modern unit (15 years old), but is nonetheless 100% metal.  It also has an attached trailer, (with a concave and convex break point - allowing it to turn corners without losing connectivity), and holds 7 cars.  Each of the 2 top decks drop down, allowing creative loading, and alone among the units it has 2 individual wheel tracks that reach the ground and retract when not in use. 

Finally, the Majorette unit.  It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of some of the competitors (and feels more like a toy than a collectible), but it is all metal and holds 5 cars.  It is a high quality and solid unit, just without some of the real exciting twists of the other carriers. 

There is only 1 example of the largest size group, this green Corgi Ford Transporter.  This one is actually too large for 1:64 Matchbox (the wheel tracks are too far apart - and my Mercury Police Cruiser falls through the middle), and is really made for Super King or full-size Corgi toys.   It has individual wheel chocks and a dropping top ramp, but doesn't feel quite as nice as some of the other larger Corgis. 

So, which one is best?  For this comparison test, I compared all 17 units across 13 categories.  Most of the categories were in a 10 point range, with 5 having only a 5 point range.  The maximum possible score was 105.  ....and the winner is ...:

The Corgi Tri-Deck, with a score of 94 points.  This wasn't at all a surprise to me - it came into the competition as one of the favorites.  Three decks is hard to argue with, especially when you add in the additional quality of the detail on the cab, the detail on the wheels, a jack to hold the trailer up when not attached to the cab, and movable wheel chocks.  What surprised me was that the Siku came in 2nd, a unit that has some very impressive qualities (particularly its loading ramp arrangement and retractable ramps to get to the ground), but whose overall appeal seemed slightly less than some of the others.  3rd (Corgi Carrimore) and 4th place (the huge Corgi Ford) were also from the larger sizes, proving that my point system did not offer enough value to the more Matchbox 1-75 sized carriers. 

It wasn't until 5th and 6th place that we moved into the more moderately sized, with 2 more Corgi's claiming those spots (heavily helped by their having the 2nd trailers, and a nod of recognition to the very unique loading ramp movement of the Renault/Scania).  This really is an amazing accomplishment for Corgi - their 5 units were all in the top 6!  In contrast, the best placement for Matchbox' 7 units was 7th place - the DAF Superfast. 

And its not until 9th place (a tie) that one of the smaller units finally place, the Hot Wheels COE.  It was held back by its plastic body. 

Somehow by childhood favorite (the red Matchbox Convoy Kenworth COE) ended up 3rd from last, in 15th place.  The fault was mostly that its 3 car simple approach was less exotic than that of its competition.

And as expected, my childhood non-favorite, the tiny Bedford, ended up dead last. 

Anyway - a fun experiment and comparison.  I hope you enjoyed reading it.  And check back again, since I feel that I may want to re-compare the trucks using different categories and different scaling, to see if the rankings get shaken up. 

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