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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Nissan Z Cars throughout the years; Matchbox vs. Tomica

Datsun/Nissan Z cars have never been my favorite Japanese sports car (although I am a sucker for the twin turbo 1990-96 version), I've always been a Mazda RX7 guy rather than a 300ZX guy...   But since it came out in the early '70s, the Z car has become a mainstay, perhaps even the embodiment, of the Japanese sports car scene...

Interestingly, both Matchbox and Tomica have covered the multiple generations of the Z car, and as my 2 favorite brands, it seems only appropriate to see who covered them better!  Therefore this is a different type of a comparison - not comparing one model - but an entire slate of models....   Can Matchbox match Tomica when it comes to Z cars...?

Going in chronological order, we start off with the 1st Z car - the 240Z.   Only Tomica covered the 240, but Matchbox covered the longer and later 260Z (which Tomica didn't cover), so we'll compare these 2 models for the 1st comparison...

In this case, there is just no comparison.  The Tomica model is a jewel of a model, with beautiful covered headlights, opening doors, fantastic trim detail, a soft suspension, a wonderfully detailed metal baseplate, a slim chrome front bumper running across the front, a Datsun script visible across the rear deck, etc.  Even the rear window has defroster lines in it.  My only complaint about it is the uninspired brown/copper color of it.  Overall, this is an excellent example of why vintage Tomicas (as opposed to upper-case V "Vintage Tomicas" - a sub-brand of Tomica) are such amazing models...

In contrast, the Lesney era Matchbox model is one of the duds of the Lesney years.  I've never liked the model - and I've had it since childhood (although I've lost that particular example).  Mostly the car just always appeared to long - it's the scale-length of a Cadillac!  And while the 260Z was a longer car than the 240 - the model is longer than it needs to be.  It came in magenta (mine) and silver with red.  The silver with red is the better color.  It has opening doors, but no suspension to speak off (superfast...  Really?).  Overall it is an uninspired model, competing head-to-head with one of Tomica's best castings...  Winner?  Tomica by a mile!

But Matchbox redeemed itself (sort-of) when it came to the 280Z.  They actually made 2 280Z models - one of the first time in history - and maybe the only time in history - when Matchbox made 2 distinct castings - in the same period (i.e. not one coming 40 years later) of the same model.  The first is the Hong Kong version (badged as a Fairlady Z), with the tiny Hong Kong wheels.  This one came in black and red (my childhood example - and not found in time for this photo shoot) as well as black and orange.  I actually slightly prefer the black and red version, but this particular black and orange version is in much better shape than my childhood black and red, so it'll photograph much better...  It is nicely sized, with a soft suspension, opening doors, excellent detail and metalwork, and a nice baseplate and interior.  At first glance, there appears to be nothing wrong with this model...

For some odd reason, Matchbox then replaced it with an entirely new 280ZX 2+2 Macau casting.  This one is huge - a hulking oversize beast of a casting.  It sits up high like a truck, with huge (but nice) wheels - in one case laser discs, in the other starbursts.   Again it has opening doors and nice metal work, and even outlines on the roof for t-tops.  But the size is really unfortunate - making the earlier Hong Kong casting the easy contender for Matchbox...

The Tomica 280Z version is a step-down from the jewel-like 240.   It switches to a plastic (but still detailed) baseplate.  The version I have is in blue and is pretty beat-up, which doesn't help the comparison.  The metal detail on the casting is fine, and it even has a rear window wiper (but no front wipers - the inverse of the Hong Kong Matchbox).  It has painted-on t-tops on the roof.

Comparing the Hong Kong Matchbox with the Tomica is a bit of a close call, but in the end the choice is easy.  Matchbox wins based on overall feel.  The Tomica just doesn't look/feel as nice - a bit too small, and somehow proportioned wrong vs. the earlier 240 Tomica.

The mid-80s 300ZX battle will again be rough...  The Matchbox version was one of the first vintage cars I got when I started collecting again in my early 20s.  I got the white with green FUJI film version, which of course was unable to be found for this photoshoot, but the 2 silver and red versions are just as nice and so stand-in well.  These ones are nice models, trading opening doors for an opening hood.  The 300ZX was a bigger car - and while these are a bit oversize, they don't feel it too much.  The cars have a hood scoop for the turbo, a metal baseplate and trim detail that includes the Nissan and 300ZX Turbo lettering on the back. The silver and FUJI versions come in 8 dot wheels, the red in starburst.  Either way you get it, it's a nice model...

But Tomica doesn't take this fight sitting down...!  The version I have is a consumer version in silver, with 300ZX V6 Turbo lettering on the side (there is also a police version which I don't own).  It's also got a Turbo hood scoop offset on the left side of the hood.  Both Matchbox and Tomica have a nice soft suspension, so it's a tie there.   The rear lights on the Tomica are a separate plastic (glass-like) piece - a real quality look - looking just like the real car (see above photo).   The front lights should be as well - but the plastic is broken and missing on my model.  Overall, it's a close fight, with the Matchbox appearing to be sized well until compared with the smaller Tomica model.  Picking a winner is difficult....!

I end up picking the winner the old fashioned way - just based on which one I like better....  And while I love the Matchbox model, the Tomica just feels better...   Winner - TOMICA (but it was close!)!

Fast forward to 1990, and the new 300 HP Nissan 300ZX...   Wow! - this was a great car in real life - a personal favorite of mine.  And I loved the Matchbox model.  Mine was in yellow - though the yellow one pictured was a mint example that I picked up later.  No opening parts, but great detail and glass T-Tops (and glass headlights!).  It came in a variety of colors, of which the silver version is nicest.

The Tomica is just not as nice.- based on its overall shape.  It's not as squat as the real and Matchbox versions - too long vs. wide.  The T-Tops are painted in...  While the opening doors are nice, and the separate piece headlights are cool (but unrealistic) it just doesn't wow the way the Matchbox does....  The police version is no better than the red consumer version.  Overall, it's not a bad car, but not as nice as the Matchbox...   Winner - Matchbox!

And now we get up to the 350Z/370Z version...  All I've got is the Matchbox 350Z in gold (pictured), but its available in a few other colors, competing against the Tomica 370Z (I've got 2 hardtops - one in yellow and one in graphite, as well as a black convertible).  I imagine that Tomica did a 350Z, but I don't have it.

This comparison is easy.  The Matchbox is an OK model, correct, but a little plain.  Detail is painted in, and there is nothing really wrong with the model.  But the Tomica just eclipses it - but more body contours, opening doors, better quality paint detail, etc.  I don't know what it is, but the Tomica easily wins.

So there you have it.  5 comparisons - across 5 (OK - really 7) different generations of the Datsun/Nissan Z car.  Tomica runs away with the first comparison, only to lose the second, barely win the third, lose the fourth, and again win the 5th...   Score, Tomica 3, Matchbox 2...  so does this mean that Tomica wins overall...?  Is Tomica the best scale-model maker of Z cars...?  

I'm not really sure, but I know I'm thrilled to have gotten the chance to do this comparison.  Most of these models (Matchbox 260Z excluded) are nice models - and I'm glad to have them all (Matchbox 260Z included).  Therefore I declare Matchbox and Tomica BOTH equal winners in modeling Nissan Z cars throughout the years...!

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