If only! Matchbox toys were part of my DNA as a kid and I still have a lot of affection for the brand, though the day the original company went into receivership in 1982 signaled the rapid disappearance of manufacturing from these shores, a trend which accelerated in industry overall as the decade passed. What I could never quite understand was how the superb detailing of the original models was quickly lost under thick layers of paint when production moved to the far-east, and remains so to this day.
Despite this, Matchbox still occasionally turn out an attractive toy vehicle or two. This ice-cream van caught my eye a few months back (it was issued in 2009 but this version came out a couple of years later), mainly due to the high quality of the printed decoration, achieved through a technique called tampo printing. Matchbox these days, being based in America and looking for mass sales, produce toys familiar to that market, so British or European vehicles rarely figure (and I’ve never heard of the brand on the model). Seeing it, I was reminded of an earlier ice-cream van made by Matchbox, and hunted it out, figuring they’d look good on the shelf together.
This first toy was made back in 1963 (Matchbox model 47), based on a Commer van. At that time the only way to decorate model vehicles was by water slide transfer, which could replicate very fine detail as the photograph shows (the model was also sold with different graphics, and with a cream paint scheme). There was a downside, as the transfers were quite delicate and can flake off if not looked after (specialist suppliers provide replicas today). You only have to look at the front radiators on the two models to see how much sharper the detail on the old one is, and they even spray painted the silver on the front, something the newer model lacks.
We still see ice-cream vans around of course, but they tend to be independent, not branded by one of the big firms like Lyons or Walls. I did find this nice drawing of a Lyons Maid van on a trade brochure, as well as a picture of a really well played with example of the model.