Matchbox Matchcaps

Mike Pigott looks at this colourful 1990s range of diecast cars from Matchbox which included a number of collectible ‘POG’ discs in each pack.During the 1990s, one of the big collecting crazes was POGs, collectible discs that could be swapped or played with competitively. To capitalise on this massive craze, Matchbox produced a line of miniature cars in vivid colours which included four discs in every pack.

The game craze of POGs (also known as Milk Caps) had its origins in Hawaii, of all places, in the 1930s. A dairy in Maui sold milk and fruit juice in glass bottles, and a cardboard sealer underneath the bottlecaps could be taken out and played with by children. A game using these caps developed, where they were stacked up, and kids took turns in flinging a single cap at the base of the stack. If the entire stack was knocked over, they won all the caps.

Many years later, a popular fruit juice drink called POG (for Passionfruit – Orange – Guava) began including caps with colourful promotional designs under the tops. These were widely collected, and when glass bottles were discontinued there was still a demand for the discs, and they were given away at the point of purchase as a free gift. The popularity in playing milk caps waned during the 1980s, as kids were drawn to more sophisticated hobbies such as video games. However, the game took off again in Hawaii in the early 1990s, and became even more popular than ever. It was now known as POGs, after the brand of drink that supplied the discs. A new method of play developed, using a ‘slammer’ to throw at the stacks; this was a disc made of a harder material such as plastic or rubber which could be thrown with more force than a normal POG.

Within a year or so, the craze caught on in California and soon spread to the rest of the USA. Kids couldn’t get enough of POGs, and other companies started producing them. Trading card companies were soon selling packets of POGS, and kids started buying and trading them. Because POG was a trademark, other companies usually sold the under the name of Caps, such as ‘HeroCaps’. Soon everyone was getting in on the act: they were given away as inserts in comic books and magazines, with fast food orders, or inside packs of crisps and snacks (where they were sometimes known as ‘Tazos’). They were also used by many businesses for promotional purposes, where giving away caps with company logos and details became a very cheap way to publicise the firm. There were also collectible caps, which came with pictures of cartoon characters, super heroes, pop stars, TV shows or movies, and sports players or teams. In 1994, over 350 million caps were produced, and the hobby began to catch on internationally. It caught in on Britain and Europe, Australia, and particularly in Japan and South Korea, where POGs was similar to a traditional game called ‘menko’.

The POGs fad hit its peak in 1995, when they were available just about everywhere. Some parents were happy that their children were playing POGs outdoors rather than sitting inside playing video games. However, many schools were not so happy; as POGs involved winning or losing large stacks of discs, it was considered gambling and banned from the playgrounds in several countries. Schoolyards were the main place where the game was played, and after the bans, popularity of the game fell off. However, there are still professional cap playing leagues in existence.

MATCHCAPSWith the POG faze drawing young boys away from playing with toy cars, certain diecast model manufacturers felt the need to jump on the bandwagon. Johnny Lightning was the first, and included caps with some of its series, including Wacky Winners, Hot Rods and Fright’ning Lightnings. These ranges included a cap with a picture of the enclosed vehicle.

Matchbox, then owned by Tyco, went one further… in 1995 it created a whole range dedicated to caps, called ‘MatchCaps’. The line consisted of eight of the top-selling cars from the 1 – 75 series, all sports cars and supercars. They were chrome-plated, covered in vivid tampo designs, and with day-glow windows to make them as eye-catching as possible. And included in each pack were four caps in exclusive designs. The same four caps were included with each model; it was not necessary to buy multiples, or swap, to collect all 32 if you bought the full set of eight cars.

The caps were printed on metallic foil at the front; on the back they had a black and white Matchbox logo superimposed with a collector number from 1 to 32. The coloured front face mostly had photos of a model from the 1 – 75 series, underneath a Matchbox logo. Included in each pack were three of these caps, plus a fourth cap with a different subject. These could be promoting other Matchbox products, in particular the Zero-G racing system that was also on sale in 1995; plus there were Matchbox logos and even a MatchCaps emblem.

LAMBORGHINI COUNTACH LP500SThe oldest model in the MatchCap range was Lamborghini Countach LP500S, which was introduced in 1986. Being an Italian supercar, it was naturally a big seller, and would remain in the 1-75 line until 2000. The body and spoiler were chrome-plated, and the top of the car was covered in pink, purple and white zig-zag patterns. The base was black plastic and the wheels were chromed New Superfast types, as were all the cars in the series. The windows were in transparent red plastic, and like all MatchCap cars, the interior was white to make the windows look more vivid.

PORSCHE 959This German high-tech supercar was another long-lived model; it was introduced to the 1-75 series in 1987 and remained in the set until 2001. Like the other cars, it was plated and had a black base plus new Superfast wheels. On the bonnet and roof was a wavy pattern in orange and yellow. The windows were tinted bright blue.

FERRARI F-40Another Italian supercar, the Ferrari F-40 was in the 1-75 range from 1990 to 2000. The nose and roof of the car had a ‘tiger stripe’ pattern that was pale yellow shading to pink. The black plastic base also formed the rear lights panel. The pink-tinted glazing incorporated the headlights and rear engine cover.

CORVETTE GRAND SPORTThe only classic car in the MatchCaps range, Corvette Grand Sport was based on a very rare racing Corvette from 1963. It was in the regular Matchbox line from 1991 to 1996. The bonnet and roof were covered in dark blue zebra-type stripes. The black side pipes were part of the plastic base, while the windows were pink.

LAMBORGHINI DIABLOThe second Lamborghini in the range, Diablo was in the main series from 1992 to 2002. It was the only MatchCap to have a moving part; in the case the rear engine cover which was chromed, and opened to reveal a strange looking engine in white plastic. It had a pair of orange and yellow fireballs printed along the top. The windows were in orange-tinted plastic, but the side windows were in the ‘open’ position.

CAMARO Z-28This and the following two models were brand new items released in 1994. Camaro Z-28 was based on the fourth generation of the powerful American sports car. It had a pink and dark blue pattern of blotchy stripes printed on the bonnet and roof. The fully-enclosed glazing was orange-tinted.

MAZDA RX-7Another new model was this version of the third generation rotary-engined Japanese sports coupe. It had a strange blotchy pattern printed on the bonnet and roof in red and brown. The separate rear spoiler was chrome plated like the body. The glazing, which only included the front and rear windscreens, was blue-tinted.

CORVETTE STING-RAY IIIThe only convertible in the MatchCaps line, this was based on a concept car proposal for a new Corvette that was not put into production. It had a weird ‘splash’ pattern in orange and white printed on the bonnet and rear deck. The glazing, which in this case only consisted of the front windscreen, was in clear orange plastic.

PACKAGINGMatchCaps were packaged in long blister cards in the current corporate colours of neon orange and yellow. The clear blister was moulded to contain the car on the bottom, plus each cap in its own ‘bubble’.

The cars were manufactured in Thailand, but the caps were made in the USA, and the models may have been packaged there as well. The range was aimed at the American market and was not widely distributed in the rest of the world.

This article first appeared in the August 2019 issue of Diecast Collector magazine.

Text and photos (C) Mike Pigott 2021.

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