I began kit-building in the late 1960s, and I was a huge fan of Airfix products. However, in the early 1970s a new rival appeared to challenge Airfix’ iron grip on my pocket-money: Matchbox Kits.
Matchbox, a tradename owned by British toy manufacturer Lesney Products, decided to get into the growing plastic kit business back in 1972. They introduced a series of 1:72 aircraft kits moulded in two or three colour plastic. I was fairly impressed with these, but it was the release of the first Matchbox 1:76 armour kits in 1974 that really grabbed my attention.
Not only did the new range cover well-known tanks such as the Panther and Sherman Firefly, there were also more unusual subjects including the SdKfz. 234/2 Puma, the SdKfz. 124 Wespe and the M24 Chaffee. Even better, each kit came with a small diorama base and figures even though they were close in price to Airfix AFV kits. I was instantly hooked and I built several of these early Matchbox kits.
Early box-art for the Matchbox M24 Chaffee
In the years following the initial launch of the armour range in 1974, Matchbox released a total of eighteen kits, all covering subjects from World War Two. Sadly, Matchbox kits suffered from the same UK recession that afflicted Airfix and this, combined with a general decline in interest in plastic model kits, led to the bankruptcy of Lesney and the sale of the Matchbox kit range to Hong-Kong based Universal Toys in 1982. Universal maintained the Matchbox trade name and even introduced new armour kits up to 1990 at which point the moulds for all these kits were purchased by Revell.
From 1991 – 2001 Revell re-issued many Matchbox kits, including the 1:76 armour range, with new packaging but still featuring the Matchbox name. After that, some of these armour kits were issued again by Revell under their own name as combined figure and kit packages, though many of these were wrongly identified as 1:72 scale – for example, Revell pack 3160, M4 Firefly & Infantry includes the original Matchbox Sherman Firefly plus Matchbox British Infantry from 1978.
However, from around 2005, Revell began releasing these ex-Matchbox kits as part of a separate 1:76 armour range. Revell now offer nine of these original Matchbox kits, rebranded as Revell. These are identical to the original releases other than that they are in new boxes and now provided in a single colour of plastic unlike the two-colour originals.
Same kit, different box – the Revell M24.
I was intrigued to note when I received this kit, that it states “New” on the box. I mean, this kit and its decals are near to fifty years old and this is the same box that Revell have been providing since 2005. So, what’s new here? I did send a message to the nice people at Revell Customer Support asking for clarification, but so far, they haven’t got around to replying.
I loved those old Matchbox kits and when I realised that these Revell kits are simply reissues, I had to try one if only for nostalgia reasons. I was also delighted to note that these are very cheap indeed – the MRP for most of these kits is just €8.49. The only way to get a cheaper fix of kit-building deja-vu is to go for some of the early Airfix 1:76 offerings. I have great memories of these old Matchbox kits but, how will they look almost fifty years later? Are these kits cheap fun or just cheap and nasty? Let’s take a look.
The M3 and M5 Stuart light tanks were built in vast numbers by the United States. They were designed as fast reconnaissance tanks and in this role they were fairly successful but, almost as soon as they first faced German armour in Tunisia in 1942, it was apparent that these tanks lacked the armour and armament to survive on the World War Two battlefield. In early 1943, the Ordinance Department began working with Cadillac, manufacturers of the M5, to design a replacement light tank for US forces.
The T24 prototype
The first prototype of what became known as the T24 was delivered in October 1943. Powered by two Cadillac liquid-cooled engines mated to the successful hydramatic transmission from the M5 and torsion-bar suspension, the new tank was relatively fast with a top speed of 35mph. However, this was achieved partly by keeping weight down to 18 tons which meant relatively thin armour. Most armour protecting the five-man crew was no thicker than 25mm, though it was sloped to improve resistance to penetration. The main gun was a modified version of the 75mm T13E1 light weight cannon originally developed for use in the B-25H gunship version of the Mitchell bomber.
The performance of the prototype was so impressive that the Ordnance Department immediately ordered 1,000, later increased to 5,000. The new tank began to reach front-line units in November 1944 with the designation Light Tank M24. It was the British who gave it the name Chaffee, named after General Adna Chaffee Jr., a former commander of the 7th Cavalry Brigade who had helped to improve America’s armoured forces.
An M24 of the 1st Armored Division in Vergato, south of Bologna, Italy in April 1945
Almost 5,000 Chaffees were produced before the end of the war and this tank was used by both British and American forces in Europe. The Chaffee proved to be a robust and long-lasting design that saw service with US forces during the Korean War and in a number of other countries in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Major users included France, Belguim, Italy, Spain and Norway – the last Norwegian Chaffees were not retired util 1993.
During the 1960s and 1970s, M24s appeared in a number of movies, usually masquerading as German armour. Here are Chaffees of the Afrika Korps from Commandos (1968).
What’s in the Box?
I’m actually a little nervous when I open this box. I have such fond memories of the original Matchbox kits that I don’t want to discover that this is, you know, crap. As I have found when reviewing some other old kits (yes, Airfix Sherman, I’m looking at you…).
Happily, this time there are no nasty surprises. All 71 parts are provided in light grey plastic on two sprues.
Quality of moulding and detail look perfectly reasonable. This is a little simplified and it’s not up to the current highest standards perhaps, but it’s better than I expected given the age of this kit. It also looks like a simple build, something that I always appreciate.
The diorama base comprises six parts – the two halves of the base itself, a road sign, some sandbags and an abandoned MG34. It’s reasonably large. That’s good because on a couple of these early Matchbox kits, the vehicle ended up perched awkwardly on a tiny base, which looked rather odd. I guess these kits were designed to fit a box size and within just two sprues, which meant a smaller base on larger vehicles.
The tracks are dark vinyl, but they’re actually quite delicately moulded, they aren’t too thick and they do just about represent the correct type of all-metal T72E1 track for a wartime M24. Detail on the outside of the tracks is basic and there is virtually nothing on the inside where there are also visible mould release marks. I will only find out if they’re long enough when I start the build! These tracks do feature an extended locking tab which I recall being rather easier to join than some vinyl tracks. Again, I’ll find out if this is true during the build.
The instructions are Revell’s customary rather nice colour efforts, with clear exploded views and three colour schemes, all claiming to be for tanks of the US 13th Armoured Division, 43rd Tank Battalion. However, all the sources I have consulted show that the 43rd Tank Battalion wasn’t part of the 13th Armored Division – this Battalion was part of the 12th Armored Division which first saw combat in Europe in December 1944. Something clearly isn’t quite right here, but I don’t suppose it’s terribly important as both the 12th and 13th Armoured Divisions used M24 tanks.
Two of the schemes are plain Olive Drab but a third has an interesting two-tone camo scheme with no markings. I think that what the instructions are suggesting is that markings are provided for two tanks, and that either can be finished in either overall Olive Drab or with a camo scheme, though that isn’t particularly clear. The box art certainly shows Skeeter, one of the tanks shown with an overall Olive Drab finish in the instructions, sporting a two-tone camo finish.
Decals are simple but perfectly reasonable and they even include appropriate text for the road sign. Well, almost appropriate – M24s saw action during the Battle of the Bulge and during the advance into Germany so, if you’re going to have a road sign, why not include Bastogne or some other location in the Ardennes or even Germany rather than a sign from Normandy? OK, I know, I’m nit-picking…
Overall, there is nothing here that looks too awful. Very fine detail, stuff like lifting eyes, hand-holds, towing shackles and brush guards over the lights, is not included at all. That’s actually a helpful approach if you want to add your own detail – some old kits represent things like lifting eyes as blobs, which then must be cut off before you can add something more appropriate. Here you mostly have a bare canvas that can be used as the basis for adding detail. The main gun is moulded solid, which is no surprise, and some of the attachment points to sprues look rather chunky, but overall, this looks like a simple, reasonably detailed and fairly accurate kit.
I am really looking forward to this build!
Would you want one?
There is nothing here that makes me think you wouldn’t want one of these. It scores high on nostalgia value and it actually looks like a reasonable kit. There isn’t a great deal of fine detail here but, there really isn’t a great deal of choice for kit builders who want to tackle a small-scale M24. For a very long time, the only options were this Matchbox/Revell version in 1:76 and a 1:72 offering from Hasegawa which was also released in 1974. The Hasegawa version isn’t bad at all and includes a couple of crew figures though it does have rather thick vinyl tracks of a type that are really only suitable for a post-war M24.
However, in 2018 Bulgarian company OKB Grigorov also released a 1:72 M24. This was the first injection-moulded plastic kit released by the company (they had previously focused on resin, metal and PE detail parts), and it’s very good indeed. It features nicely detailed link-and length tracks and is available in both the standard version and as the Mammoth Edition which includes the base kit plus all the detail parts that the company have produced for this tank. All versions provide alternate parts to model early and late models of the Chaffee.
I believe that there is also a 1:72 M24 from Chinese manufacturer Forces of Valor. However, having experienced their Panzer III, I would hesitate to recommend anything else from this manufacturer.