What scale are Matchbox cars, you ask? Unfortunately it varies a bit. Nominally they’re around 1:64 scale. But scale isn’t Matchbox’s objective. Fitting in the package is. That means the size of Matchbox cars is between 2.5 and 3 inches, depending on what looks right for the prototype model. So it can take some homework to figure out the actual scale of any given model.
Or you can just not worry about it, assume they’re more or less 1:64, skip the next section, and get on with things.
Determining actual scale of Matchbox cars
To do the math, find out the length of the real thing. Usually a Google search takes care of that. Then convert the length to millimeters.
Then measure the Matchbox car. In millimeters, ideally, but convert if you have to. Then divide the length of the original by the length of the Matchbox car. Don’t be surprised if the number deviates from 64.
A large 4-door car, like a Ford Crown Victoria, works out to 1:70 scale.
A small car, like an original VW Beetle, works out to 1:58 scale.
Standard pickup trucks, like most of Matchbox’s F150 models, work out to about 1:64 scale. Matchbox’s Chevy Silverado extended cab worked out to 1:76 scale.
You can cheat a bit with Matchbox, fortunately. The fan site matchbox.wikia.com lists the scale for most Matchbox vehicles, so you don’t necessarily have to measure and calculate yourself.
Dioramas for Matchbox
I assume the main reason you want to know Matchbox scale is to make dioramas. Fortunately there are plenty of sources of good material, thanks in part to the hobbies of model railroading and holiday villages.
Figures for Matchbox dioramas
If you want to populate a diorama with figures, your cheapest bet will be 1:75 architectural figures. A bag of 100 figures costs around $5. They come painted and unpainted. I’ve written before about painting figures. Some pre-painted figures are fine as-is. But expect to find some painted strangely. I don’t normally see guys walking around in pink or bright green pants, except maybe on a golf course. But you can expect to find some in a batch of prepainted figures.
If you want a little bit of a closer match and don’t mind winter dress, look for Cobblestone Corners figures at Dollar Tree. Dollar Tree generally gets them in the fall and they tend to sell out fairly quickly, but the figures come 3-4 in a package for a dollar and the quality is reasonable. The buildings are undersized for Matchbox but the figures and streetlights work pretty well.
Buildings for Matchbox dioramas
If you want to build a town for a Matchbox diorama, a non-obvious option are Plasticville buildings intended for 1950s Lionel and American Flyer trains. Be sure to look for the larger-sized buildings marketed for “O/S scale.” The smaller HO scale Plasticville buildings are too small–they’re 1:87 scale.
They aren’t the best match for contemporary architecture like Colonial-style 2-story houses and big-box stores. But the diner, motel, grocery store and drugstore all resemble what you would have found along Route 66 in its glory days and some traces of those types of buildings are still there today.
For that matter, the buildings still resemble what you’d find in a middle-ring suburb or a small town.
Vintage Plasticville buildings are generally about 1:64 scale, which is pretty close to the scale of an average Matchbox car. Look for buildings without their original boxes. Vintage boxed Plasticville buildings can be rather collectible, but the loose buildings are pretty cheap. Glued loose buildings are very affordable. Don’t be afraid of beat-up buildings. Cleaning them up is easy. You can paint them to make them look more realistic.
If you don’t mind a winter scene, Department 56 and Lemax buildings are a reasonable match, scale-wise, for Matchbox. Their scale varies too, but it varies along the same lines as Matchbox.
Roads and sidewalks for Matchbox dioramas
These days you can buy road pattern tape suitable for Matchbox. I wish they’d had that when I was a kid. The tapes available online don’t always match perfectly but the one I linked above fits fairly well.
If you want sidewalks, step down to HO scale sidewalks meant for model trains. They’ll be a bit undersized but will look the part.
You might also be interested in my blog post on customizing Matchbox. And of course, since I discussed Matchbox, I’ve also discussed Hot Wheels and old-school Tootsietoy scale. And speaking of old school, there’s Londontoy.