If you’ve checked out the section of my blog where I show off my diorama, you’ll deduce that making displays and layouts for my model cars is one of the most fun parts of collecting!
So far all the buildings I have on my diorama have been my own, made using Adobe Indesign, some card, and a home printer. The reason being I want my layout to be unique, not something you could buy from a store and find in any diorama. This has, I think, given it an individual flare and character you don’t find on many dioramas.
There are exceptions to any rule though, and I now have a branded building to add to my diorama – the 1963 MG1-c Matchbox BP Sales and Service Station. This vintage playset was common in many households in the sixties, and replaced a single story garage
“Matchbox” MG-1 Service Station
I wanted this building for a long time – I discovered it some time last year and have been keeping an eye on the prices of online auction sites. These items retail very high – many of the sellers ask over £200, while even the poor condition ones go for over £100 (one model went for £100+, even though it was missing parts!)
Undeterred, I stayed patient, and eventually came across this example at a total steal. The garage itself is a little bit rough around the edges – the stickers were slightly damaged and there is a piece of the base missing – but the price made it totally worth it, being half of what I expected it to sell for – plus who doesn’t like a bit of character? The sticker issue I soon remedied with a temporary modern “Matchbox” logo, taken from a five-pack.
After winning the auction for the garage I decided I needed the pumps to go with it. It should be noted that originally these garages were sold without the pumps or sign. The pumps and sign came as the accessory pack “A1b” sold separately (you could also buy the G1 gift set, I believe, which included the pumps, sign, garage, and a number of vehicles).
The pumps I bought were very cheap at only a few pounds, and the reproduction parts (lamps and gas attendant) are virtually indistinguishable from the original pieces thanks to identical manufacturing methods. If you buy the garage these pumps are an essential. Unfortunately I have yet to find the diecast metal “BP” sign to go on the forecourt in a condition and price I’m happy with.
The pumps are diecast metal, while the gas attendant and two lamp standards are clearly green plastic. The stickers on the front of the pumps show the BP logo and an old-fashioned clock meter gauge. The lamp standards fit nicely into the metal bases while the gas attendant sits on those metal legs, and he comes off quite easily.
The rear of the pumps show only the BP logos. The pumps sit on a rim on the base of the garage, and for some reason I’ve found they stay better when the pumps face towards the garage and not outward – though it could just be my imagination!
These pumps arrived and had me very excited for the arrival of the rest of the garage. The detail for the time is always something to be admired with the old Lesney products, like the nozzle and hose, and the paving design on the base. Sticker application is sometimes a bit wonky, but these were put together by hand, after all! They are 3¾ inches long by ¾ wide. The total height from base to the top of the lamps is around 1¾ inch.
The main building comprises four pieces. The base, which also includes the ground floor garage and shop, a doorway, and the staircase to the upper floor. The upper floor comprises showroom, the ramp, and the roof signage. The base is 9¼ inches by 6½ inches. The ramp adds 1¼ inch to the back of the garage, which stands 3¼ inches high. The sign at its peak adds just under 1½ inches to the total height of the garage. The lower floor is 7 inches by 3½ inches and just over 1½ inches high, while the upper floor is 6¾ by 3⅛ inches, 1½ inches high. The roof sign uses two tabs to sit into a pair of slots in the top, the ramp clips onto the base and slots into the rear of the building with two tabs also, and the upper showroom is detachable.
These dimensions may come across as small compared to modern day garage playsets. I suppose children were satisfied with more modest toys back in the sixties. The whole thing manages to fit on my mouse pad! But once you get used to the size (this thing, I imagine, will be dwarfed by the Hot Wheels “Ultimate Garage”, but I know which one is more charming and characterful) it’s really a nice display for cars up to 1:64 scale and you can fit a fair number of them on it.
The first thing to note is that, despite the small scale (the garage is listed as OO scale on advertisements) modern Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars do seem to sit quite comfortably on it – two cars, so long as they have quite a narrow track, can fit side-by-side in the forecourt, although it’s a good thing Mattel don’t have opening doors on their cars anymore, since there’s no chance of them opening in this situation…
And if you’re not convinced by that, I managed to fit one of my full loaded Matchbox Majors Guy Warrior car transporters in the forecourt with no problems at all.
Hot Wheels seem to fit in quite nicely with the playset too. I think the bright colours work well with the garage, and since Matchbox and Hot Wheels are pretty much the same size, it probably comes as no surprise that Hot Wheels causes little offence – so long as the designs of the cars aren’t too wacky.
I stuck some Majorette models onto the garage, and they do look incredibly attractive. However Majorettes, old and young, are very bloated in size, so they do begin to make the garage look quite small. Perspective matters a lot here.
Moving on to the different sections of the main building, the first section to observe is the workshop. In here you’ll find space for two vehicles, one of which will be parked on the ramp to the right. Don’t bother trying to get any of your newer cars on here unless they’re Oxford diecast or similar scale… this ramp was designed for early 60s Lesneys. The rest of the workshop can accomodate almost any vehicle, however, and I tend to enjoy parking my Dunlop van in there!
Oh, and don’t forget to grab your BP Dodge wrecker – that’s an essential for this garage.
The little staircase that leads up to the first floor is a nice touch of realism, but the garage starts getting cool next door – 3/4 of the building is dedicated to showing off your awesome cars through showroom floors and those big art-deco windows. The curved plastic means there’s lots of visibility into the showrooms. The first one is on the ground floor and isn’t as great as the upper floors due to the green base; some colours don’t show up well here, and the light doesn’t get in as easily thanks to the ramp at the back giving more shadows. Nonetheless it’s a cosy little place for a couple of cars to sit side-by-side. I don’t know whether this is a dedicated showroom or is meant to be part of the workshop – the garage is a ’30s design and I’m not too familiar with how it would work.
Much more awesome is the upstairs showroom, where you have a bit more creative freedom when it comes to arranging your cars. Bear in mind that there’s a hole in the floor where the staircase comes up! Two cars works really well up here for the minimalist, luxury car look, or if you want to put more on display, you can fit two cars side-by-side on each side of the showroom quite easily.
At this point it’s worth demonstrating how the rear of the showroom looks, with the ramp providing access. It’s a nice layout! But good luck getting anything other than a vintage lesney or a very narrow car up that ramp – it’s only an inch or so wide.
When you fill all three showrooms with vintage Lesneys, they sit comfortably side-by-side without any issue. The garage was designed after them, of course, so it’s to be expected that they’re accommodated with no problem. This makes it a perfect way to display the models.
Having said that, placing your modern Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars in there looks equally as good. The garage feels a little more crowded, but the fact is you can still fit eight cars in this display quite comfortably (nine if you’re not worried about one being hidden behind that central wall) and it makes just as good a display for modern cars as it does for vintage, since the model is so timeless, and the vintage look is so cool.
If you hadn’t already guessed, this garage gets a 10/10 from me. Even in its slightly ratty condition, it doesn’t disappoint, and I think a perfect example would just make me more reluctant to play with it. It’s a fantastic way to display your cars and the vintage factor is beyond cool. It’s also a relic of many childhoods, so you feel an immediate attachment to it for that reason. It’s a must for any serious Matchbox collector, and a great display for any diecast brand that fits. The Art-Deco design is more attractive than nearly every other model garage that comes to mind, too.
I also would imagine it’s totally fun to customise, and I have plans already for how this garage will sit on my diorama. In a few months time I hope it will have a place in the Dinorama, surrounded by palm trees and highways and with some signs outside – I will preserve the garage as it is, of course, making no permanent cosmetic changes, but make it unique and fit in with the rest of my diorama in a way that I can really make it my own. Oh, and I need to get that BP sign!