In this ongoing series called Toys of Yesteryear, we rediscover the cool car toys of our childhood. It was a time when instant smartphone access to all manner of car videos didn’t exist, and the best racing game was an eight-bit rendition of Fuji Speedway in Pole Position. Playing with cars was largely a hands-on experience, and we go hands-on once again to play with toys help preserve this era of automotive history. 


At some point in 1984, or possibly 1985, my Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash quit working. The rubber conveyor belt split in two, a factoid I’d completely forgotten until I rediscovered the sizable plastic playset in a box of toys my parents had packed away. Decades of adulting vanished in a moment, and nine-year-old Chris was surrounded by all manner of 1:64-scale cars jumping sand hills, skidding around sand corners, and carving through sand canyons. And this is how I kept them all clean.

Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash

Super Spin Car Wash History

Built by Matchbox, the earliest iterations of the Super Spin Car Wash I could find date back to 1981. That happens to be the date stamp on mine, and I’ve seen others in that early run with the same two-tone pattern of a light blue body and dark blue base. Matchbox continued to sell it in various color schemes through the 1980s, and the Super Spin name endured after Mattel purchased Matchbox in 1997.

Of course, Mattel already had Hot Wheels in its portfolio of companies, and redesigned toys with Hot Wheels branding on the box existed into the 2010s. But these were completely different from the OG car wash in my collection, which was pitched by none other than Robot Chicken and The Italian Job star Seth Green. How cool is that?

How Does It Work?

If the name Super Spin Car Wash doesn’t spell it out for you, here's a synopsis. "Drive" your car up the ramp and onto the rubber belt. The manual crank lever on the left sends the car down the conveyor through the rinse area, which sprays actual water via a simple push pump. The foam rollers come next, and then it's the pièce de résistance for this 1980s masterpiece – the spin dryer.

Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash
Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash

Few things in life are as fun as literally spinning the water off a Matchbox Lamborghini Countach, done by simply giving the spin lever a pull. It's all manual, no batteries are required. For the record, the Lamborghini and the gloriously yellow Chevrolet Citation X-11 featured with the car wash are from my childhood as well.

Current Condition

While I don’t remember exactly how I broke the rubber belt, I do recall young Chris trying to mend it with scotch tape, mainly because the tape was still on there. Sadly, old(er) Chris didn’t fare any better. I completely disassembled the car wash in hopes of mending it but the 40-year-old belt basically disintegrated upon touch. Beyond that, the plastic tube for the manual water pump is cracked and the foam rollers are missing in action, save for one.

Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash
Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash
Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash

Upon disassembly, I also found all kinds of sand in the plastic base. That was a cool find – actual sand from my childhood sandbox. I smiled, pondered scooping it into a plastic bag as a memento of my youth, then came to my senses and wiped out the base with a paper towel.

But I’m happy to report that the spin portion of this Super Spin Car Wash is 100 percent functional. It was sticky at first (sand really does get everywhere) but with a thorough cleanup and some sanding on the plastic gears, it spins with gusto once again. In fact, the whole enchilada is in pretty good shape, aforementioned items notwithstanding. I even found the original vinyl mat that it sat on, looking a bit worse for wear but hey, I played with this thing back in the day. 

Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash
Matchbox Super Spin Car Wash

Fix, Preserve, Or Pitch?

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a sucker for keepsakes. I have hundreds of scaled-down cars and various GenX / Millenial-era toys in my basement museum, and there isn’t room for everything. Initially, I pulled this car wash out of its box for a visual inspection in preparation for either selling/donating or trashing it. But now, it sits atop a big display case and honestly, it looks pretty good right where it is. Someday I might try to make it fully functional once again, but simply preserving it – and the childhood memories associated with it – brings a smile to my face.

And that's all that matters. Until I get tired of hand-washing the Lambo, anyway.

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