The association between Matchbox Toys and Aral AG, the Germany Petrol Chain began in 1966 and ran for 15 years. Over that time some very attractive models bearing the Aral logo were produced. These Matchbox Toys were released for sale in Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland, France and The Netherlands. They were considered normal releases, not promotional models and were sold both through Aral Petrol Stations as well as toy stores and retail outlets. In doing research for Matchbox Toys trivia articles, I always find it interesting to get some background on the vehicles and companies involved.
The history of Aral can be traced as far back as 1898. At this time automobiles were a rarity in Germany and 13 coal mines in the western German Ruhr region founded a marketing association for benzene, a by-product of producing coke from coal. The association, named Westdeutsche Benzol-Verkaufsvereinigung whose headquarters were located in Bochum, sold benzene mainly to chemical and paint producers, as well as manufacturers of fuel for lighting fixtures.
After World War I, Germany saw the rapid rise of the motor car. The number of motor vehicles in the country climbed from roughly 21,000 in 1906 to 300,000 in 1924.
In 1924, Walter Oswald developed a mixture of gasoline and benzene that he named Aral. This highly-compressed gasoline was declared the world’s first “super fuel” and soon developed into a brand product. To distinguish B.V. Aral from competing products, the company produced its branded gasoline in a blue color. B.V. also formulated a special benzene-based high-energy fuel used in aviation. The product made headlines when used in the first motorized flight to cross the Atlantic from Europe to Canada in 1928.
After the creation of Aral fuel, B.V. focused on expanding its distribution network and product line. In the second half of the 1920s the company began to establish gas stations. At first these stations were attached to drugstores, restaurants or hotels. The facilities later became independent service stations. Within ten years the number of B.V. gas stations had risen sharply. There were about 200 gas stations in Germany in 1926; by 1937 the number of B.V. gas stations had reached 9,000. During this time, the company added motor oil and diesel fuel to its product line.
1955 saw Aral expand beyond Germany’s borders, founding its first subsidiary abroad in neighboring Austria. Other target markets were Belgium and Luxembourg, where the company became a market leader in the 1980s. By 1968, the number of the Aral gas stations was 11,000.
The 1970s opened a new chapter in Aral’s history. For the first time since World War II, the number of Aral gas stations decreased. Three years later the so-called oil crisis hit Europe. To preserve oil reserves, Germans were not allowed to drive on Sundays. However, while that ban was ultimately lifted, the event triggered two new long-term trends that greatly affected Aral’s business. First, consumers started cutting back on their gasoline use by driving less, and second, automakers instructed their research and development departments to focus on more fuel-efficient motors.
Aral counteracted the new market trends by increasingly focusing on the expansion of its business beyond gasoline. Besides gasoline and other fuels, the company started selling cigarettes, newspapers, candy bars and bottled beverages. By 1994, Aral shops accounted for one-third of the total sales of the company’s gas stations.
Another hallmark was the launch of a research program with BMW to explore hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Between 1984 and 1988, ten models of BMW passenger vehicles filled their tanks with hydrogen gas at Aral’s pilot hydrogen gas station in Berlin. In 1999 Aral opened the world’s first robot-controlled liquid hydrogen filling station at Munich Airport.
The first Matchbox Toy to have the Aral logo was the number 25 Bedford Petrol Tanker. This was model was originally released to the world market in the BP colours of yellow, white and green in 1964. It was part of the Matchbox Toys range for 4 years. Matchbox Toys were looking to cash in on the fast growing German market so, in 1967 this model was released in the Aral colours of blue and white. On each side of the white tanker was the word ARAL. The company logo was on the rear of the tanker. The box was also especially made with the words ARAL TANKWAGEN on the end flaps with the blue and white tanker featured on the face of the box.
As the Bedford Tanker was deleted from the Matchbox range in 1968, a new Leyland tanker was introduced as number 32. This was also released to the world market in BP colours, now green and white. In late 1969, Matchbox Toys released the ARAL version in blue and white. As with the Bedford, The word ARAL was on the side of the tanker in blue, with the ARAL logo on the back. When Matchbox Toys changed to Superfast wheels in 1970, both versions of this tanker continued. This tanker was discontinued from the Matchbox range on 1972.
The next model to appear with the Aral logo was 1977. It was the number 63 Freeway Tanker. This model received a number of different logos including the ARAL logo (blue background with white clouds) and the ARAL diamond logo.
In 1978, for some strange reason the number 17 Londoner Double Decker bus was released in blue with Deutschlands Autopartner No. 1 and the ARAL logo on the sides. This turned out to be a bit of a failure for Matchbox Toys, and a number of these models were re-labeled for the 25th Anniversary of Matchbox Toy.
In 1974, Matchbox Toys introduced the Super Kings K16 Ford Articulated Petrol Tanker. Over a four year period, there were three different variations of this tanker with the Aral logo. It was first released with a blue cab and white tanker and the word ARAL in blue on the tanker. In 1976 this was changed to a blue label with ARAL in white lettering. Later it came with a similar label as the Freeway Tanker. This was a blue label with white clouds and ARAL logo and wording in white.
Although the earlier models are now fetching quite high prices, these models make a very attractive display and are all worth collecting.