Released in 1993 by Matchbox, the Thunderbirds Tracy Island electronic playset invited kids into the world of International Rescue, an organization pivotal to the Thunderbirds science fiction television series produced by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The playset recreated Tracy Island, the clandestine residence of the Tracy family and the headquarters of their technologically advanced rescue collective.
The island featured structures that supported the team’s many missions, each replicated in Matchbox’s playset.
The foundation of the playset was the island itself. The moulded plastic landscape was fashioned to resemble the rocky cliffs and lush vegetation of its Pacific Ocean location. The island included hidden mechanisms and secret compartments that revealed key elements of the Thunderbirds‘ storylines.
Tracy Villa was the domestic base for the Tracy family. The home’s outdoor swimming pool offered more than a chance to cool off on a hot day — it concealed a launch pad for the Thunderbird 1 rapid-response air vehicle.
The Round House was an extension of the living quarters for the Tracy family and their cohorts. The structure also masked a secret underground launch pad for the Thunderbird 3 spacecraft.
Cliff House functioned as an emergency control room. The house was built into the cliffside, sitting above a hanger and launch bay for the Thunderbird 2 carrier craft. When the launch bay doors opened the palm trees flanking the launching ramp automatically retracted. The carrier could be slid out of the launch bay onto the ramp and the ramp could be tilted upwards to simulate a take-off position.
A small cave hidden at the side of Tracy Island provided cover for Thunderbird 4, a submersible that supported underwater missions.
A series of four buttons on the base could be pressed to activate the electronic voices of the Tracy family and the sounds of their vehicles. Vehicles were sold separately and could be purchased individually or in a Rescue Pack that included Thunderbird 1, 2, 3, 4, and FAB 1 (the land vehicle of Tracy collaborator, Lady Penelope).
Thunderbirds remains a popular property, with new games and collectibles still being produced. The Thunderbirds Tracy Island playset is a particularly collectible toy because of its relative rarity and premium cost on the secondary market. It also holds significance for adult collectors who missed out on acquiring the toy as a child due to its limited availability. The interest in the toy was so intense when it was first released that the BBC series Blue Peter released an episode to demonstrate how to build one at home using common objects and supplies.
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