40 Years of Hot Wheels, Pt. 2

Sometimes, it takes a lot to make a true revolution in technology.  Cadillac, for example, revolutionized the remote car starter by integrating the heater controls and heated seats, making the entire climate control system come to life with the engine.

Mattel isn’t a slouch when it comes to revolutionary technology, either;  when times got tough in 1973, the folks in the Hot Wheels office went balls-to-the-wall with the next big thing:  a chunk of rubber dipped in paint.

Yes, a chunk of rubber and a bit of paint.  More commonly known as “Tempro Paint,” it’s what gives the toys those crazy decals and stripes that brought an end to mono-colour Hot Wheels.  Oddly enough, this was enough to bring the toy back into the spotlight and create a resurgence in sales.

in 1977, the famous “red stripe” wheels went the way of the Delorean, to reflect the fact that new tires no longer came with red stripes.  It was the first major change since the tempro paint, and the last major change until the end of the decade.

During the Eighties, Mattel took the little car in new directions.  One of these directions lead into McDonalds Happy Meals, where the toys are still available from time to time.  There was also two new wheels introduced, one plastic with a gold painted centre, and one rubberized that has made brief re-appearances on limited edition cars.  A greater range of models was also introduced, making room for everyday cars like the Pontiac Fiero and the Dodge Omni (often known as an “omlette,” although that may be considered an insult to eggs).  However, that didn’t mean there weren’t wild and crazy creations to go with the regular old cars.

The 90’s came along with grunge music, Pauly Shore, and a whole new generation of Hot Wheels.  Although there were many new cars, the real story was the way in which they were marketed.  Instead of all the cars being sold as individual units within the greater Hot Wheels pool, the models would be split up into “series.”  For example, all the cars sold during their debut year are known as “First Castings,” while cars in the ‘Tooned series look like caricatures of classic Hot Wheels.

According to Mattel’s own research, more than 41 million children have grown up with Hot Wheels.  And while an average kid has 41 of the things, the average collector has more than 1,500.  There are literally millions of collectors, willing to travel around the world to attend collector’s events and pay exorbitant amounts of money for single cars (the current record is $72,000 for a “Rear Loading Volkswagen Beach Bomb”).  Mattel, sensing an opportunity to connect with their clientele, launched HotWheelsCollectors.com as an online gathering place for people obsessed with the ‘wheels.  The site features chatrooms, message boards, news for collectors, and a database of castings & cars from days gone by.

Ever since the fateful day that Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler rolled a tiny little car off an equally tiny assembly line in 1968, the Hot Wheels toy has brought a love of all things automotive into the hearts of children all over the world.  It’s brought smiles and laughter to many childhood playtimes, giving someone a first set of wheels before they can even walk.  And in the process, it’s given some children the passion for our hobby that drives us all together.

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2 Responses to “40 Years of Hot Wheels, Pt. 2”

  1. 1 blasterhappy
    March 3, 2009 at 7:30 am

    As usual a great piece. That brought back some memories. I actually still have a Dodge “Omlette” Omni. First Castings were actually called “First Editions”. Well at least here in the U.S. anyway. There has been known to be variations in packaging in different countries such as the short card and different series names.

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