Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hot Wheels Diecast Collectibles

Hot Wheels is a brand of die cast toy car, introduced by American toymaker Mattel in 1968. It was the primary competitor of Johnny Lightning and Matchbox until 1996, when Mattel acquired rights to the Matchbox brand from Tyco.

The original, and now famous, Hot Wheels logo was designed by California artist Rick Irons, who at that time worked for Mattel.


Hot Wheels are die-cast model vehicles manufactured by Mattel and were introduced in 1968. Originally the cars and trucks were manufactured to approximately 1:64 scale and designed to be used on associated Hot Wheels track sets, but by 1970 a series of 1:43 scale 'Gran Toros' were introduced and more recently a range of highly detailed adult collector vehicles, including replicas of Formula One and NASCAR cars, have found success. However the brand remains most famous for the small scale free-rolling models of custom hot rods and muscle cars it has produced since the range first appeared.

The Hot Wheels product line has also included various tracks, accessories, and other kinds of vehicles such as 'Sizzlers' rechargeable electric cars, 'Hot Line' trains, 'R-R-Rumblers' motorcycles and 'Hot Birds' airplanes.


Sizzlers were a 1970s Hot Wheels spin off with a built-in motor and a tiny rechargeable battery. (The X-V racers of the 90s were similar.) Mattel recently struck an exclusive deal with Target stores, and re-released Sizzlers in 2006. They currently sell for about $8 per car. Sizzlers run on black Fat Track, which is three lanes wide and designed to allow Sizzlers to run free. In action, Sizzlers display a unique, competitive "passing action" when running on the Fat Track, as if each car were piloted by an impatient driver trying to get ahead of the rest. Sizzlers were (and are) charged with four or two D cell chargers called Juice Machine and Goose Pump respectively. A 90-second charge of the tiny internal NiCad battery gives up to five minutes of frenetic run time. It has been said that the 90-second charge time was "the longest minute and a half in a kid's life," as they waited impatiently for the car to charge sufficiently to get back into the race.


A custom Volkswagen from 1968, one of the first Hot Wheels cars
A custom Volkswagen from 1968, one of the first Hot Wheels cars

Before Hot Wheels, the huge market for small car models was dominated at that time by the British company Lesney with their Matchbox cars. Elliot Handler, co-founder of Mattel, decided to produce a line of die-cast toy cars for boys. Although his executives thought it was a bad idea, he was able to capture much of this market by introducing a number of revolutionary features, including low-friction wheels suitable for racing on a track, and styling in tune with the times of customized, racing and show cars coming out of places like California.

There were sixteen castings released in 1968, eleven of them designed by Harry Bentley Bradley, with the first one produced being a dark blue Custom Camaro. Although Bradley was from the car industry, he had not designed the full-functioning versions of the real cars, except the Dodge Deora concept car, which had been built by Mike and Larry Alexander. Another of his notable designs was the Custom Fleetside, which was based on his own heavily-customized '64 El Camino.