Hot Wheels is a diecast toy car brand manufactured by Mattel since 1968. Designed as miniature customized muscle cars, Hot Wheels are built for speed with thick, plastic mag wheels and minimal friction axles that feature torsion-bar suspension, which give the cars shock absorbency and wheel bounce. The cars were an instant success and new models have been released every year since to the delight of children and collectors alike.1
Elliot Handler, a co-founder of Mattel, is credited with the concept for Hot Wheels. His wife Ruth’s concept of the Barbie doll that debuted in 1959 was a huge success. His desire to find an equally successful toy for boys led him to think about the popular diecast toy cars available at the time. Matchbox, an English brand, offered replicas of vehicles such as milk trucks and family station wagons that had a lot of visual detail, but didn’t roll very well. Handler assigned one of his key toy engineers to modify the toy to roll better, and an hour later he was presented with a car that rolled easily with the flick of a finger.2
Mattel hired auto designer Harry Bentley Bradley away from Detroit to work on the early models of Hot Wheels. Handler’s vision for their line of toy cars was to manufacture authentic-looking altered versions similar to what custom-car shops produced. Their first 16 muscle cars models introduced in 1968 included custom Barracudas, Camaros, Corvettes, Cougars, Firebirds, and others.3 Bradley had brought with him the plans for the 1968 Corvette and introduced the Hot Wheels version of the car before it was available for sale. Larry Woods also left the auto industry to design for the Hot Wheels brand in 1969 and became their chief designer for many years. Mattel was able to hire many former employees of auto manufacturers to work on their designs through the years.4 With the huge success of the Hot Wheels brand, eventually Detroit automakers began sharing their top-secret blueprints of upcoming models with Mattel so that the Hot Wheels versions could debut simultaneously with the real cars.5
The original Hot Wheels toy cars used bright colors to attract kids. The spectraflame paint used was a lacquer painted over the polished zinc-plated body that gave a brilliant shine. The tires were given a red line around them to be similar to the muscle cars of the day.6 The wheels were fat and slick, and the axles were made of wire as thin as fine piano wire, which enabled the cars to roll fast. The hot rod look was achieved with a lowered front end and a raised rear end. Each car was a scale representation of various makes and models of existing car manufacturers or fantasy custom cars popular at the time.7
Mattel developed flexible, plastic orange tracks for racing Hot Wheels that included track sections, connectors, loops, curves, and ramps that could be configured in many different ways. Other accessories were developed that included speedometers, spring-loaded launchers, and battery-run power boosters to enhance the speed of the racers.8 The Super Charger is a battery-operated motor-driven device attached to the track that operates by spinning two foam wheels that grip the passing car as it enters and accelerates it down the track.9
After the first 16 models were released in 1968, 24 new cars were released the following year. Each subsequent year saw the development of more and more designs, and soon adult collectors were as interested in the new productions as the children. The first collector’s handbook was issued in 1981, and the first collector’s convention was held in Toledo, Ohio in 1987. Playing to the collector craze, Mattel issued commemorative cars during anniversary years of Hot Wheels as well as offering the Treasure Hunt Series that limited the number of cars produced.
Mattel partnered with other companies to offer promotional cars. The first promotional cars were made for Jack in the Box in 1970 with McDonalds, Kellogg’s, and many others following. Many chain stores asked for store brand exclusive releases, including Toys “R” Us, KB Toys, Target, and Walmart.10 Besides the large variety of cars and trucks, themes for Hot Wheels cars include Monster Jam, Star Wars, Marvel, Minecraft, and DC Universe brands.11
- 1. “Hot Wheels: Inducted 2011.” National Toy Hall of Fame. < http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/hot-wheels > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 2. Mouchard, Andre. “Hot Stuff: Hot Wheels cars turn 35, still rev hearts of collectors worldwide.” Tulsa World. < http://www.tulsaworld.com/archives/hot-stuff-hot-wheels-cars-turn-still-rev-hearts-of/article_410f6198-b3e8-5a88-851e-d1b9c2701168.html > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 3. Op. cit., “Hot Wheels: Inducted 2011.”
- 4. Godfrey, Mark. “Larry Woods.” Mark Godfrey Designs. < http://www.hot-wheels.mlmoments.com/Design.htm > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 5. Naughton, Keith. “Hot Wheels Cars Are A Toy Craze Again.” Newsweek. 23 Oct. 2008. < http://www.newsweek.com/hot-wheels-cars-are-toy-craze-again-92109 > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 6. “Diecast 101: The start of Hot Wheels, a synopsis.” Live and Let Diecast! < http://liveandletdiecast.kinja.com/diecast-101-the-start-of-hot-wheels-a-synopsis-1650138434 > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 7. Op. cit., Mouchard.
- 8. Townsend, Allie. “Hot Wheels.” All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys. TIME. < http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2049243_2048656_2049114,00.html > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 9. “Super Charger.” Online Redline Guide. < http://onlineredlineguide.com/accessories/super_charger/super_charger.html > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 10. “History of Hot Wheels.” Oldshuntr’s Die Cast & Collectables. < http://www.angelfire.com/tn2/diecast/hwtimetable.html > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 11. “Themes.” Mattel. < http://hotwheels.mattel.com/shop/en-us/hw/themes#facet:&productBeginIndex:0&orderBy:&pageView:grid&minPrice:&maxPrice:&pageSize:&contentPageSize:& > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 12. “Hot Wheels Fast Facts.” Mattel. < https://media.gm.com/content/dam/Media/documents/US/Word/12sema/Hot-Wheels-Fast-Facts.doc > 5 Oct. 2017.
- 13. Op. cit., “Hot Wheels: Inducted 2011.”