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Hot Wheels grew burned rubber from 1960s car craze

June 2, 2012
Art & Antiques by Dr.Lori , The Inter-Mountain

It's funny to think of what people will do for their grandkids! A major American toy collectible was actually the result of a couple of toy designers (and grandparents) who wanted to give their grandchildren something special.

California-based toymakers Elliot Handler and his wife, Ruth (who made the Barbie doll famous), realized how much their grandkids liked to play with miniature die-cast toy cars from England.

The Handlers wanted to produce a high-quality version of the die-cast toy car, which the British toy cars lacked. Handler wanted his toy cars to be "hot" like the popular Southern California hot rods of the 1960s. The actual cars that Handler saw parked in the parking lot of his toy manufacturing company, called Mattel, became the basis for the Hot Wheels brand.

Article Photos

Submitted photo by Dr. Lori
This red Hot Wheels ‘78 Ford Gran Torino Sport is one of many types of popular Hot Wheels collectibles.

The concept for Hot Wheels grew out of the car craze of the 1960s and a need to collect fast hot rods. The importance of mag wheel design, suspension, body detailing and spectra colors became symbolic of the Hot Wheels toy brand. Hot Wheels made its mark by producing miniature cars that were stunning in their detailing and captured the same attributes as the actual car models.

In 1968, Mattel released its first line of custom die-cast toy cars featuring 16 unique models. The toy cars sold for 59 cents each and featured redline tires, black vinyl roofs and a collector button.

The original Redline Hot Wheels came off the assembly line. These original 16 cars feature the ultra-popular Custom Corvette, Custom Cougar, Custom Mustang, Custom T-Bird, Custom Camaro, Silhouette, Deora, Custom Barracuda, Custom Firebird, Custom Fleetside, Ford J-Car, Python, Beatnik Bandit, Custom Eldorado, Hot Heap and Custom Volkswagen cars.

When it comes to Hot Wheels toys, collectors know that condition is king of the road, particularly with pieces from the Redline series. It is important that the toys do not have scratches or a dull finish and they retain their original, unopened packaging. Even without their original packaging, the Hot Wheels from the Redline production series are worth $1,000 to $1,500 each.

After sales skyrocketed in the first production year, sales exceeded projections tenfold in 1969. Quickly, by the end of the 1960s, the toy company expanded the Hot Wheels line to 40 car models.

But as the toy car line was riding high, American history impacted sales and the history of Hot Wheels. Just as the Hot Wheels Saturday morning cartoon hit the TV airwaves, the early 1970s saw a drop in Hot Wheels frenzy as the gas crisis turned collectors off all things auto. In 1971, Hot Wheels were no longer made in the USA.

The Hot Wheels brand has enjoyed some milestones since the 1970s. For instance, in 1991, the one billionth Hot Wheels vehicle was produced. In 1997, Mattel sponsored Kyle Petty in the NASCAR Winston Cup. In 2003, Hollywood and Hot Wheels joined forces with Columbia Pictures' release of the Hot Wheels movie coinciding with the brand's 35th anniversary.

In the free-spirited manner of the 1960s, Hot Wheels cars reference our love affair with the automobile. The die-cast Hot Wheels toy car models have become an American mainstay. Hot Wheels cars continue to be a beloved toy that is flashy, fast and fun.

- Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author and award-winning TV personality Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Dr. Lori is the star appraiser on the hit TV show "Auction Kings" on Discovery channel. Learn about your antiques at, or call 888-431-1010.



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