Hot wheels going super hot and strong at fifty!
Adil Jal Darukhanawala, Bijoy Kumar, Richard Meaden, Ted Kravitz
NOW THIS IS ONE FOR THE AUTO enthusiast in nearly all of you who read this magazine. I know that what I write here you must have experienced in your youth or, like me, who has never thought old, continue to think young to this day! I am speaking about the small toy cars that we all grew up with, notably Matchbox and post that Hot Wheels. While Matchbox was solely responsible for much of what Hot Wheels has done and achieved, this venerable British model car maker lost its way sometime in the mid to late 1980s and went thru a succession of ill conceived mergers and licensing to iffy owners when it could have thought out of the box and emerged as an everlasting craze.
This is exactly what happened with Hot Wheels. It was on May 19, 1968 that the first 1:64 scale (or near thereabouts) car emerged in a tiny matchbox sized card box but as Matchbox was also a registered trade name, its creator, the large Mattel Corporation who also made the entire universe of Barbie Dolls and GI Joe figurines christened its own rival creation Hot Wheels. And to kick-start this brand it sure chose the right car to model, as it was the new pony car from GM then – the Chevrolet Camaro. However, Hot Wheels went a step further and created its own distinct take to hot up or jazz up the Camaro and this first offering was named as the Hot Wheels Custom Camaro. Just as these were flying off showroom floors – read that as toy outlets, hobby shops, supermarket shelves, even GM dealerships – Hot Wheels struck a strong chord for within weeks it began to release one new model after another! In 1968 alone it launched a string of 16 models under the Hot Wheels brand and these are known within the model car community as the Hot Wheels ‘Original Sweet Sixteen’ and very prized they are to this day. I think I have but three of this in my collection, very well used in hairy fashion, and looking just as if they had endured the worst after competing in a no-holds-barred demolition!
The genius that was Elliot Handler, co-founder of Mattel, knew that he had the right product at the right time. In fact, his wife Ruth dreamt up the Barbie doll, based as it was on their daughter Barbara! Elliot and his team of designers laboured for years with perfecting Barbie and so when it came time to doing Hot Wheels they were more than capable of delivering model cars that meant much more than mere playthings to youngsters.
Another man who helped give Hot Wheels not just the dream start but also the long lasting provenance in the mind was designer Larry Wood now better known as Mr Hot Wheels for pioneering not just terrific designs but also avant garde creations from which many real 1:1 cars were created rather than vice versa! An Art Centre graduate, Larry Wood started as a sheet metal fabricator at aviation engine maker Pratt & Whitney. Then was a designer at Ford and built his own fire-breathing hot rods and also drove a machine gun toting Jeep during street riots in Detroit. Being a car guy with both customising and performance in his genes he was hired by Handler in late 1969 by which time that year’s cars and the next year’s designs had already been done.
From what was a lukewarm response to the first and the second year’s Hot Wheels, suddenly exploded when Matchbox began to hit out with zany crazy customs of their own. The trade and the enthusiasts suddenly wanted more than what was available and so the Hot Wheels juggernaut got going. From May 19, 1968 to the present more than six billion Hot Wheels cars have been made and continue to roll off the lines at the rate of 16.5 units per second – eat that VW, Toyota, Ford and GM! In all of the above, Larry Wood has played his part not just in devising the models but also special themes – Cool Customs, Heritage Racing, California Customs, etc and he continues on to this day doing a whole new range of spectacular visions of near impossible cars in the miniature!
Today Hot Wheels are great collectibles while yet remaining the dream cars for eight-year oldies and 80-year adolescents! I have a crazy collection of close to a thousand Hot Wheels in my model car garage but that is nothing because my eldest son Jehan has begun his collection which he never unboxes (meaning he never peels off the packing!) and he has close to about 450 plus and is preparing a wall at our new house just to pin them there! Well this hobby takes crazy forms but it's one heck of a hobby and with the newest Hot Wheels being Bluetooth remote controlled yet in the same crazy small scale. Who says small can’t be BIG!
Happy Birthday Hot Wheels and here’s to the next fifty and maybe the next 25 billion! Thankfully the best cars that never caused a traffic jam! ⌧
The Original Sweet Sixteen Hot Wheelsmodels from 1968