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

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