It’s a simple question and the simple answer is yes, they are, and the reasons are many and varied.
The range of 16 cars was launched in May 1968 by an interesting chap named Elliot Handler who was the ‘el’ part of Mattel and not only did he launch the bestselling range of toy cars, he came up with the Barbie doll as well which has also lasted rather well.
Mr Handler designed 5 of the original cars and the other 11 were designed by full size car designer Harry Bentley Bradley who had already designed the real Dodge Deora concept car a couple of years before and included that into the line-up and indeed it is still part of the current range today.
That range has expanded considerably over 51 years and I did try to count how many were on their website today but gave up, it’s a lot!
The main difference between the Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars who were probably the closest competition in the 60’s was that Matchbox models were accurate versions of regular production road vehicles whereas the American range were fashionably customized with big wheels and eye catching Spectraflame paint jobs.
The Hot Wheels had a chunkier feel about them too suggesting they were designed for more rough and tough adventures than their more sedate looking rivals. Whilst the loud and proud Hot Wheels were very well made and durable it must be noted that the very thin axles which gave them a good turn of speed were much more prone to bending and it’s quite hard to find a play worn version that isn’t a bit lop sided now.
Another thing I find quite amazing is the cost, at launch in 1968 they cost under a dollar in the US, most sources says 99 cents but some say 59 cents. I’ve seen an old ad that shows they were 69 cents when purchased with gas (petrol) so maybe that’s got something to do with it but either way they were under a dollar and now half a century later the cost has barely risen – in real terms it has gone down!
Walmart in the USA still list the standard single cars at $1.41 and gift set of 20 for $20.47. With inflation a dollar from 1968 now equates to $7.27 so to say they are a bargain is an understatement.
An interesting comparison is the cost of a full-size VW Beetle which in 1968 was $1,699 US and today lists at $20,895. The average price of a standard Hot Wheels in the UK now seems to be £1.49 but you can still find them in the big chain pound stores and even in the posh supermarkets they are only £1.75 and what other quality items are available for £1.75? Such a modest outlay could net you a tidy profit one day too, in 2011 an original pink VW ‘Beach Bomb’ camper van sold for $120,000 not bad for a 99-cent investment and that one was not in its original packaging so don’t worry about opening yours and enjoying it fully!
Another big number worth talking about is that in 2008 Hot Wheels made its 4,000,000,000th (billionth) car and when you think that Toyota made its 200,000,000th (millionth) full size car in 2012 then I reckon Hot Wheels have probably made more cars than anyone else! I can’t find a production number for Matchbox but if anyone knows please let us know.
The fact that these little toys are still relevant half a century on is also remarkable, even against the onslaught of computer games and online fun these colourful little objects still appeal, my niece and nephews have played with them and I still give them as gifts to young and old folks alike and they always make people smile. There is no better way to start a collection as they are so cheap and best of all so small that they won’t take over your house.
A favourite of mine is the original Custom Camaro which comes in a great range of colours and you can still pick up a nice play worn example for around £20, I also got a new 49′ Volkswagen Beetle Pick Up in my Christmas stocking and you never know by 2044 it could be worth a fortune!
What do you think about Hot Wheels? Are you a collector who sides with Baz? Or, are you diecast collector who shrieks with horror at the words “Hot Wheels”? Lover or hater, we’d like to hear from you! Leave your comments in the box at the bottom of the page