The fiftieth anniversary of Mattel’s hit toy line, Hot Wheels is upon us. Introduced on May 18thof 1968 the Hot Wheels brand of toy cars were originally intended to be representations of heavily modified actual cars. Rumor has it this was to make the Hot Wheels stand out from competitor Matchbox which made its mark delivering the most realistic cars available at the time.
According to the National Toy Hall of Fame, “In the 1960s, Elliot Handler, a co-founder of Mattel, Inc., envisioned a die-cast car to surpass the popular English Matchbox brand. He wanted a line of toy cars to dominate Mattel’s boys’ division just as its Barbie doll had become the strongest brand in its girls’ division. Handler insisted that the toy cars look authentic, so the project enlisted Harry Bradley, a top auto designer from Chevrolet, to lead the toy design team. What Handler really wanted was not the cars of Detroit, but the radical versions altered by custom-car shops—like vehicles he often saw on California’s highways. And Handler wanted his little cars to zoom. So, Mattel engineers produced 'muscle' cars with thick, plastic mag wheels built for speed and minimal friction axles that featured 'torsion-bar suspension,' which gave the cars shock absorbency and wheel bounce. Kids coveted the 16 muscle models—custom Barracudas, Camaros, Corvettes, Cougars, Firebirds, and others—that Mattel first offered in 1968. Mattel’s designers enhanced the cars’ appeal with the candy colors of Spectraflame, a painting process that revealed the shiny metal beneath the colors. The toy company developed flexible, plastic tracks for racing Hot Wheels, complete with the famous loop that became the symbol of the brand to several generations of kids.”
19 Big Kid Toys
While the original Hot Wheels started out as modified versions of actual cars, it didn’t take long for the hot rod imaginations to run wild and start churning out cars that really weren’t much at all like the life size cars available at the local car dealerships. Big engines, big tires, wild spaceship-like bodies and that undercurrent of cool that comes with muscle and sports cars was really the only guidelines the designers needed to follow to have a hit on their hands. From there, all it took was one of the kids playing with these mini hot rods to grow up and amass the kind of cash it takes to bring the toys to life.
18 Full Size Gaudy
When a kid sees a blinged out die cast car small enough to fit in their hand, the gaudier it is, often the cooler it is. That sort of eye-catching craziness really ignites the imaginations of kids who love cars.
Just look at the sorts of cars their favorite TV show characters drive; there’s no boring sedans in make-believe.
And, as many of us grow up, we don’t let go of that appetite for over-the-top cars. While this one here is way too far across the line for most normal folks, chances are the kids in their neighborhood think it’s the coolest car in town.
17 Corvette Summer
In the late 1970s a ground-breaking movie starring Mark Hamill hit theaters all across America and changed everything, propelling Hamill far beyond superstar status. Corvette Summer wasn’t that movie.
It was groundbreaking in that the star of the show was a Corvette that looked more like a Hot Wheel than a real ‘Vette.
During filming of the movie, Hamill was in a car accident requiring facial surgery that altered the course of the second Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back. To Account for the facial changes, George Lucas added the now famous Wampa scene to show Hamill’s Luke Skywalker taking a blow to the face so the audience wouldn’t question why he was no longer the baby-faced Jedi to be they’d fallen for in the original Star Wars.
16 Just Different Enough
What has happened often over the years is that Hot Wheels has released cars that look remarkably like a mash up of two different real-life cars, like say a Mustang and Corvette. Those cars seem to have a sort of cross-platform appeal for those who prefer one car to the other. In the case of this Franken-Stang, it obviously started life as a Ford Mustang, but where it’s going from there isn’t quite so clear. Part Corvette? Part Ferrari? Part Pantera? It’s not really all that clear, and worse still the car somehow loses some of the cool of both rides in the translation.
15 Custom Paint
One thing Hot Wheels, and toy makers in general, have always had great success with is repurposing. When it comes to models, action figures and toys with more pieces, they call swapping things to and fro “kit bashing.”
In the case of Hot Wheels, normally all they’ve done is re-issue the original car with a new paint scheme and/or a set of stickers that makes it clearly distinct from the original.
In the case of this real world hot wheel, this custom paint job is classy and cool. Maybe a look down the toy aisle for this rad Camaro on the next shopping trip is in order.
14 Darth Vader’s Ride
At the end of the first Star Wars film, Darth Vader flies into battle with his own customized prototype T.I.E. Fighter which not only stood out from the crowd, it enhanced the mystique of the dark lord of the Sith. Once Mattel managed to wrangle the licensing rights to make Star Wars Hot Wheels, they decided the Emperor’s apprentice needed his own customized prototype muscle car so he could cruise down Death Star Drive. This version made its way from trade show to trade show, hunting for rebel scum, so if you’re not an imperial sympathizer you may want to stay off the roads when this one rides into town.
13 Wreck It Ralph?
Mattel didn’t just make cars for the Hot Wheels line, oh no. They have heavily modified pickups, tanks, construction vehicles, armored cars and even tow trucks. Apparently, the owner of Lil Redd Wrecker played with those while wearing his Rat Fink tee shirt for a considerable amount of his childhood.
The real story is a little less imaginative, as the vehicle actually debuted in 1970.
It was then given its current identity in 1974 and used as a promo piece for the old Red Foxx TV show Sanford and Son. Chances are Fred Sanford would have had one of his famous faked heart attacks if he saw Lamont roll up in this unique wrecker.
12 Forget The Four Barrel, We Have Dual V8 Power
Another classic Hot Wheels “thing” is the presence of an insanely large chrome covered engine jutting out from the front (or sometimes rear) of the car. In this case, this one doesn’t have just one, but two insanely beastly looking hot rod engines, ready to rip this ride right down the road. Take note of the red wall tires, a Hot Wheels trademark, but something you may not see when this baby gets wound up to top speed. Odds are visibility in this one is probably an issue, but it's doubtful this driver gets stuck in commuter traffic very often.
11 Hot Rat?
It’s not hard to draw a parallel between Hot Wheels and rat rods. Both are about taking something normal and altering it in a creative way to enhance the cool factor and enjoyment of the user. While not all Hot Wheels or all Rat Rods are cool, the majority of both are and the majority of those who own them enjoy having them. Not only does this one straddle the line between Hot Wheel and Rat Rod really well, it also has one foot in the hot rod world and one in the off-road, rock crawler world from the looks of that tricked out suspension.
10 Who Says Minivans Aren’t Cool?
Another great thing about Hot Wheels is the innate ability to make just about anything really cool. Don’t believe it? Check out this hyper-tricked out mini-van. While it takes a certain personality type to rock this down Electric Avenue, anyone who loves hot cars would be hard pressed not to agree this one has some high octane cool in its DNA. Now, minivans aren’t for everybody, and neither is this hot-rodded version, but that’s okay. What makes us different makes us better. If nothing else, you’d certainly be the talk of the sports complex rolling up to the kids’ soccer practice in this hot ride.
9 Man of Steel Riding in Style
Let’s face it, if you’re Superman you probably aren’t spending a whole lot of time behind the wheel of a car, no matter how cool it is. If you can fly fast enough to make the earth start spinning in reverse on its axis, chances are there’s never been a car made that can get your adrenaline pumping.
But, if you’re a Superman super fan, then this ride is all you. With twin supercharged engines, your adrenal glands will be working overtime.
And the big red S on the car’s “chest” should keep the supervillains from cutting you off in traffic. Just watch out for the kryptonite potholes.
8 No Man’s Nomad
For some reason, the Chevrolet Nomad has always had a special place in my heart. While I don’t specifically remember having one, chances are I had a tricked-out Nomad inspired Hot Wheel when I was a kid, lugging my car case packed full of diecasts everywhere I went. One great thing about Hot Wheels is that no matter how outlandish some of their offerings are, you can always count on their classic designs to come out with trick paint jobs, like silver flames over metallic blue. This just makes me want to hop in and find some orange track to race on.
7 Speaking of Luke Skywalker
Every fan of Star Wars has probably wished they could fly an X-Wing fighter into space at one time or another. If you’re also a fan of Hot Wheels, you may have wished you could drive an X-Wing. Well, your wish can come true if you can find this customized X-Wing-mobile as it makes it rounds from Comic Cons to car shows and other fan gatherings. Chances are you may have to put in some sweat equity to work your way into the good graces of the owner before they hand over the keys. So, start planning now and may the force be with you!
6 Not… Quite… Sure…
What this is defies description, which poses a challenge for someone who’s been tasked with writing an entry for it. Somewhere between bus and bullet train, with a little Mad-Max-meets-Hot-Wheels thrown in to spice things up lies this six-wheeled wonder.
Initially, lumping it into the Rat Rod category makes sense, even though it doesn’t look like the typical Rat Rod (if there is such a thing).
What it really needs is an old school Airstream trailer hooked to the back, full of all things auto-enthusiast. Then the owner can park alongside the local drag strip and instantly become the talk of the town.
5 Transit Disconnect
Like the minivan, the Ford Transit Connect doesn’t exactly have a massive fan base fed by its far-reaching appeal amongst the masses. In fact, there’s a good chance the number of private party Transit Connect owners might be counted on one hand. Normally, they’re purchased en masse by a company looking to increase the number of fleet vehicles they have in order to better serve their customer base. Apparently, the owner of this one didn’t get any of those memos and instead decided to buy one to trick out and relive the old Hot Wheels days of their youth. Not sure the T-Con was the right choice for that, but to each their own.
4 Hot (Wheels) Rod
Now here’s a proper Hot Wheels inspired Rat Rod. From the chopped top, to the low-slung chassis, to the gnarly straight pipes coming off the headers this car embodies everything necessary to call this an awesome Rat Rod. However, the owner wasn’t satisfied and had to add some Hot Wheel inspiration to this one by way of the giant chrome skull on the front grill, complete with skeleton hands holding the headlights. Topping it off is the trademark hot rod flames. This is one seriously choice car that would make any junior gearhead happy to play with as a toy and any adult hot rod lover happy to own it.
3 One Up? Try Three
Earlier we showed you a few real life Hot Wheels that had twin engines-twice the horsepower means two times the cool power, right? Well, the owner of this one wasn’t about to be one-upped by anyone in driving range when he managed to stuff not two but four superchargers onto this massive motor monstrosity. While it’s doubtful the owner is paying any attention at all to fuel economy, it would be interesting to know how many horses this ride is planting on the pavement. One thing we do know, the whine when all four of those supers wind up has to be insane.
2 To The Batcave!
Years ago, while attending an event in Chicago I turned a corner and came face to face with this icon of the early 1970s childhood. Before the urban assault vehicle of modern-day Batman fame was all the rage, the Batman TV show thrilled kids of all ages with fire shooting from the exhaust as Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder roared off to face down bad guys or take off “To The Batcave!” as Batman was fond of saying in nearly each episode. Needless to say, I tried to hop in, but a rather large fellow guarding the car for Bruce Wayne gave me that “don’t even try it” look, so I settled for snapping some pix and ticking “see the Batmobile” off my bucket list.
1 A Little Too Far?
And, then there are the ones that just go too far past Ordinary Avenue, never stopping at Cool Car Court and cruising right on down What The Bleep Boulevard.
Looking this one over and trying to reverse engineer the design process, it’s plausible this car started out as an attempt to merge a hot rod and a pair of pink pumps.
Maybe, just maybe, it was designed by Manolo Blahnik. Odds are it was more likely Ed “Big Daddy” Roth or one of his employees. No matter what, however, it’s definitely an eye catching, head turning ride that’s for sure.
Sources: National Toy Hall of Fame, Business Insider, 95 Octane