From their tiny mag wheels to their brightly colored paint designs, Hot Wheels cars are a special breed of toy.
Their unrestrained styling and the tremendous variety of models provide young and old alike with a complete world of vehicles that sparks the imagination like no other.
No other diecast brand has ever come close to duplicating the Hot Wheels style.
Elliot and Ruth Handler demonstrating Hot Wheels. Photo courtesy of Bruce Pascal.
In 1968, Mattel entered the miniature car diecast market with an assortment of 16 cars sold under the name "Hot Wheels" aka California Custom Miniatures.
The cars were an instant hit with not only boys, but girls and adult collectors alike.
They were painted in bright, reflective colors referred to as Spectraflame by Mattel.
In their first full year of production, Mattel scrambled to meet a surprising and overwhelming demand for the new toy cars.
The first vehicles were made at Mattel's California plant, but by the end of 1968, a second factory began producing the cars in Hong Kong to keep up with demand.
Unlike other diecast cars on the market in 1968, Hot Wheels cars were based on popular American muscle cars.
Five major points guided the design of the Hot Wheels brand. Hot Wheels had to have a look reflective of the time, the body had to suggest powerful engines, details were to include exposed and chromed components, mag wheels that would set Hot Wheels apart from all other diecast, and the cars had to have exciting, candy-color paint jobs.
Mattel went with a California look hence, the "California Custom" tag came to be from the manner in which the cars were raised or "raked" in the back for the "hot rod" look, which was a popular trend in California at the time.
All of the models had some additional customizations, such as side pipes, custom "power scoops" on opening hoods, customized engines, and detailed chassis, with black vinyl or painted roofs.
All Hot Wheels cars could be easily recognized by their stand-out mag wheels which sported chrome hubs and red lines (reflecting another popular look in 1968).
Thus, collectors refer to the early Hot Wheels cars as "Redlines" for this reason.
United States vs. Hong Kong:
The sixteen original models were manufactured in both Hong Kong and the United States.
The cars were originally listed in the 1968 catalog as being available in two colors each.
When sales exploded, that quickly changed. All of the cars in 1968 have been found in at least nine colors, and for some models, as many as 16 different colors are known to exist.
There are discernible differences between the two castings. Among the differences, the chassis is probably the major difference aside from subtle body changes between models.
Another stand out between the two is the wheel chrome. For the most part, US mag wheels sport a duller chrome finish than the Hong Kong counter part.
After 1968, cars were manufactured in both the US and Hong Kong, although most models were produced in only one country or the other, but not both.
By the end of 1972, production of all cars was moved to Hong Kong.
HOT WHEELS HISTORY, IN THE BEGINNING...