Hot Wheels Posts

Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Celebration Was a Nonstop Victory Lap

hot wheels 50th header

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

The Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary celebrated half a century of the world’s most popular toy cars in 2018 with a year-long blowout. As the calendar flips to 2019, let’s look back at some of the highlights.

hot wheels 50th logoFirst for a sense of scale, consider what Hot Wheels did in 1993. In that pre-internet, pre-everything-is-collectible era, the Hot Wheels 25th Anniversary caught many fans by surprise. If you happened to be scanning the pegs for new cars, you might have been stopped in your tracks by the once-familiar red and orange flamed packages with the Hot Wheels logo. The wide custom cut card art, the button (reproduced in plastic) and the brightly colored cars were an instant time machine to the late 60s and early 70s remembered so fondly by kids of that era.

It’s almost cute how subtle the whole thing was. Original 16? No, Mattel only dragged out eight molds from the past. Heck, they may have even been caught off guard at how popular these would be, as the next year, “Vintage Series II” was released with eight more early favorites.

And that was pretty much it. Hot Wheels did a few commemorations for their 35th and 40th birthdays, but those numbers aren’t as magnificent as the big 5-0.

hot wheels 50th lionel train2018 started off kind of subtle, with the new “50” logo on all the packaging for new models and old. Not a huge deal, actually, although it set up some packaging variants to keep track of. In fact, the really special merchandise kind of just trickled out at first. Lionel surprised collectors with an elaborately decorated Hot Wheels-themed train set (complete with orange track!). It’s a really nicely done set, but that wasn’t quite what fans were expecting.

hot wheels 50th twin millhot wheels 50th flyerThe first 50th cars arrived early in the year, the “Black and Gold” series, a set of seven castings from various eras (six plus a mystery Treasure Hunt). If you hadn’t been paying attention to signals from the various insider clubs and rumor mills, that almost seemed like that was going to be the whole shebang.

Shortly after those cars came out, however, a little flyer arrived… a tear sheet available next to the store displays, outlining the rest of the commemorative models. A lot of them. Suddenly, it was game on!

Stars and Stripes,” “Zamac Flames,” and blue “Race Team” themes were all on the way, but some more “commemorative” lines were also promised. The 20 car “Throwback Collection” featured a mix of old and new castings. One interesting trend was that most of the celebration focused on models based on real cars, with only a few unlicensed, original, fantasy designs to be seen.

hot wheels 50th originalsThe “Originals” Series was kind of an odd mix… the late ’60s flamed card art, plus Spoilers-era cartoon illustrations of the cars, plus… well the castings were interesting.  They included a VW Beetle, a ‘Cuda, a Camaro, a Cougar, and a Mustang, staples of the original 16. But not the original castings: these were versions of later models. For the price, the overall effect was neat, but kind of a near miss for some collectors. (A few years ago, on the other hand, the RedLine Club did a much more accurate tribute by re-releasing castings of all of the “Original 16” cars. They even got the wheels right, with the covered center hubs. And the packaging was a much closer replica, as real as you could get without causing authenticity questions. More on these in a bit…)

hot wheels 50th mediaThe History Channel broadcast a one hour History of Hot Wheels in the summer. It was fun to watch, but it zoomed down the orange track too quickly. August brought about another amazing retrospective history of the brand in a more permanent form. The book “From 0 to 50 at 1:64 Scale” by Kris Palmer featured colorful layouts, terrific photography great sidelights, and an intro by Larry Wood (it was a big year for him and the other historic designers). Oh, and it came packaged in a vinyl carrying case that looked and smelled like 1970!

Speaking of good reading, Jim Garbaczewski teamed up with hobbyDB to publish the latest Hot Wheels Casting and Price Guide this past Spring. With 228 pages of details and 3,300 color photos, it’s as accurate and complete a listing of castings as you can get.

hot wheels postage stampsSeptember brought possibly the most welcome surprise of the anniversary… Hot Wheels postage stamps! Ten designs featuring cars from the original Twin Mill to 2018’s Mach Speeder made the mail flow just a bit faster. (How many of you used them on your holiday cards this year?)

hot wheels 50th convention carsThe conventions had a more celebratory feeling than usual too. The 18th Annual Collectors Nationals debuted a VW T-2 Rockster, a new casting that is sure to be popular among premium offerings for years to come. The 32nd Collectors Convention got into the spirit of things with an outstanding array of amazingly detailed paint schemes on the convention cars, including early castings of ’65 Mercury Cyclone of the new Dragstrip Demons gassers.

hot wheels 50th favoriteshot wheels 50th favorites drag busFall brought the 10 car “Favorites” series to stores. Sharp black cards stood out among the rest of the offerings, with colorful, Real Rider-adorned, metal-chassis cars. And what a selection it was. The Drag Samba Bus, the ’55 Chevy Gasser, and the ’67 Camaro anchored a wide variety of vehicles from different marques. They were kind of hard to find, but not impossible, making the hunt challenging and fun, but not over the top.

Then came one final present… a very limited edition replica of the Original Hot Wheels Store Display that kicked things off in 1968. This large cardboard unit included another round of repops of the original 16 in Spectraflame hues. Since it was limited to 1,500 pieces, it has sold briskly. Even at $500, it was worth it almost for the cars alone.

hot wheels 50th displayThroughout 2018, Mattel did an amazing job rekindling some of the memories that today’s collectors felt as kids. The celebration was downright fun, which is what made Hot Wheels an instant success from the start.

What was your favorite part of the Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary? Let us know in the comments below.

Save Big During hobbyDB’s Thanksgiving Diecast Garage Sale!

 

Rather than fight the millions of travelers taking to the highways this holiday week, why not leave the car in the driveway and fill up your diecast collection with great deals via hobbyDB’s Thanksgiving Garage Sale!

We’ve teamed up with several of our favorite trusted sellers to offer deals of up to 75 percent off diecast models. The sale runs through Cyber Monday (Nov. 26), so is the perfect opportunity to fill up the stockings of friends and family, or hunt down that coveted gift for under the tree.

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Check out the savings from these trusted sellers.

KMJ – 60% off plus more!

If you spend $300 or more, get an additional 30% off

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Today’s Sale – 25% off

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Fantastic Finds – 10% off

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Jayhow’s Hot Wheels and Collectibles – 10% off

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Model Car Hall of Fame – 10% off

model car hall of fame

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Toad Hall Motorbooks -10% off

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And don’t forget all the other Stores on hobbyDB who are having sales! The savings are on through Cyber Monday, and a lot of items are one of a kind!

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For Halloween, You’re Gonna Need an Ambulance or Hearse

1/64 scale ambualnce

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Halloween is a holiday associated with walking, specifically around the neighborhood seeking candy from neighbors. But if you need to drive on that date, there’s only one choice. Well, two actually: ambulance or hearse.

Both vehicles connote a kind of morbidity… one posthumously, one, umm… pre-posthumously? Humously? The point is, death, gore, all kinds of spooky stuff are easily associated with those vehicles, and even though they aren’t technically Halloween oriented, they fit right in.

johnny lightning surf hearseLet’s be more specific, though… we’re talking about car-based versions of these transports, not vans or other bespoke vehicles. Back in the day, coach building companies took standard sedans, stretched the wheelbase, extended the windshield upward, and added a long roof to create the basis for hearses and ambulances. There’s something kind of, well, ostentatious about a Cadillac hauling you to the hospital when a Chevrolet would do just fine. On the other hand, a Caddy hearse exudes a necessary touch of dignity and class to your final ride to the grave.

matchbox ambulance hearseSo, something about a vintage Caddy with curtains in the back just speaks to this holiday. There have been numerous models of these car-based body haulers built over the years, but let’s focus on 1/64 versions.

matchbox ambulance hearseMatchbox has offered a number of ambulances of all types in all their scales, often with removable stretchers and other goodies. When the early Benz “Binz” cars upgraded to SuperFast wheels, it was righteous fun. In the U.S., Caddy is far and away the leader in the hearse business. And they have been for a really long time. The long wheelbase helps, but really, any car can be modified into a hearse. Matchbox has since gone on to create various other models, mostly mid 1960s Cadillac based cars.

hot wheels 59 cadillac funny carHot Wheels has gotten into the Hot Hearse business as well, with the understatedly named ’59 Cadillac Funny Car casting. This thing is heavy, has a flip up body, and that’s all you need to know. And the 100% Hot Wheels Line also included a less souped-up 1963 Caddy hearse in several colors.

hot wheels 53 cadillac flower carOn a side note, there is also a Hot Wheels Custom ’53 Cadillac that looks like an El Camino’d coupe with a soap box derby car in the back. This is actually based on the old flower cars that used to be part of a funeral procession, so, yeah, that kinda counts.

hot wheels ecto 1Oh, did you think we forgot about Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters? Fun fact: The car used for the Ecto-1 was not a hearse, but an ambulance. In the original movie you actually get to see it briefly in gray primer, and honestly… it might be more awesome in that livery. The recent remake used a 1980s Caddy, which worked a lot better than it sounds on paper. Hot Wheels has them covered in multiple scales, even.

harold and maude hearseOf course, the greatest movie hearse of all time is Harold Chasen’s custom E-Type Jaguar hearse from Harold and Maude. There are a few larger scale models available, but 1/64-ish cars are hard to come by. Many folks have customized them over the years, like the Aurora ThunderJet slot car above. It’s the way Harold would do it, of course.

johnny lightning surf hearseJohnny Lightning has had some fun with hot rod hearses based on larger scale models. The dual engine Haulin’ Hearse dragster and the stately (even in lavender with flowers) Heavenly Hearse surf wagon were both based on kits made by Jo-Han.

johnny lightning meat wagonEven more fun was the Meat Wagon, a customized 1937 Packard Ambulance, based on a plastic kit by Aurora. This model also came decorated in honor of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and a few other schemes. All of the smaller JL models were available in other livery (or should that be dead-ery?).

johnny lightning 57 chevy hearseOf course, they did a version of the Ecto-1 and repurposed that casting with surf boards. Heck, the folks at Playing Mantis would stick surfboards on just about anything given the chance. And there was even a 1957 Chevy Bel Air  hearse. Remember what I said earlier about being driven to the grave in a Chevy? I take it back, that would be pretty cool.

zylmex mash ambulanceZylmex had an interesting ambulance model in the late 1970s. Detail is crude, but it appears to be a 1953 Chevy. It came decorated in olive drab with M*A*S*H decals. It was part of a series of toys and playsets from the TV show. What’s not to like there?

There are also a lot of sedan delivery or panel wagon models of all kinds that would make excellent hearses and ambulances, with or without surfboards, but let’s not beat this topic to death. Can you think of any 1/64 models we didn’t include here? Let us know in the comments six feet below.

Mini Matchbox Models Create a Big Mystery

mini matchbox prototypes

Compared to a standard 1/64 Matchbox truck, these mystery models are tiny.

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

While digging through our latest stash of Matchbox prototype cars, we discovered models of a couple of tiny vehicles. They were much smaller than the usual Matchbox offerings. Unsure of what they were, we started sleuthing around. We asked our trio of former Matchbox designers for insight: Rob Romash, Matchbox Master Model Maker; Steve Moye, Matchbox Designer; and Glenn Hubing, Matchbox Model Painter.

As it turns out, these were two concepts for a Mini Matchbox sub-brand. Galoob’s Micro Machines were immensely popular throughout the ‘90s, spawning playsets and carrying cases. In fact for a few years, they outsold Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Majorette… combined. So it made sense for Mattel to tap into the tiny car market. In the early 2000s, Matchbox explored the idea, commissioning some unlicensed, futuristic tiny vehicles. The two designs you see here are among the few they worked on but ultimately never produced.

mini matchbox prototypes

There are painted and unpainted castings of the fire engine.

The two vehicles are a police car and a fire engine, a pair of can’t-miss tropes for toy cars. Each one appears in two stages of the prototype process: A plain, early resin casting, and a highly detailed painted version. In all likelihood, due to the scale, the cars were designed to be molded as a single piece body with the windows painted instead of being separate clear pieces.

mini matchbox prototypes

The collection features painted and unpainted castings of the police car, too.

A couple of things stand out on these designs. First, while much smaller than a typical 1/64 vehicle, they are bigger than the standard Micro Machines car (2.75 inches long vs. 2 inches). The fire engine actually comes close to the Micros trucks size, but the police car is huge by comparison to their cars. Second, they sit up pretty high. The mounts for the axles are below the rest of the chassis, so the finished cars would ride like a monster truck or a donk. Also, there are no cutouts in the fenders to allow the wheels to recess into the body, so they would sit completely outside or the body work.

mini matchbox prototypes

Compared to Micro Machines cars, the Mini Matchbox cars were sort of big.

It’s possible the final designs were supposed to have the wheels situated a bit closer to the mass of the car, but since these are painted prototypes, it seems the shape is close to the what was intended for production. Sadly, we may never know the full intent of the designs.

hot wheels atomix

Hot Wheels briefly offered the Atomix line including teeny models of popular 1/64 designs.

Meanwhile, Hot Wheels produced the Atomix series of cars, close in size to the Micro Machines. The first ones came packaged as a bonus vehicle on some 2002 mainline cars. The early designs were based on existing Hot Wheels cars such as the Deora II and the Snake and Mongoose funny cars (which even featured flip up bodies!) They were eventually released in sets, of usually five or so vehicles.

speedeez mini cooper

Playmates’ Speedeez cars were Micro Machine sized but had ball bearings for speed. They also had large scale models that folded out into crazy playsets.

For some reason, when Hasbro acquired the Micro Machines brand, they dropped the ball on it, allowing it to more or less disappear (aside from licensed sets such as the Star Wars sets). In fact, all the brands of micro sized cars (such as Speedeez by Playmates Toys) pretty much vanished by the mid 2000s. But why?

The cars sold well, but displaying a collection was tricky. The cars themselves were tiny, but the packaging was huge by comparison, since they usually sold in sets of 5 or 10 cars. But the most obvious answer is that the cars were tiny enough to be considered choking hazards. It doesn’t seem like there was an epidemic of kids eating tiny cars, but it probably wasn’t worth the potential legal headache. For Matchbox, it was over before it began.

Whatever the reason for the quick end of the Micro cars, if you’re a serious collector, you might want to grab these very rare examples. Yep, they’re for sale in the hobbyDB Marketplace! They might fill a big hole you never knew was in your collection.

Which Holiday Owns The Nightmare Before Christmas ?

nightmare before christmas

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

If you want to feel old this upcoming holiday season, here’s some good news. Tim Burton’s classic stop-motion movie The Nightmare Before Christmas turns 25 in 2018. But when we say “holiday season…” well, which holiday? Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie?

nightmare before christmas pop

Awwww, look at those two, celebrating… which holiday, exactly?

Consider this list of films that folks watch in the spirit of October: GhostbustersNighmtare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th… What do they all have in common? They’re all kinda scary/spooky to some degree, and also… they technically don’t have anything at all to do with Halloween. In fact, aside from the Halloween movies, very few movies do. Heck, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial has more Halloween content than most horror films.

As far as Christmas movies, there are tons to choose from. Die Hard leads the list, of course (you disagree? bah humbug, I say!). And Lifetime/Hallmark have filled the broadcast waves with mushy romantic movies that have only the tiniest bearing on Christmas. It’s A Wonderful Life gets a lot of play, but really, it’s only kind of coincidentally related to Christmas.

nightmare before christmas santaThe Nightmare Before Christmas straddles a curious line between the two holidays. The main characters are ghosts and goblins and ghouls of all sorts who live in Halloweenland, preparing year round for their one special day. Sort of like elves making toys year round, right? Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, wishes his holiday could in fact be more like Christmas, so he decides to take over the Yuletide season. In fact, most of the movie takes place after Halloween, during the buildup to Christmas.

The monsters are generally more gothic and cute instead of creepy and scary, and act good-naturedly in most cases. Instead of a hostile takeover, the plot to take over Christmas involves a sincere desire to understand the Christmas spirit in order to embody the nature of the season. Does this all sound kind of like a Christmas movie? It does indeed.

In fact, the stop-motion animation technique gives the whole thing a toy-like feel reminiscent of those classic Rankin-Bass holiday specials. (In an ironic twist, Rankin-Bass gave us an Easter special with the scariest stop-motion villain of all, Iron Tail.)

Since this is hobbyDB, let’s try to settle the issue by looking at some of the collectibles from the film…

nightmare before christmas hot wheelsnightmare before christmas snow globe

Well, Santa Claus does get a lot of screen time in the movie. Not as much as Jack, but he’s pretty pivotal to the action. And when the chips are down, he gets pretty vengeful, kind of like Bruce Willis’ character in Die Hard, which we have already declared the greatest Christmas move of all time. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Zero the ghost dog has a glowing nose sort of like Rudolph. And he files. Very Christmas. On closer inspection, that nose is a tiny pumpkin. So Halloween.

Consider this Jack Skellington snow globe (right). Okay, stop right there for a second. Snow globes belong to winter, not any other season. Totally Christmas, right? Now look at the base of the sculpture. Sure, people give away candy for Halloween, but those peppermint sticks are a bit too much. In fact, there’s an entire series of these snow globes, all leaning heavily on the yuletide spirit. Christmas all the way.

nightmare before christmas jack skellingtonLet’s take a closer look at Jack himself. He is, by title, The Pumpkin King, which is about as Halloween as you can get. And he’s quite comfortable in the role, in fact, darn good at it. But he longs to be something, not different, but more. He wants to be Santa.

The list just goes on… Socks? These are decidedly Christmas themed. Or this sculpture? Well, if everyone in Halloweenland is on the naughty list, that means Santa has them on his radar. Or how about this video game? When did you get a copy of it? Your birthday, perhaps? Or as a Christmas present?

nightmare before christmas misc

nightmare before christmas ornamentHow about this collectible? It’s Jack, who is a skeleton, rising from a jack-0’lantern. What could possibly be more Halloween than that? Well, technically, this object is in fact… a Christmas ornament. So there ya go.

Despite the overriding gothic tones, the dark color palette, the fact that it takes place in Halloweenland… well, The Nightmare Before Christmas is really more of a Christmas movie than a Halloween movie. But since it covers both bases so well, the solution is to cue it up sometime in early October and watch it several times through the end of the year. Really, it’s that good.

In the spirit of both holidays, Jack Skellington lives inside all of us… like, say, a skeleton. Which is what he is, of course.

Do you have an opinion regarding which holiday this classic movie belongs to? Let us know in the comments!