The History of Hot Wheels

by Sean
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For more than five decades, Hot Wheels has provided adrenaline-fueled vehicle play that ignites the challenger spirit in every kid with the most outrageous and innovative cars and track systems. Hot Wheels was born when Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler challenged his design team, which included a General Motors car designer and a rocket scientist to create a toy car that was cooler and performed better than anything on the market. They answered with the first-ever trackable toy car. Handler was so impressed by the car’s groundbreaking new wheel design and performance that his first response when he saw it rolling along the floor was: “Those are some hot wheels!” Soon, deals were in place to re-create muscle cars from the Big Three car makers, along with a patented independent suspension to complement the speedy wheel design. The Hot Wheels Custom Camaro hit shelves in May of 1968. It was quickly followed by 15 more 1:64 scale speed machines.  This first edition of cars became known as the “Sweet 16”—now among the most valuable and collectible toy vehicles ever made.

Challenge has always been core to Hot Wheels play. How fast can I go? Will I nail the jump? Will the car make it through the loop? These are just a few of the thoughts that race through children’s heads when they play with Hot Wheels. Hot Wheels believes that the challenges the brand provides through competition, creativity and experimentation help kids build the skills and confidence they need to take on the world. Much more than a toy, the brand has mushroomed into a booming franchise and multi-channel play experience. It has become a true lifestyle brand with segments in gaming, digital platforms, auto partnerships, licensed apparel and merchandise.

The “Sweet 16,” the first set of die-cast cars, included custom designs based on real life hot rods and reflected California’s custom car culture. Speed, power and performance were the common attributes shared by every car that bore the Hot Wheels name. Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler first entered into the die-cast car business while playing with his children in 1966.  He realized that the die-cast cars available at that time were rather lackluster – not very agile and lacking a wide range of models and variations.  

The Hot Wheels design team knew that the key to the brand’s success was in the speed of the cars. Kids wanted their cars to be fast and the design team delivered. The suspension in the original Hot Wheels cars utilized a thick gauge music wire as the axle, which when lubricated and coupled with a unique plastic bearing, allowed the wheels to roll and spin freely with minimal friction.  The design team also zeroed in on making the cars eye-catching, accomplished through the unique “Spectraflame” paint jobs the cars sported. By polishing the car bodies down to an almost mirror shine and spray-painting them with a transparent colored paint, the result was a candy-colored, metallic finish the likes of which had never been seen before.  With sleek silhouettes, huge supercharged engines and wide back wheels, these customized cars raised the bar for toy and automotive designers alike by creating cars that challenged traditional car design limitations.

The first line of Hot Wheels die-cast cars introduced were called “The Sweet 16,” and made their debut at the International Toy Fair in 1968. “The Sweet 16” were 16 cars whose designs were inspired by California muscle cars and hot rods.  The first Hot Wheels toy car offered was the Custom Camaro, sold on May 18, 1968 – Hot Wheels’ official “birthday.“ Following the Custom Camaro, the 15 other cars in the line were the Beatnik Bandit, Custom Barracuda, Custom Corvette, Custom Cougar, Custom Eldorado, Custom Firebird, Custom Fleetside, Custom Mustang (shown above), Custom T-Bird, Custom Volkswagen, Deora (now called Dodge Deora Concept), Ford J-Car, Hot Heap, Python (now called Cheetah) and the Silhouette. Hot Wheels went on to influence car culture and real-world car design by creating toy cars that looked radically different from anything else on the road in 1968. To this day “The Sweet 16” remain among the most valuable and collectible toy vehicles ever made.

As it turned out, the Hot Wheels brand was a staggering success. The series completely disrupted the whole industry for small die-cast car models from 1968 onwards, forcing the competition at Matchbox and elsewhere to completely rethink their concepts, and to scramble to try to recover lost ground. Harry Bentley Bradley did not think that would be the case and had quit Mattel to go back to the car industry. When the company asked him back, he recommended a good friend, Ira Gilford. Gilford, who had just left Chrysler, quickly accepted the job of designing the next Hot Wheels models. Some of Hot Wheels’ greatest cars, such as the Twin Mill and Splittin’ Image, came from Ira Gilford’s drawing board.

The success of the 1967 line was solidified and consolidated with the 1969 releases, with which Hot Wheels effectively established itself as the hottest brand of small toy car models in the USA. Splittin’ ImageToreroTurbofire, and Twin Mill were part of the “Show & Go” series and are the very first original in-house designs by Hot Wheels.

The initial prototypes of the Beach Bomb were faithful to the shape of a real VW Type 2 “bus”, and had two surfboards sticking out the back window, in a nod to the VW’s perceived association with the surfing community and the slang term for a person who spends much time surfing – a ‘beach bum’.  During the fledgling Hot Wheels era, Mattel wanted to make sure that each of the cars could be used with any of the playsets and stunt track sets. Unfortunately, testing showed that this early version (now known among collectors as the Rear-Loader Beach Bomb, or ‘RLBB’) was too narrow to roll effectively on Hot Wheels track or be powered by the Super Charger, and was too top-heavy to negotiate high-speed corners.

Hot Wheels designers Howard Rees and Larry Wood modified the casting, extending the side fenders to accommodate the track width, as well as providing a new place on the vehicle to store each of the plastic surfboards. The roof was also cut away and replaced by a full-length sunroof, to lower the center of gravity. Nicknamed the Side-loader by collectors, this was the production version of the Beach Bomb.

The Rear-Loader Beach Bomb is widely considered the “Holy Grail”, or ultimate pinnacle, of a serious Hot Wheels collection. An unknown number were made as test subjects and given to employees. A regular production Beach Bomb may be worth up to $600, depending on condition. Market prices on RLBBs however, have easily reached the five-figure plateau, ranging from $70,000 to $120,000.  The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles had a pink RLBB in its Hot Wheels exhibit, displayed alone on a rotating platform under glass. The Hot Wheels Collectors Club released a new, updated version of the Rear Loading Beach Bomb in 2002 as a limited edition.

1970 was a very successful year for Hot Wheels, so Mattel came up with a new advertising slogan for the cars: “Go With the Winner”.  43 new cars appeared this year. This was also the year that Sizzlers and Heavyweights lines appeared. Howard Rees, who worked with Ira Gilford, was tired of designing cars. He wanted to work on the Major Matt Mason action figure toy line-up. Rees had a good friend by the name of Larry Wood. They had worked together at Ford designing cars. When Wood found out about Hot Wheels at a party Rees was holding, Rees offered Wood the job of designing Hot Wheels models. Wood agreed, and by the end of the week, Wood was working at Mattel. His first design would be the Tri-Baby. After 36 years, Wood still works for Hot Wheels.

Another designer, Paul Tam, joined Wood and Gilford. Tam’s first design for Hot Wheels was the Whip Creamer. Tam continued to work for Mattel until 1973. Among the many fantastic designs Tam thought up for Hot Wheels, some of the collector’s favorites include Evil Weevil (a Volkswagen Beetle with two engines), Open Fire (an AMC Gremlin with six wheels), Six Shooter (another six wheeled car), and the rare Double Header (co-designed with Larry Wood).

The year 1970 introduced “the Snake and the Mongoose”, a manufactured ‘rivalry’ between two professional drag racers calling themselves “the Snake” and “the Mongoose” for the purposes of publicity. This was notably drag racing’s first major non-automotive corporate sponsor, and the beginning of the NHRA’s booming popularity with large-budget teams and championships. 1970 also introduced the first ‘Silver Series’, which contained three silver-painted models: the Boss Hoss, the Heavy Chevy, and the King ‘Kuda, which were only obtainable through a mail-in offer that included a membership to the Hot Wheels Club. These three cars featured “supercharged” engines (featuring large Roots blowers) without hoods, and open exhaust headers, after the style of drag racing cars of the era. Popular among children, these ‘Silver Cars’ were considered faster than the rest of the Hot Wheels lineup, because they were supposedly heavier than the other gravity models, but the accuracy of this claim has never been tested under scientific conditions.

However, 1972 and 1973 were slow years. Only seven new models were made in 1972. Of the 24 models appearing for 1973, only three were new models. Also the cars changed from Mattel’s in-house Spectraflame colors to mostly drab, solid enamel colors, which mainstream Hot Wheels cars still use today. Due to low sales, and the fact that the majority of the castings were not re-used in later years, the 1972-3 models are known to be very collectible.

In 1974, Hot Wheels introduced its ‘Flying Colors‘ line, and added flashy decals and “tampo-printed” paint designs which helped revitalize sales. As with the lower-friction wheels in 1968, this innovation was revolutionary in the industry, and—although far less effective in terms of sales impact than in 1968—was copied by the competition, who did not want to be outmaneuvered again by Mattel product strategists.

In 1977, the ‘Redline Wheel’ was phased out, with the red lines no longer being printed on the wheels. This cut costs, but also reflected that the prototypical “red line tires” popular on high-speed-rated automotive tires during the era of muscle cars and Polyglas tires were no longer popular. During this period, there was a trend away from wild hot rods and fantastic cars, and a move to more realistic cars and trucks, like the competitor Matchbox.

In 1981, Hot Ones wheels were introduced, which had gold-painted hubs, and claimed to have thinner axles for greater speed, along with additional suspension compliance that older production Hot Wheels lacked.  Ultra Hot Wheels were introduced in 1984, and looked something like the cast alloy wheels found on a 1980s-era high-trim Renault Fuego or a Mazda 626, with three parallel dark lines cutting diagonally across the flat chrome face of the wheel, all three broken in the center to form six individual shorter lines. These new “Ultra Hots” claimed further speed improvements. Hot Wheels started offering models based on 1980s-era sports and economy cars, like the Pontiac Fiero or Dodge Omni 024, in addition to their typical ‘hot rod’ and muscle car style offerings. In 1983, a new style of wheel called Real Riders were introduced, which featured real rubber tires.  Despite the fact that they were very popular, the Real Riders line was short-lived, because of high production costs. In the late 1980s, the so-called Blue Card blister pack color scheme was introduced, which would become the basis of Hot Wheels colors still used today (original blister packs were red and yellow.

Two other innovations were introduced briefly in Hot Wheels cars in the 1980s – Thermal Color Change paint, and rotating ‘crash panel’ vehicles (“Crack-Ups“). The former were able to change color on exposure to hot or cold water, and there were an initial release of 20 different cars, available as sets of three vehicles. The latter were vehicles with a panel that, on contact, would rotate to reveal a reverse side which appeared to be heavily dented. Variations in crash-panels included front, rear and side panels, the last of whose mechanism has proven to be the most durable.

In the 1980s, Hot Wheels had gotten into a controversy with General Motors’ Chevrolet Motors Division. In 1982, the Chevrolet Corvette had ended the curvaceous “Mako Shark” body-style that had been in production for almost 15 years, and GM announced that the Corvette would be redesigned. In 1983, Chevrolet started to produce the all new C4 Corvette but had assembly line problems which pushed production back 6 months causing GM’s Marketing Department to label all 1983s as 1984s once they got production perfected so it would seem to the public that the all-new C4 Corvette came out early rather than late. But Hot Wheels saw what the new model of Corvette was going to look like before GM’s official unveiling, and they designed a die cast version of the 1984 Corvette. GM was angered and almost pulled its licensing with Mattel, but this controversy helped Corvette buffs see what the new Corvette was going to look like. The 1984 Corvette production ran for 1.5 model years covering half of the remaining 1983 model year and ending on time for the 1985 model year.

In 1989, Mattel released collector numbers. Each car had its own number.  The cards were all blue, for all blister packs released from 1989–1994. Numbers included went as high as 274; however, these were skip numbered, and numbers such as 48, 61, and 173 were not used.

The year 1995 brought a major change to the Hot Wheels line, where the cars were split up into series. One was the 1995 Model Series, which included all of that year’s new castings. In 1996, the Model Series was renamed to First Editions. 1995 also saw the introduction of the Treasure Hunt Series.  The rest of the series included four cars with paint schemes that followed a theme. For example, the Pearl Driver cars all had pearlescent paint. Sales for the series models soared with another program also introduced that year called the Bonus Car program, causing stores across the nation to have shortages. Purchasing the four car sets and sending in the packaging backs plus a handling fee gave you the opportunity to collect the bonus cars, 1 each released for each quarter of the year starting in 1996 through at least 2000. Several new wheel designs were also introduced in the 1990s.

Mattel bought Tyco Toys in 1997. Along with the purchase came old competitor Matchbox. Arguably the two dominant companies in matchbox-sized cars were now under one roof.

In 1998, Mattel celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Hot Wheels brand by replicating various cars and individual packaging from its 30-year history and packaging these replicated vehicles in special 30th Anniversary boxes. In 1999, Hot Wheels Interactive was launched.

A new generation of Hot Wheels Designers came in. Eric Tscherne and Fraser Campbell along with former designer Paul Tam’s son, Alec Tam, joined the design team. Many still work for Mattel today. Tscherne’s Seared Tuner (formerly Sho-Stopper) graced the mainline packaging from 2000 to 2003. The Deora II, one of only two Hot Wheels concept cars ever made into full-size, functional cars, was also released this year.

In 2001, Mattel issued 240 mainline releases consisting of 12 Treasure Hunts, 36 First Editions, 12 Segment Series with four cars each, and 144 open stock cars. Popular models that debuted include the Hyper Mite and Fright Bike.

For 2002, the mainline consisted of 12 Treasure Hunts, 42 First Editions, 15 Segment Series of 4 cars each, and 126 open stock cars. Popular new models included the `68 Cougar and the Nissan Skyline GT-R. Some cars from the first editions series are the BackdraftOverbored 454Vairy 8, and Super Tsunami.

In 2004, Hot Wheels unveiled its “Hot 100” line, comprising 100 new models. These new models included cartoonish vehicles such as the ‘Tooned (vehicles based on the larger Hot Tunerz line of Hot Wheels created by Eric Tscherne, Blings (boxy bodies and big wheels), Hardnoze (enlarged fronts), Crooze (stretched out bodies), and Fatbax (super-wide back tires and short bodies). Fatbax models include Toyota Supra and a Corvette C6. These vehicles did not sell as well as Mattel expected, and many could still be found in stores throughout 2005. Mattel also released 2004 First Editions cars with unpainted Zamac bodies. They were sold through Toys ‘R’ Us and were made in limited numbers.

In 2005, Hot Wheels continued with new “extreme” castings for the 2nd year, debuting 40 distorted cars, in addition to 20 “Realistix” models. The rest of the line included the standard 12 Treasure Hunts, 10 Track Aces, 50 Segment Series Cars, and 50 Open Stock Models. Four Volkswagen “Mystery Cars” were offered as a special mail-in promo. Each Mystery Car came with a special voucher. Upon collection of all 4 vouchers, one was able to send away for a special 13th Treasure Hunt, a VW Drag Bus.

Hot Wheels also unveiled its new “Faster than Ever” line of cars, which had special nickel-plated axles, along with bronze-colored Open-Hole 5 Spoke wheels. These adjustments supposedly reduce friction dramatically, resulting in cars that are called the “Faster than Ever” series. The first run of these cars were available for a limited time only, from the beginning of October towards the end of November 2005.

In 2007, Mattel released 36 New Models (formerly First Editions), 12 Treasure Hunts (with a hard-to-find regular version and even rarer “Super Treasure Hunt” version of each with rubber Real Rider tires and Spectraflame paint), 12 ‘Teams’ of 4 cars each (formerly Segment Series), 24 Code Cars (codes imprinted inside packaging that can be used to unlock web content), 12 Track Stars (formerly Track Aces), 24 Mystery Cars (packaged on a card with a opaque blister, so the buyer cannot see which car is inside without opening it), and 24 All Stars (formerly Open Stock). In late 2006, a new package design for 2007 was released. Some 2006 cars and all 2007 cars are packaged on a blister card with the new design. Hot Wheels released a series called Modifighters, which are similar to Transformers except for the fact that they were originally cars and were modified into robots. The Modifighters names are: Streetwyse, Skullface, Live Wire, Bedlam, Nightlife, Mr. Big, and Quick-Tyme.

In 2008, all the series and vehicles were relatively similar to 2007’s cars. approximately 180 to 200 new vehicles were released.

In 2009, Mattel released 42 New Models, 12 Treasure Hunts, 12 Track Stars, 24 Mystery Cars, 10 Segment Series of 10 cars, and introduced the Indy Car Series drivers.

2011 saw the release of 244 cars beginning with the 2011 New Car Series which includes the Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 SuperleggeraCustom 2011 Camaro, and the DeLorean time machine from the Back to the Future series. This was followed by the 15-car Treasure Hunt series with 1957 Chevy and 1958 Chevy Impala, 15 Track Stars including the 2010 Formula Street series, the 10×10 series, the Thrill Racers series, and 22 HW Video Game Heroes which were packaged with codes for an internet computer game. The new series “Team Hot Wheels” appear in the late 2011.

2012 saw the release of 247 cars, beginning with the 2012 New Car Series which includes the Lamborghini Aventador, Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca, KITT from Knight Rider, and the ever-popular Scooby Doo Mystery Machine. 2012 also released two vehicles from the Angry Birds video game consisting of the Red Bird and the green Minion Pig.

2013 saw the release of 250 cars including StuntRacingImaginationCity, and Showroom, all of which contain sub-series. 2013 also saw a change in the look of the packaging cards which includes a quartet of helmeted motorcycle riders standing behind the flame logo and the Treasure Hunt series cards no longer marked with a treasure chest. Some of those cars include: RodzillaFangulaTwin Mill III (3), Bone Shaker and Baja Bone Shaker.

General Motors also released a special Chevrolet Camaro Hot Wheels Edition, which was a blue convertible which offered various Hot-Wheels themed decorations throughout the car.

2014 also saw 250 mainstream cars released with similar segments to 2013. Various playsets and other non-car merchandise was also released this year. The end of 2014 also the marks the end of the license agreement between Mattel and Ferrari, meaning the 2014 release of Ferrari 5 Pack would be the last for Mattel, and the 2015 black Ferrari 599XX being the last Ferrari model appearing in mainstream, both regular model and its Treasure Hunt variant.

2016 lineup was similar to 2015 and 2014 in terms of segments, and the design of the card was overhauled. Some car names were TBD (To Be Determined) or 2016 (Coming Soon). They’re now divided into mini collections with their corresponding segments and their icons printed on the card. Some of them include: HW ShowroomBMW (100th anniversary of BMW), HW Screen Time (Cars and characters seen on television, video games, and movies), and HW Snow Stormers. New models include: Cruise BruiserSide Ripper, and Grass Chomper, ‘16 Acura NSX, while other models first see their release in the mainline series, such as the ‘52 Hudson Hornet.

This year saw a major change in casting numbering. Since that moment, recolors are named with a different number than the original, thus causing the number limit of cars to expand to 365. The idea of numbering a casting with a number corresponding to their own series was also aborted. There were also some new mainline series introduced, such as Experimotors (cars with moving parts, or a secondary purpose), Holiday Racers (cars that have a holiday based theme), Factory Fresh (a series including newer, sometimes older castings with fabric painting) and Camaro Fifty (a series dedicated to the Chevrolet Camaro, and its 50th anniversary).

Through the years, Hot Wheels cars have been collected mostly by children, but since the late 1990s, there has been an increase in the number of adult collectors. Mattel estimates that 41 million children grew up playing with the toys, the average collector has over 1,550 cars, and children between the ages of 5 and 15 have an average of 41 cars. Most believe the collecting craze started with the Treasure Hunts in 1995. Mike Strauss has been called the father of Hot Wheels collecting; he has organized two collectors’ events each year in some form since 1986. The first event was the Annual Hot Wheels Collectors Convention, normally held each year in the fall. The convention occurred in various locations around the country until 2001, when the first Annual Hot Wheels Collectors Nationals was put together. Since then, the Conventions are held each year in southern California. The Hot Wheels Collectors Nationals rotate among cities outside of California during the spring. Strauss has also published the quarterly Hot Wheels Newsletter since 1986 and was one of the first to unite collectors all over the world. He also writes the Tomart’s Price Guide To Hot Wheels, a book listing history, car descriptions and values, which is used by almost every collector to learn more about the hobby and their collection. Strauss sold his collection in 2011 and retired from the Hot Wheels Newsletter.

There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of web pages dedicated to Hot Wheels collecting. Collectors are seeking everything related to Hot Wheels, from only new castings to only Red Lines and everything in between. For the most part it is a relatively inexpensive hobby, when compared with coin collecting, stamp collecting or Barbie collecting, with mainline cars costing about $0.97-$1.08 (USD) at retail. The price has not changed much in almost 40 years, although in real terms the models have dropped significantly in price (a Hot Wheels car cost $0.98 in 1968 and costs $0.98 today, in spite of inflation). After the cars are no longer available at retail the cost can vary significantly. A common car may sell for less than retail, while some of the more difficult cars can sell for many hundred or even thousands of dollars. The highest price paid for a Hot Wheels car was close to $70,000 in 2000 for a pre-production version of a Volkswagen Rear Loader Beach Bomb (the asking price was $72,000). The Beach Bomb is a VW microbus with a pair of surfboards poking out the rear window. This design failed initial testing, proving to be top-heavy and not functional with the Power Booster track accessory. A widened version with the surfboards mounted in side slots was designed and released for the 1969 model year, making the “rear loader” version a rarity and very sought-after piece. As of 2018, there are about 50 “rear loaders” known to exist.

The Hot Wheels Classics line was an immediate hit with enthusiasts everywhere. The new line focused on muscle cars, hot rods, and other offbeat vehicles (such as a go-kart, a motor home and even an airplane), many from the company’s first ten years (1968–78) of production. The series is also used to debut several different castings, such as the 1965 Chevy Malibu or the 1972 Ford Ranchero.

Series 1 from 2005 consisted of 25 models, each with all-metal body and chassis, decked out with Spectraflame paint, in packages similar to those used from 1968 to 1972. Each car had a retail price of about three to four dollars (USD) and each of the 25 cars were released with 7 or 8 different colors. Models included the 1957 Chevy Bel Air (pictured at the right), the 1963 Ford T-Bird, and the 1965 Pontiac GTO.

In late 2005, Series 2 now consisted of 30 models including the 1967 Camaro Convertible, the 1969 Dodge Charger, and a 1965 Mustang GT. There was also supposed to be a separate Mustang Funny Car (as listed on the blisterpack rear checklist) but this was apparently changed to a Plymouth Barracuda Funny Car during production.

In 2006, a Series 3 line of Classics was introduced, again containing 30 models with multiple colors of each vehicle. Models included the ’69 Pontiac Firebird, a Meyers Manx dune buggy, and the Richard Petty ’70 Plymouth “Superbird”.

In 2007, Series 4 debuted with just fifteen models. However, in recognition of the 40th anniversary there were two packaging versions available – models came with a collectible metal badge (featuring a portrait of the involved vehicle) or were sold alone as in the previous three series. Models included a VW Karmann Ghia, a ’68 Mercury Cougar, and the “Red Baron” hot rod. For its 40th anniversary in 2008, Hot Wheels celebrated the making of its four billionth car with the production of a diamond-studded model worth US$140,000. It had 2,700 diamond chips, a total of almost 23 karats, and was cast in white gold, with rubies serving as taillights.

In 2009, Series 5 has 30 models. For the first time, there are chase cars in the classics series. These cars feature Real Riders rubber tires. A few models included are Copper Stopper1970 Pontiac GTO, and Hammer Sled.Hot Wheels has also released slightly larger, more detailed models, such as the original Gran Toros (1/43 scale) from 1970, and the Dropstars line (a model line of “blinged” cars). Also in this larger scale are the HIN (Hot Import Nights), G-Machines and Customs lines. These lines were introduced in 2004–2005.

Hot Wheels has produced many replica scale models in the industry standard 1/43, 1/24 and 1/18 scales. In 2004, it released a 1/12 scale replica of the C6 Corvette.

Hot Wheels also in the early 1990s introduced a series known as the California Customs. A line of cars that had a California theme.

Other lines from Hot Wheels include: R-R-Rumblers & Chopcycles (motorcycles introduced in 1971), Hotbirds (metal airplanes), SizzlersXV RacersHot Tunerz and Stockerz.

In 2016 Hot Wheels started a new line of Collector’s models, in a line called Car Culture. Car Culture is Hot Wheels’ line of Premium 1:64 models with metal bodies and bases, two-piece wheels with rubber tires, and more detailed decorations. Intended for adult collectors primarily, these models retail for roughly 6-7 times the cost of a mainstream 1:64 Hot Wheels model.

This line was kicked off with the release of “Japan Historics“, a set of five Japanese sports cars. Every year at least four more sets are introduced. All Car Culture sets have five cars, and often have new castings created for the sets. The number five spot in the set is usually reserved for the newest casting in the set. Car Culture cars are typically based on real automobiles; however in 2018, Hot Wheels introduced a set called “Team Transport“, which included some fantasy truck castings. (Although “Team Transport” is labeled under the Car Culture line, they are a separate category of Car Culture vehicles than the usual 5-car sets, possessing different barcodes and prices). These cars retail for over three times the retail price of a “basic” car, and are produced in significantly fewer numbers.

In 2018, for Hot Wheels’ 50th Anniversary, Car Culture card sizes were increased, along with the amount of decorations on the cars. A Hot Wheels “50th anniversary” logo was also placed beside the set’s name on the packaging.

Treasure Hunt (sometimes T-Hunt) is a line of Hot Wheels cars, introduced by Mattel in 1995. It consisted of 12 cars every year (15 beginning in 2011) with one or two released per month. The original production run was 10,000 of each car worldwide; that number has since risen due to the increasing demand for and popularity of Hot Wheels as a collector’s item.

Treasure Hunt vehicles are identifiable by a label on the package. The blister card said “Treasure Hunt” or “T-Hunt” on a green bar, sometimes with an illustration of a treasure chest. Since 2013, Treasure Hunts do not have the green stripe anymore; instead, the cars are recognizable with a “flame in a circle logo” on the vehicle and behind it on the card. The cars were decorated with flashy designs and special “rubber” wheels before 2007.

In 2007, Mattel introduced a two-tiered Treasure Hunt system. A regular Treasure Hunt will feature normal enamel paint and normal wheels like other Hot Wheels cars. The production of these is rumored to be greater than previous T-Hunts. “Super” Treasure Hunts are much harder to find. Like Treasure Hunts of the past, a Super Treasure Hunt features premium wheels and Spectraflame paint, as well as (starting in 2015), a golden-colored circle-flame logo printed on the card behind the car. Many Hot Wheels collectors have noticed in recent times that the US Basic mixes are more likely to have a Super Treasure Hunt in them compared to International Mixes.

Before 2013, all 12 Treasure Hunt cars of a year were released in both regular and super versions. In 2012, Super Treasure Hunts came with special paint and wheels, but with series designation on the card. However, the regular T-hunts retained a special T-Hunt series card. Mattel stopped using special cards for all Treasure Hunts in 2013. Some U.S. releases in 2014 had the phrase “This symbol on the vehicle lets you know it is hard to find and highly collectible”. However, in 2016, this was changed to “Congratulations! This symbol means you just found a collectable treasure-hunt car!”. This would be under a silver flame logo on the card for T-Hunts. In 2015, Supers featured a gold logo on the card. Generally, Hot Wheels has targeted both kids and adults with the T-Hunt series, focusing more on the adult collecting market with Supers.

Everything you wanted to know about Hot Wheels in a nut shell.  It’s been a long storied ride for Hot Wheels, and in my opinion, it will only continue to grow and stay the hottest selling toy in the world and the most collectible toy for adults.

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