In the world of die-cast toy cars, attention to detail is appreciated, but what kids really crave is speed. And for over forty years, Mattel’s Hot Wheels have delivered the goods, proclaiming themselves not only fast, but the fastest. As such, they have remained enormously popular (and collectable) ever since they were first introduced in 1968.
Mattel’s co-founder Elliot Handler devised a way to coax more speed out of a die-cast car by giving it a pair of axles with styrene wheels that spun with ease. The result turned out to be good on its promise: The fastest cars on the market. Mattel also gave their miniature cars a bang up paint job, built them after the fanciest models, and made them durable enough to slam into walls and furniture with parent-irritating repetition.
But to top it off, Mattel not only created the cars, but the road to drive them on. The Hot Wheels track system made a speed crazy, race addicted, civil engineer out of every child who owned one. The track came with all the plastic accessories necessary to create a miniature living room Daytona: straightaways, connectors, loops, curves, ramps, launchers, speedometers, etc. While the privileged few enjoyed spring-loaded launchers and battery-powered super boosters, most kids more than made do with gravity and a fling of the wrist. Timed right, a car could race down a ramp, make a screaming hair pin turn, loop over itself and launch off the stairway just in time to peg dad as he was coming in from work. Speed indeed.
As the years rolled on, so did Hot Wheels, producing more cars annually than Chevy, Ford, and GM combined. More tracks and playsets came out, some playing up the demolition derby aspects of racing (as in Criss-Cross Crash) while others cashed in on the action-packed world of stunt driving (like escaping the eruption of Volcano Blowout). Hot Wheels joined the underground world of slot-car racing in 1997 thanks to a merger with Tyco. Motorized, chargeable cars like the sleek X-V Racers now zipped along slotted tracks indefinitely with no walls, furniture, or lack of propulsion to stop them.
Hot Wheels cars and tracks continue to dominate as one of the most coveted die-cast toy cars on the market, having brought smiles to the faces of millions of youngsters with an insatiable need for speed. And they show no signs of slowing.
If you fondly remember your coveted collection of Hot Wheels cars, perhaps even the labyrinth of plastic track you set up in your bedroom, we’d love to hear all of your recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to the iconic toy.