If there is a toy that has been a favorite of children and adults for several decades, it would undoubtedly be a Hot Wheels car, a brand that never ceases to amaze collectors and car lovers for its incredible scale designs and exciting track sets. But where did the brand come from? Here you will learn about its history.
Hot Wheels: The Foundations of an Empire
It was in the mid-1960s when the creative Elliot Handler proposed to Mattel a line of scale model cars that, in 1968, would end up being launched under the name Hot Wheels. At the time, Matchbox was the only brand that sold cars of various sizes, and Handler got the idea for Hot Wheels when he saw his son, Kenneth, playing with the competition’s cars.
Handler’s original idea was to launch a line of hot rods, which are customized and modified to have a cartoonish or fantasy style, including giant tires, superchargers or flame-painted designs, and other extravagant details. Matchbox at that time only showed scale versions of classic cars, but in the end, Hot Wheels decided to launch a combination between hot rods and classic cars, resulting in a first line of 16 pieces that were authorized by Handler and his partner, Jack Ryan.
In 1968 this line went on sale, which was called Red Line because its sides had the design of a red line, although they were popularly known as “Sweet 16″, making a play on words between the 16 cars that made up the collection and the most important birthday of a young American girl. Eleven of the cars were designed by automotive specialist Harry Bentley Bradley. In support of Handler and Ryan, he based on the bodywork of existing models, such as the Dodge Deora concept car or the 1968 Chevrolet C-10.
With the sale of these cars, the brand also launched the first race track, which was sold separately, and its design served as the basis for the tracks we know today: orange, made in parts connected by circular lines, and regularly turn around themselves. One of the things that delighted the public most about these tracks, according to the National Toy Hall of Fame, was that they were made of hard plastic, which generated less friction and a smoother ride, unlike the ones Matchbox sold at the time, which were very narrow and made of metal.
The great success of these 16 cars led Mattel to consider enlarging the brand, and the rest of the firms, such as Matchbox, to rethink the design of their cars. However, by 1969, the company lost its designer, Bentley Bradley, who decided to leave the company to return to automotive development. Although the company begged him to return, the specialist refused but recommended an acquaintance of his who ended up being a great success for the toymaker. His name was Ira Gilford, the genius mind that designed several of the firm’s next most popular models, such as the Twin Mill and the Splittin’ Image.
From the 1970s to the late 1990s, Mattel kept the brand on a high note with new designers coming through the ranks and the release of many new models, as well as tracks; it even launched numbered special editions with a fairly small print run. One of its biggest successes came in 1997 when the company bought toymaker Tyco Toys and became the owner of Matchbox, but the most drastic change in the Hot Wheels project did not come until 2000, with the arrival of Eric Tscherne and Fraser Campbell, as well as former designer Paul Tam’s son, Alex Tam.
The Millennium Era of Hot Wheels
With the arrival of these three designers, Mattel also launched a website for collectors, since by then, the firm was consumed by young and old alike, and there were models for all tastes and audiences. From producing 16 cars, the company ended up releasing as many as 240 new and major models, divided among several of its labels, such as Treasure Hunts, First Editions, and Segment Series. Upon reaching its 25th anniversary in 2003, Mattel decided to put its company in competition in the world of entertainment by releasing its first full-length computer-animated movie called Hot Wheels Highway 35 World Race.
By 2004, Handler’s dream of launching a collection of hot rod models became a reality with the Tooned series, which was created by Tscherne and included bodies with large bodies, huge wheels, enlarged fronts, and stretched bodies. Mattel didn’t let Hot Wheels stay out of the entertainment world, so after releasing a second movie in 2005 called Hot Wheels AcceleRacers, it worked on the firm’s first 3D animated TV series Hot Wheels Battle Force 5, co-produced by Nelvana and WildBrain, and released in August 2009.
In the last few years, Hot Wheels had more than 1,000 car designs of all types and sizes, with more than 300 different tracks featuring adventurous and fantastic scenarios, making it the most important miniature car brand in the world.
In 2018, Mattel celebrated the brand’s 50th anniversary by launching several collector-focused lines, such as the Favorites series, which included 11 detailed cars made in metal bodies and with rubber tires, as well as a special 48-car display case that could stand on its own or be hung on the wall, and which contained one unique and different car per piece.
Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva