Toy Trader
Hot Wheels - April 1999

1999 Paul M. Provencher

Hot Wheels Race Team
What is this Hot Wheel thing?

Our illustrious editor asked me if I would care to write a column about Hot Wheels. My answer was an unqualified yes. While I collect a wide variety of die cast vehicles, I would have to say that I am probably most dedicated to tracking the latest happenings of those little cars from Mattel. So in the months to follow, I will give you my personal perspective on this faction of die cast collecting.

Classic Cord and Rig Wrecker Power Charger Torture Classic Cord and Rig Wrecker

I should start out by warning that I have some strong opinions. I do things with my Hot Wheel collection that are probably not for the faint of heart (I open the packages for starters…) If you can handle that, read on. I have Power Chargers and track sets. Getting weak yet? My redline Classic Cord has been around the track a few hundred times… As for my take on the state of the hobby? Bluntly put, I think it’s a mess. That is not to say that I do not enjoy collecting Hot Wheels. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just that, unlike a large group of new "collectors", I have no delusions of impending wealth. I do not regard each trip to a Hot Wheels display as a pilgrimage in search of the holy grail. If I run into another collector in the store (real collector that is), I am just as likely to give them my spare Treasure Hunt as take another breath. I could care less about a package found with the contents inside being upside-down, backward, inside-out, or deformed. So what is my "angle"? It’s very simple. Hot Wheels are CHEAP (Well if you have patience and self-control). And I like CARS. Boy, that sounds lame, but it’s true.

Hot Wheels Race Team

I started collecting Hot Wheels, like a lot of people did, when they first came out in 1968. I needed something else to do after the "Summer of Love" finished. Well no, actually, that is not completely true. I was only 13 and I was living that scene vicariously through our teenage baby sitters. And the local department store had these cool cars that just blew away the Lesney-Matchbox with the old style wheels. Lest anyone think that my incredible collection of mint-in-package redlines from the late sixties and early seventies is going to fund my retirement, I must quickly point out that every last one of those cars was opened on the way out of the store. The package was placed in the trash barrel on the sidewalk. The cars were played with until they were bare metal. And I think if I rented a metal detector, I would find them squashed flat in my parents ancient gravel driveway, somewhere near where the big yellow school bus is parked every day...

Hot Wheels Race Team

I resumed my collecting in 1988. It was a fall back position from a stretch of impulse buying 1/43 scale Sommerville vehicles that left my credit card panting and my future wife aghast. I had to have die cast metal cars and Hot Wheels were going to be my placebo. I first concentrated on getting the ones that I liked. No purple sharks (Sharkruiser), no "gold-plated" Pontiac Banshees (Cal Customs) for me. Instead I hunted down every variation of every classic car in the Hot Wheels line. Mercedes 540K, Mustang Convertible (it’s not really a classic car but…), Auburn 852, Talbot Lago, Fat Fendered 40 (Ford), Classic Packard, Old Number 5, 32 Ford Delivery, 3-Window ’34, and the like.

Hot Wheels Race Team

Sometime in 1989 Mattel changed the packaging of the single blister cards to make the "Collector Number" more prominent. Even though it had been in use since probably as early as 1985 in one form or another, it was not until this time that it appeared clearly on the front of the blister pack, down in the lower right-hand corner. Now for the record, I did not concern myself with these Collector Numbers at that time. From a mercenary standpoint that was a big mistake. Some of the vehicles in early, low Collector Number blisters have become blue-chip items for folks that want to have the entire Collector Number series (I have been called a "completist", so I guess that includes me). I blindly got one of the hot Collector Numbers - #1 (Old Number 5). The irony is that I found it in the Collector Number blister and the "old" blister at the same time. I remember pondering the choice and deciding that, what the heck, it would be "cool" to have the #1 Collector Number car…. Well, as it turns out, it was a little more than cool. People pay silly money for this collector number in mint condition. But don’t bother sending me e-mail - I opened mine with a crow-bar. I still have the blister, all three pieces of it…. Yeah yeah, that was dumb. But I am a fast learner.

Hot Wheels Race Team

Oh and speaking of "COOL", I am surprised Mattel hasn’t got a copyright on the word. It has to be the single most common word on a Mattel Hot Wheels package. Cool this. Cool that. The Worlds Coolest Car Company. Kewl. I am not sure how "cool" it is for a 43 year old man to collect them, but then I never worried much about what people think. I also don’t tell everyone I meet that I am a Hot Wheels geek. That pleasure is reserved for my wife. It’s her way of knocking me down a peg or two when I get too big for my own britches. And in that rare moment that all loving couples have, when a "spirited debate" is humming along at full tilt, she is the master of injecting the dreaded phrase "I bet if it was a Hot Wheel you’d …". Shudder – zapped again. Am I striking a chord of recognition with anyone out there? Any Hot Wheels widows (or widowers) out there right now, waiting for a significant other to return home from "the hunt"? My advice is that you just love them and forgive them their transgressions…I’ll bring supper when I come home, honey.

Hot Wheels Cords Hot Wheels Cords

As for Hot Wheels moving into the new millenium, I think that they are better than ever. One example that I would cite is a quick comparison of the Classic Cord (if you are lucky enough to have one) and the latest ’36 Cord from the 1999 First Edition series. What I see is that the finer details in the casting are much more faithful to the car in the new model. Then there are such things that only a Cord lover would know about, like the coiled radio antenna that is mounted below the floor, actually found on the new Hot Wheel. The old Cord, on the other hand, is on the rough side. The hood DOES open, but the level of detail is minimal. I guess my point is that Mattel appear to have come full circle. When they started, the emphasis was on cool paint jobs (there’s that word again) and cool wheels. The opposite was true for Matchbox. The car bodies and other details were great but those wheels…. Thirty years later and Mattel OWNS Matchbox. Thousands of Matchbox die-hards probably died a little inside the day that transaction took place. It probably shook many of them more than the recent FORD-VOLVO deal shook me. (Being raised a Ford-hater and a dedicated Volvo lover, I am still trying to figure it out) But it seems that Matchbox and Hot Wheels have managed to maintain each their own identity, so perhaps there is hope…

Custom Volkswagens Custom Volkswagens

So back to the "mission" of this column. I am going to write about Hot Wheels from a long-time collector’s perspective. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon and hype the latest "rare, hot and expensive" vehicles. It is my firm belief that most of the cars in the Hot Wheels line are hopelessly common – sooner or later. Yes, there are many that are quite rare and elusive, and I will certainly point them out. But I want to present an even view of the Hot Wheels phenomenon without fanning the flames of rumor and hype. I will throw in my two cents on how to hunt for cars, why it pays to take your time and let the scalpers lose interest, and just generally wax philosophical about this great toy. Yes, I said Toy. And to the extent that my insider’s view allows, I will give up what news I can about what’s coming, and what it all means. If you have a question, think my attitude needs adjustment, or if you just want to throw in your two cents, visit my web site and drop me a line. My kingdom for a Treasure Hunt! (NOT)

Paul M. Provencher

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