Hot Wheels Insider - May 1999
© 1999 Paul M. Provencher
|Variations - Real
Whether you have been collecting Hot Wheels since the beginning or are a beginner, you probably have run across a particular model that comes with several subtle variations. Tinted windshield versus, clear windshield. Three (3) spokes or five. Different colored plastic pieces or bases. Tampo and decoration modifications. It seems that every time you turn around, the combination has changed just ever so. Keeping up with all the changes is a daunting task. A full time job could consume the collating and cataloging of these changes. Technical details notwithstanding, there is also the question of veracity: Is this variation really "official" or is it just an "error". (I find the later issue rather amusing.)
In order to understand all the hoopla about variations, it is important to consider the manufacturing process, quality control, and last but by no means least, marketing. Each plays an important role in bringing variations to us.
Manufacturing is, as one might suspect, mass production. Die cast vehicles are stamped out by the be-zillions. Simple math will tell you that there are probably at least 300 times as many die cast vehicles as there are real cars and trucks. If a couple thousand cars go by the quality control position on the assembly line every hour, there are going to be times when the QA technician is going to be out to lunch, looking west or in some other way "indisposed". So it is quite likely that several hundred variations of a piece could go unnoticed at the factory and filter into final release. Another issue facing factories is the need to use up everything. So when the parts left over for the "red battootie wagon-mobile" no longer match with the green version slated to start production, the old parts are used up. Now I can't tell you whether or not Hot Wheels QA technicians are expected to sweep these aside and prevent them from reaching retail sale. I doubt it - that would defeat the purpose of using up the old parts. So out the door they go. Strange color combinations that make you wonder. But they're just toys, right? So what's the difference? Well the difference can mean that the toy with the short run color combo is probably going to be the "hot one" and the two on either side of it are going to be as common as dirt. I find this type of variation the most elusive, and sometimes the most appealing. Chance conspires with fate to produce something that actually looks nice. But just as often they are ugly.
Marketing, not to be outdone by Manufacturing, decided to take matters into their own hands. I can almost hear them standing around the water cooler....
Do I sound cynical? Perhaps. But take a
look. There are so many variations on some pieces that it's almost impossible to keep
track. Each of them is perceived to be "rare" and each is quite elusive to
acquire in the first month that they are known. Later, many of these variations are found
to be quite common. These are intentional (sometimes referred to as
The Split Window '63 that was so common for a couple years around 1993 most often was found with white walled regular wheels. But every so often it could be found with plain black walled regular wheels. The good thing about this variation is that it actually looks better than the white walls. I mean how often do you see gangster white walls on a '63 Vette? The white walls are worth about $3 and the black walls maybe double that.
The Silver Series School Bus came through in any number of variations. Most of the changes involved wheels. This was during a time when Hot Wheels were being transitioned away from the traditional basic wheel that had been in use since the early '80's in favor of several new wheel types. In consequence, any version of the Silver Series School Bus with earlier wheels is going to be more desirable. But for some reason, the version with basic wheels and tinted windows is "the one to have". Probably because it was the first version of the Silver Series bus and did not run as long. Some folks are asking in excess of $20 for the tinted windows.
The Bugatti automobiles and the T50's in particular have to be some of the most exquisite ever made. Mattel did a nice version of the T50 as a part of the Classics series that ran for several years. It started out with black and orange decorations. Over the life of this particular version, several changes happened. The red pattern changed, the car got white walls, and the metal grill may have been replace with a plastic one. But there was an interesting transitional variation that arose when a later version, painted yellow and red with yellow plastic fenders gave way to a nice blue and gray version. In between the two, the yellow fenders hung around a produced a strange version with the blue and gray body and the yellow fenders. It was a curious looking car and I doubt very much if it was intentional. I recall seeing it in the store and not understanding what was going on until the blue fenders started showing up. I think I recall thinking that I "had better get this one" before they disappear. I don't know that this variation is very hot, but it is an interesting one. And no idea what the weird one is worth...
T-Buckets have become less common these days in the Hot Wheels aisles. It has been a while since this casting has been recycled. But make no mistake. There are not very may rare T-Bucket variations. One that might be considered less common is the clear-windowed version with purple metallic paint, white interior and colored chrome. While a lot of ruckus was made about various colored engines, the clear windshield variation is by far the most sought after of this version. And it looks nicer in pictures...The clear windows are going to cost more than $10 for sure.
One of the hottest wheel and color variations in recent memory has to be this pair of Suzuki QuadRacers. The Hot Hubs Series was part of an inaugural series of Hot Wheels in 1995, the start of the Treasure Hunts, and other series cars. As a group, the series is collected because the first round of wheels was different and more interesting than the later run. But within the series was the QuadRacer. This vehicle has been part of the Hot Wheels line for several years so it is fairly common in several other colors. But an early variation in the Hot Hubs series came with a Day-Glo green body and a strange wheel configuration, known variously as "Tiger Paw", "Progressive Oval", "Cheese Grater" and who-knows what else.
I found my cheese grater wheel variation in
New York. I was taking a break from a very long family event. Got in the car and drove to
find Hot Wheels. It was like being in a desert. No chain department or toy stores to be
found. Desperation kicks in and I stop at - gasp - a grocery store. You know you're
desperate to get Hot Wheels when you go to a grocery store. If they have them AT ALL, they
probably have 5 or 10 beat up blisters of three-year-old common cars. Guess again. Because
Grocery stores sell relatively few Hot Wheels, they tend to get to the store quicker
(supply chain is shorter) than the volume sellers who have a warehouse full of Hot Wheels.
So lo and behold there is this QuadRacer. I look skeptically and wrack my cataloging mind
to remember if I "have this one?" Owing to the high price ($1.65) I hesitate to
buy it and find only that I already have it (and live too far away to return this one).
Instead I live wild and part with my $1.73 (tax you know) and take my little Hot Wheels
home. In hindsight, I should have looked harder - there might have been two.... It's ugly
and it's wanted by many. Today the more common of these two QuadRacers is worth about $3
and the progressive oval version could be worth $20.00. Go figure.
Photos, Layout and Design © 1999 Paul M. Provencher All Rights Reserved.
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