Kicking Off the Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Tour

*See photo essay above from the Hot Wheels event

Jay Leno hosted the kickoff party for the cross-country Hot Wheels tour last week. The first date of the Hot Wheels Legends 50th Anniversary tour was assembled at toymaker Mattel’s El Segundo, California headquarters.

The toy company launched the 16-date tour to track down one special car to become its next 1:64-scale die-cast vehicle. One car will be selected at each tour stop with the ultimate car being chosen among the 16 at this year’s SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

Three things that the people at Hot Wheels are looking for in choosing its next die-cast vehicle: Authenticity (something that looks like a Hot Wheels), Originality (something with unique details that makes it stand out from the rest), Garage Spirit (built, not bought).

Each finalist from the 16 cities will have an all-expenses paid trip to the SEMA Show where one of them will be immortalized as the overall winner. The winning car will be made into a die-cast car for worldwide distribution.

Click to enter a vehicle into the Hot Wheels Legends competition.

Each Hot Wheels Legends tour date will be held at the following Walmarts:

  • May 5 in Gladstone, Missouri
  • May 19 in Teterboro, New Jersey
  • June 2 in Rogers, Arkansas
  • June 9 in Nashville, Tennessee
  • June 30 in Dawsonville, Georgia
  • July 14 in Bedford Park, Illinois
  • July 28 in Hunterville, North Carolina
  • Aug. 4 in Mount Vernon, Washington
  • Aug. 11 in Dearborn, Michigan
  • Aug. 25 in Garland, Texas
  • Sept. 8 in Doral, Florida
  • Sept. 22 in Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Oct. 6 in Dulles, Virginia
  • Oct. 20 in Pico Rivera, California

Legendary Toys

American inventor and businessman Elliot Handler (co-founder of Mattel Toys) in 1968 dreamed up an idea to market a line of miniature 1:64-scale die-cast cars done up in bright Spectraflame shiny metallic finishes. He recruited real auto designers from General Motors (Harry Bradley), Chrysler (Ira Gilford) and Ford Motor Co. (Howard Rees, Larry Wood) to do the actual design work for the individual cars (hot rods, muscle cars and unique show cars) all with a performance flavor.

“Designing Hot Wheels was one of the easiest design jobs I ever did in my life,” Handler said in an interview when he was 90 years old-he passed away at 95 in 2011.

“I was sitting at my desk one day and I had a Matchbox toy that I was trying to roll over my desk,” he said. “The wheels were almost molded onto the toy, just for appearance, and my chief engineer put some little plastic wheels on it. Just lightly flicked it, and the thing went all the way across the desk, and we named it at that time, ‘boy, those are Hot Wheels!'” The low-friction wheels were what made it an instant hit with kids.

The first years the Hot Wheels were marketed as Redlines because of the red line on the tires. They came in a Sweet 16 selection of California custom styled Hot Wheels. With the red striped feature on the tires and the five-spoke mag wheels, it gave the Hot Wheels cars a much cooler and distinctive appearance as compared to the Matchbox cars of the era.

Even though Hot Wheels were originally intended as a low-cost toy for children, over the years they have become popular with adult collectors. The early ones from the late 1960s are extremely valuable today-the record so far is $72,000 for a Beach Bomb VW Rear-Loading Bus pre-production prototype. Today, because of the collectability factor, the company produces special limited editions for serious collectors of all ages.

Fun Facts

  • There’s an average of 10 Hot Wheels sold each second of the day
  • There are more Hot Wheels toy cars than real cars in the world-3 million are built every week
  • In 1967 Hot Wheels released its 1968 Custom Corvette car (which was the completely new Mako Shark design) before the actual production Corvettes hit the Chevrolet dealerships, by a couple of weeks, which wasn’t exactly a welcomed move by General Motors. GM nearly took away Mattel’s licensing rights on the spot. The stunt did however help generate hype and excitement for the eventual launch of the car
  • Hot Wheels is among the most popular toy brands in the world, with more than 6 billion sold
  • The name Mattel is a portmanteau of Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler, the company’s original founders in January 1945.

James Maxwell

James Maxwell is an automotive journalist and historian based in Southern California. Contact him at imax@roadrunner.com.

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