So, you’ve decided to start a Hot Wheels collection? Congratulations, and welcome to one of the most diverse hobbies that you could’ve chosen to dedicate your time and disposable income to!
Since 1968, Hot Wheels have captured the imaginations of kids and adults all over the world. Mattel literally took over the diecast market with the first releases of their candy-colored, customized hot rods, giving a knockout blow to Lesney’s Matchbox brand in the process, which had been widely regarded as the “King of Diecast” up until that time. Mattel’s free-wheeling, fast cars were all over Saturday morning TV with an aggressive advertising campaign during cartoon hours, which immediately sparked the fever in kids everywhere. Adults, too. The huge improvements in colors, models and speed actually forced Lesney to completely redesign their line, which resulted in the issue of the “SuperFast” era. It turned out to be too little, too late, even though there are some excellent early Matchbox models. Hot Wheels had stormed the market and taken over. Lesney suffered great financial losses, and sold the company as a result.
The 1968 Hot Wheels quickly became hard to find, as the demand far exceeded the numbers released. Mattel’s co-founder, Elliot Handler, had found a winner; even after he was told he couldn’t take on Matchbox. His persistence was key, and it carries over even into today.
Kids and adults get into collecting for myriad reasons. Kids love toy cars, so that’s a given. But, why the adults? Quite a few simply want to get that feeling they had as a kid when they opened a new Hot Wheels car. Others are looking for an inexpensive hobby (it never stays that way!) and a way to collect the 1:1 cars that appeal to them that they couldn’t otherwise obtain.
There are some formalities to begin with, of course. Before you get out there and start buying, you need to decide a couple of things with regard to WHAT you’re going to collect, such as:
• New, present-day Mainline models? These are the most affordable, at $1.00 or less apiece.
• Redline models from 1968-1977? These are by far the most expensive!
• Blackwall models from 1978 through the 90’s? Surprisingly, very available on secondary markets at decent prices. It’s not uncommon to find them loose, in near-mint condition.
• Limited Editions, such as the Redline Club at hotwheelscollectors.com?
• Promotional models? A lot of companies, such as Publix, have teamed up with Mattel to offer promotional models. These are highly collectible, due to the brand name tie-ins.
• Treasure Hunts? (Limited Edition releases each year within the line which typically feature rubber “Real Rider” tires, premium hubs and premium paint jobs. These are easily the most expensive Mainline Hot Wheels to hunt today, as most will set you back $15 or more each. Sometimes less, of course. But, popular castings can easily climb into the $80+ range and higher)
• New Models? These are labelled as “New For 2020,” for example. This indicates Mattel has issued this particular model for the first time.
• Or will you be a modern-day completist, and try to collect the entire set for the year, including Mainline, Segment, New Models and Treasure Hunts? This can mean you’ll easily have to hunt down 200+ models. But, the challenge is what some collectors crave.
A lot of decisions, to be sure! But, there’s one more key decision to make: Are you going to keep your cars in the package, or turn them loose? New collectors have a tendency to keep the cars in their package, either for display or collecting purposes. Others like to be able play or race their cars, so the package is inconsequential to them.
Many new collectors will leave their modern Mainline cars in the package, because there’s a perception that they’ll “be more valuable,” years later. While this is true for Treasure Hunts and Limited/Special Editions, the reality is this: Your common cars were mass-produced, and there are a LOT of collectors keeping them in the packages. Unless you have a rare variation with different tires, a paint swing where the color is different or some other kind of oddity, your common cars likely will gain little to no value, regardless of how many years pass.
For example: Many collectors held onto their 1996-and-up issues stored away in Rubber Maid containers, in mint condition. However, when they decided to sell their cars years later, they would be dismayed to find that they were hard-pressed to get back what they even put into them…in other words, they would find themselves liquidating their collection at .50 cents on the dollar just to get rid of them! There are plenty of exceptions, of course. Desirable models and variations tend to hold and gain value. But, the majority of modern Mainline cars will never attain any moderate gains.
Redlines (1968-1977) are another story. If you can get in on them and buy low, then you’ve done well. That being said, Redlines can be some of the most expensive cars you’ll ever acquire. Obviously, finding one of these in their original packaging can add quite a bit of value. But, comparing Redlines to the Modern issues simply doesn’t stand up. A lot of kids opened their Redlines and played with them (they ARE toys!), which made packaged models much more rare, while modern collectors stashed away their mass-produced cars, hoping they would increase in value. Most times, this isn’t the case. In a nutshell, it’s best to collect to enjoy the hobby, versus collecting for value.
Lastly, in regard to Treasure Hunts: Use caution when purchasing them on the secondary markets, like eBay, Amazon, etc. You’ll likely come to the conclusion that it’s very difficult to find them in the store, and eventually turn to the markets. Always, ALWAYS bear in mind that most (not all) Treasure Hunts are at their “peak” of value when they’re first released, going for some very high prices. Most will die down as the year progresses, while the more desirable models will continue to climb. Which ones will climb? This is where the guesswork comes in, but you can be sure that models such as the ’67 Camaro, ’55 Gasser, Ferrari and other popular castings will always increase. Others, such as the Street Creeper and other less-desirable models will decrease in value, shortly after their release. Many of the 2000 Treasure Hunts fail to reach $10 in value, even with the Real Rider wheels as a feature.
Once you’ve made the decision on how and what you want to collect, stick with it. Many collectors eventually find themselves all over the map, and end up with a plethora of boxed and stored cars that they only want to sell to free up space after years go by. Stick with your goals! The enjoyment of the hobby is collecting what you like and know you’ll enjoy. Anything after that is probably a waste of time and money.
Lastly, share the hobby with the kids. Hot Wheels are a toy that MANY of us grew up on. Never forget the excitement of opening up a new one on Christmas Day, or a birthday, and zipping them down a track. Hot Wheels got me through many long, cold New England winters, and I have the absolute fondest memories of them, even to this day. Share that excitement with the kids, when you have a chance to! Look for a local club, where many collectors and their kids will gather on a frequent basis. You can trade for models that you need, enter customs contests, and maybe even have downhill racing, if the club has a track. This is truly when you’ll appreciate the hobby: When you gather with others who have common interests. Good luck, and happy hunting!
Author: “Hot Wheels Treasure Hunt Price Guide”
Founder/Editor, North Carolina Hot Wheels Association (www.nchwa.com)