NCHWA Redline Central: Hot Wheels History

If you're here reading this, chances are pretty good that you own a book or two on Redlines. There are some great ones out there, and they've done a fantastic job of chronicling the history of Hot Wheels. So, why is this section here? What magical, mysterious facts do I have to reveal that you haven't read already? The fact that Elliot Handler wanted to compete with Matchbox? The fact that the Custom Camaro is reputed to be the first car ever off the line (but has never actually been substantiated by anyone)? Or, maybe the fact that Larry Wood, the King of Hot Wheels Design, procured his position at Mattel by a pure-chance meeting? Nah. None of that. You likely already know all of those tidbits.

I know, I know...that's not why you clicked on this History Section in the first place. But, since you did, I'll at least present something that'll hold you over until you can hit that book again: I'll present the highlights of each year in timeline form, so you can get a quick glance at what was going on during each year of the Redline era, from 1966 to 1977. It's a quick glance at all of the notable events, without having to read a bunch of history. I've presented this info as best I could.* If there are any errors, please feel free to drop me a line at Enjoy. *(Bibliography credit to Tomart's Guide for some facts garnered here)

Notable Events
  • Elliot Handler decides to compete with Matchbox and informs Jack Ryan, Head of Reasearch & Development.
  • Ryan brings in Harvey LaBranch (Engineering) and Howard Newman (Designer) to form a team.
  • The team posts an ad in a Detroit newspaper to lure in a top auto designer. Harry Bradley is hired.
  • Realizing that racing was the favorite activity for kids with toy cars, the team develops a revolutionary new wheel design.
  • Marketing's research advises Handler the market would not be a large one for the new cars, and sets a low production limit.
  • Bradley, after not meeting Elliot's initial expectations, gets on track when Elliot points out Bradley's own vehicle as a guideline.
  • The retail price for Hot Wheels was decided at .98 cents, while competitors were around .49 cents.
  • The name for the new line of cars is chosen: Hot Wheels.
  • Notable Events
  • Prototypes are built and sent to manufacturing for production.
  • Bradley decides he wants to issue the new Corvette, which hasn't yet been released in 1:1 size.
  • Plans for the Corvette are "acquired" from the GM Plant; Hot Wheels version ends up being released before the real one.
  • Bradley designs 11 of the first 16 cars, and is reassigned within Mattel, due to low expectations for the cars. He later quit.
  • Ira Gilford was hired to replace Bradley, and he finishes the remainder of the first year's issues.
  • Handler meets with a J.C. Penney toy buyer and is informed that it was believed he could sell between 12 to 15 million cars.
  • To meet the new demand, Mattel opens up their Hong Kong facility.
  • The blisterpack is designed by Rick Irons, who also designed the metal Collector's Buttons that were included.
  • Some Hot Wheels are finally released in late 1967.
  • Notable Events
  • All 16 models are released, coming in many colors and variations.
  • Hot Wheels become a huge hit, aided by commercials that become a staple during Saturday morning cartoons.
  • The Hong Kong plant is fully operational, but Mattel falls behind by more than a year for orders.
  • As a result of the tremendous impact from Hot Wheels, Matchbox sales suffered, their product lagging far behind in performance.
  • Notable Events
  • After completing the 1968, 1969 and some 1970 lines, Ira Gilford leaves Mattel in early 1969.
  • To keep up with Mattel, Matchbox offers it's newly-redesigned cars in the "SuperFast" line.
  • Automotive Designer Howard Rees is tabbed to replace Gilford, and heads the department for 8 months.
  • Howard decides to pursue other endeavors, and recruits Larry Wood at a birthday party.
  • Larry Wood becomes the primary designer, and remains as such for many years later.
  • Notable Events
  • The "Spoilers" and "Heavyweights" lines are issued, along with the regular Mainline cars.
  • For the first time, Mattel offers a Hot Wheels Club Kit. Each kit contained one of 3 special chrome models available in 1970.
  • Mattel sponsors two drag cars driven by Don Prudhomme (The Snake) and Tom McEwen (The Mongoose).
  • Hot Wheels merchandise included a Cartoon, lunch boxes, watches comic books and many other items.
  • The first Hot Wheels promotion (Jack Rabbit Special) is issued for Jack-in-the-Box restaurants. The car featured custom decals.
  • "Sizzlers" (cars with battery-charged motors) are released into the Hot Wheels line.
  • "Gran Toros" are released into the Hot Wheels line.
  • The popular "Sky Show" set is released, and the Deora (Canada only) and Fleetside become highly collectible.
  • "Mongoose vs. Snake Drag Set" is released.
  • Notable Events
  • Mattel purchases the model kit company Monogram, which allows them to issue several of their designs in the Hot Wheels line.
  • The "Spoilers" and "Heavyweights" lines were continued
  • A new set of Snake and Mongoose funny cars are issued, but in blue and white paint jobs.
  • Snake and Mongoose front-engine Rail Dragster models are introduced, and could only be found in a 2-pack, or in a track set.
  • 1971 would be the final year that any Hot Wheels would be produced in the United States.
  • "Hot Birds" (diecast planes that would zip down a wire to the finish line) were released in Spectraflame colors.
  • "Hotline Trains" are introduced into the Hot Wheels line.
  • "Earthshakers" Construction Vehicles are released.
  • "RRRumblers" (diecast motorcycles with plastic riders) are released.
  • Notable Events
  • Collector buttons are no longer offered in the blisterpack.
  • All cars going forward are now produced in Hong Kong.
  • With sales slowing down, Mattel introduces only 7 new models for 1972.
  • The "Heavyweights" and "Spoilers" lines were not issued in 1972.
  • The popular accessory, "Drivin' Gear" is introduced. The toy allowed kids to steer and drive their cars with special attachments.
  • "Chopcycles" (motorcyles powered like Sizzlers) are introduced.
  • "Farbs" (human-shaped cars) are released in a series of 4.
  • "Hot Shots" (motors on larger-scaled dragsters) are released.
  • Notable Events
  • Spectraflame paints are eliminated, and replaced with standard enamel paints.
  • Only 3 new castings are issued in 1973. 21 existing castings are re-issued.
  • As a result of the paint change, sales plummeted. The 3 new models would never be seen again in subsequent years.
  • Mattel teams up with Shell to offer 10 baggied cars at .69 cents each, in the hopes of boosting sales.
  • The Snake and Mongoose are both issued as Barracuda models, as Mattel switched the Mongoose's Plymouth Duster casting.
  • "Revvers" are introduced into the Hot Wheels line.
  • "Fat Daddy Sizzlers" (Sizzlers with big tires) were introduced into the Hot Wheels line.
  • "Zowees" (minature character-shaped cars) are introduced both at retail and as Shell Promos.
  • Notable Events
  • Hot Wheels are now issued as the new "Flying Colors" line.
  • Tampos, or padded print machine designs, are prevalent on the cars for the first time.
  • "Alternate" colors existed for some models, and were much more rare than the standard colors. These are highly collectible today.
  • 1974 was the first year that many color variations weren't available on Hot Wheels.
  • The "Road King Mountain Mining Set" is released, with the ultra-rare Road King truck remaining highly collectible today.
  • Notable Events
  • Motorcycles are released into the line for the first time in Hot Wheels history.
  • Alternate colors continued, and as before, were more rare than the standard-issue colors.
  • Mattel teamed up for another promo, this time with the Herfy's restaurant chain.
  • Mattel released a promo for Toys 'R Us: the Supervan, decked out in white paint and Geoffrey Giraffe on the sides.
  • Two extremely rare Super Van promos issued for the 1975 Toy Fair. One was in chrome, the other in white. Ltd. to 200 each.
  • The popular race set "Thundershift 500" is released. It included a Monte Carlo Stocker and a Ford Torino.
  • Notable Events
  • The "Flying Colors" line continued in 1976.
  • A new series named "Super Chromes" was issued. 12 were in blisterpack and 6 were in a special 6-Pack
  • Military-themed issues were released. 5 were available in blisterpack and a Military 6-Pack.
  • The Staff Car was only available in the Military 6-Pack, making it rare and highly collectible.
  • Notable Events
  • Mattel decides to eliminate Redline tires after coming to the conclusion that they'd been phased out years ago.
  • For the first time, some Hot Wheels were issued in Gold Chrome.
  • 1977 models could be found with both Basic Wheels and Redlines. The Redlines are more valuable on the secondary.
  • "Mean Machines", a motorcyle line, is released.

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