Earth’s population has recently surpassed eight billion. An incredible, jaw-dropping estate – unless you get Hot Wheels there first.
Hot Wheels production reached 8 billion in five decades, with its first small car rolling out of the factory in 1968.
Today, one happens every 16 seconds. That’s a rate of about 500 million cars per year, with the ecosystem around their design, engineering and manufacturing looking as mature as every single full-size car they emulate.
Much more than a toy, Hot Wheels has become a trend. In the case of those who now hold key roles at parent company Metal, this is how their love of cars came to life.
A hot topic
- More than 8 billion Hot Wheels cars were built.
- Today, it’s one every 16 seconds – 500 million per year
- The brand’s first car was a blue custom Camaro.
“My first Hot Wheels car was a Z-Whiz. [based around a Datsun 240Z] And my first matchbox car was a Land Rover Defender 90,” he says. Brand Director Jimmy Liu.
“I loved both and still have them. Collecting these cars as a kid kept my interest in cars going into my adult life.
It’s the expertise of Jimmy and his team that helps decide which cars take over the blister pack of your children’s stray mattresses dangling dangerously from the supermarket. Or your own hands are still bound by the muscle memory of how much fun these things were in your youth.
“We look at market trends and really try to stay relevant with the industry,” Jimmy says with the assurance you’d normally associate with more product lines.
“Because cars span so many different subcultures, and we have long development lead times, it’s often difficult to predict what will be popular by the time we get the product to market.”
“If we’re targeting adults, we tend to lean towards real-life cars. However, our core range has a balance of both Hot Wheels Originals and licensed models. We occasionally add some of our personal favorites to the line. Some like to add, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to do what’s best for the consumer.
I personally love talking with collectors and always welcome suggestions.
A typical annual Hot Wheels lineup features around 450 cars, half of which will be brand new this year.
A recent addition to the company’s more premium line – which usually means a metal base, rubber tires and an artfully designed pack that’s less likely to tear apart when the vehicle hits the skirting board – This is a detailed recreation of the Alfa Romeo 155 DTM. Nineties Race Car.
Helping bring it to life was the designer. Mark Jones.
known as God father Within his team, Mark’s CV includes design stints at full-size car manufacturers, something many – but not all – Hot Wheels crews can claim. He’s been at Mattel for 36 years and can attach his name to over 300 cars in that time, giving a pretty ‘circle of life’ feel to how he got into the role.
“Years ago there was a metal toy called the Vac-U-Form. You would plug it in and vacuum shape little car bodies. I got it for Christmas when I was 11.
“I made little signs and things. Then my dad showed me how to draw the parts and make a little balsa wood deer.
So I started making bodies and putting them in my slot cars. Is it funny that he is doing now what he was doing then? “Yeah, it’s a bit scary! I tried building real cars but I came back to toys.
Nowadays, a Hot Wheels car is built every 16 seconds. That’s a rate of about 500 million cars per year.
Designing Hot Wheels for a living is a touch more involved, however, with a 12- to 18-month series of design and verification prototypes that mimic the wider car industry. Mark’s career has seen major changes and developments, with digitized design and 3D printing (for prototypes, not the final product) speeding up the overall process considerably.
Mark will work with Mattel’s digital sculpting team to create models of the cars he’s simulating, occasionally changing some details along the way. It’s not just a case of shrinking a real-life car down to a 1:64 scale mold. The design team must delve deeply into the character of the car in order to preserve and sometimes exaggerate its main characteristics.
“One of the big obstacles in our development is that we have standard-sized wheels, so we have to build the proportions of the car around them. Sometimes we move things around with the body if it breaks the character lines too much. Won’t make too much of a mess.
“Hot Wheels is known for scale; we’re trying to fill our blister pack and give people a good value while trying to make the car look right.”
“We need 30 thousand clearance. [0.76mm] Also between tire and body to roll along the pavement. We are trying to reduce this, especially on premium items.
In fact, every new product is tested on the brand’s famous Orange Tracks (of which 6,000 miles are sold each year, incidentally) to ensure it can be driven as well as Ogild.
Battles between design ambitions and production reality keep the ‘enhanced’ car world amusingly parroted, and it’s an area where manufacturers have input – and Hot Wheels’ recreations of their models. Their inalienable right to sign – can be a help. Instead of stumbling, hand it over to Mark’s team.
“The gentleman at Alfa Romeo was a designer himself which meant he could be a bit more critical of what we did. I was able to use his input to get our manufacturing people to do what they did. was what I really wanted. It’s good to have one against two in this scenario.
And how complicated is it to replicate a race car livery?
“Some companies own the rights to everything that allows us to use the entire livery. But then it’s limited by our production budget and how many colors we can do. We’re running the production line so fast that We don’t apply them as decals, we instead rubber stamp or laser print them.
“This 155 looks like it has full tempo, which is a bit tighter than the laser. The lasering gives the car full coverage.
“I was able to use his input to get my manufacturing people to do what I really wanted in the first place.
“I love race cars. So when we’re deciding what to do, I have to try to control myself. We’re trying to satisfy all our customers’ wishes and desires. When I first started Doing basic cars, I did GT1 Porsches, Le Mans Mercedes, even an Alfa Beat. But at the time, race cars like that probably weren’t big sellers. The main race cars that Jimmy recognized were Like the Alpha 155.”
He knows that if this generation of kids wants to see a motorsport line, they want to see something more recognizable as a production car than a prototype racer. Computer games have really helped us. They have helped increase our audience’s awareness of these cars.
“People who were too young to see them run in races now take them to the games. We’re two industries that are going hand in hand as we grow.”
“I managed to do a Lancia Stratos Group 5 with big fenders. The only reason I got the gig was because – for Jimmy – it was too. A Transformers character named Wheeljack.
“He remembered it, so we figured other people would too. And I was so happy because I got to drive a pretty hacked-out race car that I love!”
Of course, as bravely accurate as his race cars look, it’s the wild and wonderful little Hot Wheels originals that make some enthusiasts’ eyes light up.
Ian Callum is the designer responsible for a handful of modern Aston Martins, Fords and Jaguars, and is proud of the way Hot Wheels has pushed its creativity forward.
“I loved the idea of custom cars and hot rods,” says Callum, who started collecting hot wheels as a teenager. “I bought them because they represented something I admired and wanted to be a part of. They were the fastest way to have American car culture in my life.
“I fell in love with hot rods in general because they were rebellious. I was in the sixties when it was cool to be rebellious. I had long hair and clothes that my father didn’t approve of, and so my hot Wheels cars represented a lifestyle that suited me. They were aspirational. And I’m happy to say that I owned cars that looked like them.
“Hot Wheels are always exaggerated and that’s what I’ve always loved about them. That’s something I’ve tried to do throughout my design career – always making the most of design features. To pick up.I fell in love with big wheels and details at an early age.
Ian is having his own ‘Circle of Life’ moment, with the Jaguar F-Type among several of his designs now replicated at Hot Wheels.
“I saw this reel on Instagram that says there are only two people in life you need to inspire: your eight-year-old self and your 80-year-old self.
“The car I worked on is now available as a Hot Wheels toy, so exciting. It’s the idea that you’ve become a part of the world that inspired you in the first place. I can see my younger self. And think, ‘You did good, kid.’
We couldn’t possibly determine how many of those eight billion Hot Wheels passed through Callum’s home, but there’s a rich vein of fully drivable sports cars that laid some doors on Ian’s early automotive love. Can thank you.
Told you it’s more than a toy.
The brand’s first car was a blue custom Camaro.
A little more…
Eliot Handler: The L of metal
The company’s name is a portmanteau of its two founders, Harold ‘Matt’ Mattson and Elliot Handler, although the latter (and his wife Ruth) bought out the former within a few years.
Handlers are credited with the development of some important toys. Ruth introduced the world to Barbie, named after her daughter Barbara, but it was the launch of the Hot Wheels brand in 1968 that put Elliott’s name on our radar.
The brand’s first car was the custom blue Camaro, which spanned thousands of model lines — and sold billions since. Handler lived to be 95 and celebrated his 90th birthday at the metal headquarters.
Got a spare $250,000 for it?
The most valuable hot wheels
Eight billion Hot Wheels cars have left the metal factories, knocking around (quite literally) many households around the world. But some are inherently rarer than others, and woe betide any nippers who get their hands on that beach bomb and toss it mercilessly on the kitchen floor.
Built in 1969, it was a pink VW bus that came complete with a rear-loading surfboard but proved too heavy to truly work on the track.
The design was modified for production, but those original, flawed prototypes are essentially the same – if you have a spare $250,000, anyway.