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Hot Wheels collector Dennis Schrage was drawn to the collectible, realistic-looking mini cars about 10 years after they were introduced by Mattel Inc., in 1968. He caught the collecting bug in his 30s after spending most of his young adulthood in the late 1960s and early ‘70s loving the muscle cars and California custom car scene.

That is the allure of the miniature, customized muscle cars – die-cast at 1:64, 1:43, 1:18 and 1:50 scale – created by Mattel designer Elliot Handler (1916-2011).

Now in their 50th year of producing Hot Wheels, Mattel has produced 6 million Hot Wheel cars of all different models and variations. There is an online Hot Wheels Collectors Club that has more than 250,000 registered collectors.

 “I was enthralled by it all, often dreaming of owning a Shelby Mustang, 427 Corvette or a Max Wedge Dodge,” Schrage said. “And all along imagining my second car as a Deuce Coupe, Lead Sled or Bucket T California hotrod.” While he couldn’t afford the real thing, Schrage turned to the next best thing, in his mind: Hot Wheels.

For just $5 in 1978, at a small hobby shop going out of business, Schrage purchased a box at auction with cars from 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972. “All still in their blister packs,” he said. While he has since sold them, he still relishes the “got ‘em!” moment.

Jim Garbaczewski, president of The Windy City Hot Wheels Club, has been collecting for 30 years and estimates he owns about 60,000 unique Hot Wheels. “The older ‘redlines’ never lose their value,” he said. “But like everything else, (prices) fluctuate with the economy.”

Recent Hot Wheels sales have included $28 for a 1967 Redline “Custom Eldorado,” $55 for a 1970 Redline “Short Order,” $18 for a 1968 Redline “Turbofire,” and $95 for a Redline “Steam Roller” from 1973.

“The internet now dominates the seller/buyer market for Hot Wheels,” Schrage said. “But if you like to get out and hunt for your treasures, a little rummaging through garage sales can produce plenty of 20- to 30-year-old Hot Wheels.”

 

Collector’s top five Hot Wheels, based on internet records, with estimated values (not pictured).

  1. 1970 Red Baron With White Interior, value about $3,000.
  2. 1970 Ed Shaver Custom AMX, only a few made to honor the American drag racer, value about $4,000.
  3. 1974 Blue Rodger Dodger, standard muscle car, rare because it is blue, value about $8,000.
  4. 1968 “Cheetah” base Python (Hong Kong base), only a few manufactured and they were all red, value about $10,000.
  5. 1969 Pink Rear-Loading Volkswagen Beach Bomb, only one known to be made, was built as a prototype, reportedly bought for $72,000.

 

Digging Deeper

How did Hot Wheels become Hot Wheels? There are a few versions of the story, but the official Mattel Inc. story is that when Elliot Handler (the “el” in Mattel) saw (Hot Wheels' first designer) Harry Bradley’s El Camino in the parking lot, he said “Those are some hot wheels.”

 

Photos are courtesy RubyLane.com. Prices reflect recent sales from Molly’s Antique Toy and Doll Emporium.


Hot Wheels 1968 Redline "Custom Eldorado," red, black roof, white interior, red-rimmed wheels, fins, $28.



Hot wheels 1968 Redline "Turbofire," turquoise, plastic windows, white interior, re-lined wheels, cast iron body, $18.


Hot Wheels 1973 Redline "Steam Roller," white with blue and red striping, "3" in star on back, white, interior, die-cast metal base, $95.



Hot Wheels 1970 Redline "Short Order," gold, yellow extended tailgate, open engine, red-lined wheels, $55.

 

*This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Kovels on Antiques & Collectibles Newsletter, Vol. 44 No. 9.

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