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Articles - Hot Wheels
HISTORY OF HOT WHEELS
Elliot Handler, co-founder of Mattel, decided to produce a line of die-cast toy cars for boys. His idea was to capture a portion of the huge market for small car models dominated at that time by the British company Lesney Products with their Matchbox cars. Although his executives thought it was a bad idea, the cars were a big success. There were sixteen castings released in 1968, eleven of them designed by Harry Bentley Bradley, with the first one produced being a dark blue Custom Camaro. Although Bradley was from the car industry, he had not designed the full-functioning versions of the real cars, except the Dodge Deora concept car, which had been built by Mike and Larry Alexander. Another of his notable designs was the Custom Fleetside, which was based on his own heavily-customized '64 El Camino.
All sixteen of the cars featured 'Spectraflame' paintwork, bearings, redline wheels, and working suspension. Because 'Hot Pink' was considered a "girls color", it was not used very much on Hot Wheels cars. For most castings, it is the hardest color to find, and today can command prices ten times as high as more common colors.
In order for the cars to go fast on the plastic track, Mattel chose a cheap, durable, low-friction plastic called Delrin to use as a bushing between the axle and wheel. The result was cars that could go up to scale 200 mph. The bushings were phased out in 1970. The early years of Hot Wheels are known as the Redline Era as until 1977 the wheels had a red line etched around the tire rim.
The "Torsion Bar" suspension was simple, but flawed. Inside the car, the axles followed a "C"-like shape that was connected to the chassis. When pushed down, the axles would bend like a real car. However the axles were hard to install on the chassis while being assembled and would become detached from the lugs on the baseplate if very hard pressure was applied. The suspension was redesigned in 1970. Packaged along with the cars were metal badges showing an image of the car so fellow collectors could identify each other and compare collections.
It was the combination of all of these ingredients — speed via the low-friction wheel/axle assembly and racing tires, looks due to Spectraflame paint and mag wheels, plus the inclusion of very American themes such as hot-rod designs based on true American prototypes not seen in great numbers in the competition's product lines — that laid the groundwork for the incredible success story Hot Wheels were to become.