Issue #5 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
When Hot Wheels were introduced just over 50 years ago in 1968, the immediate success was beyond what Mattel (the manufacturer) had expected. And unlike most toys, Hot Wheels are still being made decades later, and selling annually in record volume. Over 6 billion have been made since the first 16 different cars were released in their first year. (Ed: Yes, billion with a “B”.)
Back in the late 1960s, the most successful diecast car company was Matchbox, theirs were made in England, using dull paints. Boring gray, green, red, white, and other dull colors, none had much of a shine at all. One of the main differences with Hot Wheels was that they were electrostatically painted, just like a real car. Various translucent paints were applied over Zamak bodies. So, a Hot Wheels painted in Aqua looked very much like your neighbor’s real 1968 Camaro painted in Aqua. [The material Zamak is an alloy with a base metal of zinc and alloying elements of aluminum, magnesium, and copper; commonly used in “diecast” model, and toy production.]
Mattel had a sophisticated advertising department, with incredible success in using TV to help sell its toys, and of course newspaper and other print media were a vital part of the Hot Wheels success. With the introduction of these new toy cars coming to the stores in May of 1968, Mattel knew it had to show them in the best light. With that in mind, the plant manager in Hong Kong was instructed to make the first batch of cars shine like ‘Christmas Ornaments.’
In 2001, I interviewed a former employee with Mattel who was a liaison engineer with the company. He always got the first batch of cars made, and was responsible for keeping them just in case a phone call came from Hong Kong needing advice from the factory floor. When he sold me his Hot Wheels cars, I was happy to see 6 of these sparkling jewels; I didn’t know their significance, but they sure did stand out. When I called him back to find out more, he said he didn’t know the exact reason they were made, but confirmed they must have been the first batch of cars, because that is what was always sent to him every year.
Decades after introduction, so few of these unique pieces had been seen, that when one would appear, it caused collectors to wonder what was going on? These “Over Chrome” wonders were so beautiful, and no reason for their existence was known. But then around 2008, an estate collection of cars came up for sale on eBay. The collection being sold was from a Producer who had made TV commercials for Mattel. Among the pieces being sold were about 6 “Over Chrome” cars! With these now surfacing, others acquired information, and some more research, the connection of Mattel’s advertising and the cars was then established.
A few other “Over Chrome” cars discovered and sold came from a former top executive at Mattel. Included in those was a one-of-a-kind strawberry red Mustang – probably the most valuable of the bunch known. If it was for sale today its price would exceed $40,000 easily.
Another short story of how 2 of these cars were found. In 1968 a young boy went to visit the factory, for a tour. When he arrived there, he was told that it was closed, no more tours. Crying, he begged for a Hot Wheels. The lady there ran back into the office, and handed him 2 cars, a Mustang and a Cougar. Both were “Over Chrome” cars! Sadly, by playing with them over the years, he beat them up bad. But even in poor condition, both were sold to a collector for over $3,000 each. Very few Hot Wheels in poor condition sell for that level of money, but the allure of these cars transcends logic.
These beauties also have rarer interior colors. An Aqua Barracuda with a purple interior sold for over $20,000. An Orange Cougar with a Brown interior sold for over $25,000. It just shows the prettiest toys also can cost the most!
Issue #5 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine