By 1968, Monogram Models was a company with well over a hundred plastic model kits in its catalogue, and was adding new ones at a rate of 16 per year. The kits ranged from planes to tanks to boats, with a few automobiles in the mix, mostly hot rods, "surfer" cars, and custom car designs. The other plastic kit makers each had a deal with a famous custom car designer: Revell with Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth and AMT with George Barris, so eventually Tom Daniels was asked to contribute some of his designs to the Monogram line-up.
In October of 1968, Monogram was purchased by Mattel, which kept Monogram's original founding partners but got rid of the sales force, lumping the scale model company in with their Hot Wheels division. Mattel expected their toy sales staff to market the products, but the toy salesmen didn't understand the kits or their market, and and didn't push them when visiting stores. Development of "serious" scale models virtually ceased in favor of simple kits aimed at the wider toy market, such as Snoopy products. Mattel tried to add "play value" to the Monogram kits, which always happens when toy makers control scale model companies, and always with the same disastrous results. (In 1973, Mattel CEO Ruth Handler finally admitted they had got it wrong, and asked Monogram's heads to rebuild the sales force, and introduce new products.)
Meanwhile, Tom Daniels had been designing wild and wacky custom cars for Monogram, so in 1970 Mattel naturally began adding some of his designs to the Hot Wheels line-up. These were the Red Baron, The Demon, The Paddy Wagon and the Sand Crab.
The Red Baron and the Paddy Wagon Hot Wheels castings are probably the two most famous and recognizable Hot Wheels of all time. Many other Tom Daniels designs are also used later in the Hot Wheels line. This might be of interest to collectors: The Red Baron was originally produced with a metal spike on the helmet which was later changed to a small, rounded "button" due to safety concerns. The Red Baron model car was later built into a real full-size working show car.
The Red Baron was commissioned to custom car builder Chuck Miller, by the Show Car Division of the ISCA. It was unveiled at the Detroit Autorama in January 1969. The Red Baron was originally designed by Tom Daniels for Monogram Models, but the ISCA wanted to take a reverse approach of the usual procedure of developing models from full size vehicles. This was easier said than done. Daniels' design incorporated the use of a 1914 Mercedes aircraft engine to power his Baron. However, due to the improper scale of it (hey, Daniels is an artist, not a car builder), Miller decided to power his Red Baron with an overhead-cam Pontiac 6-cylinder. Another costly problem concerned the custom wheels conceived from the mind of Daniels. Miller was forced to replicate these by using sheet metal wheel inserts cut to resemble the wheels in the model kit, painting them black, and attaching them to chromed steel wheels. The hand-formed all steel body, equipped with replicated machine guns, sits on top of a custom built frame and is topped off with a large fiberglass helmet. This is where another problem arose for Miller. Although Daniels' kit featured a chrome-plated helmet, Miller was unable to achieve this with his car, as there were no plating companies at the time that had large enough plating equipment to do this for him. Miller was forced to settle for a silver metalflake paint job instead.
The Paddy Wagon model is probably at or near the top of most Hot Wheels collector's lists as the most beloved car, as well as the most memorable. This model fortunately is usually not that expensive since it was in production consistently from 1970 to 1979, making it rather common and abundant.
The prototype of any Hot Wheels model is very expensive due to the very limited availability of each. The light blue Spectraflame Paddy Wagon is no exception to this rule, and many Hot Wheels collectors agree it is well worth the expense to acquire. Most Hot Wheels models have very few prototypes made; actual numbers are dependent on several underlying factors. Suffice to say the Paddy Wagon was initially intended to be this Spectraflame light blue color. It is rather unfortunate this model wasn't produced in the light blue spectraflame finish, as it is much more attractive than the metallic dark blue paint on the production car. This fault was eventually remedied; over the decades to come the casting would be produced in a multitude of colors.
Several unfinished or bare models were sent to Hawthorne, California for inspection and approval, followed by other Paddy Wagons painted with an enamel white finish. These were pre-production items, or F.E.P. "First Engineering Pilot" examples. Finally, light blue painted samples were sent for inspection. On each of these prototypes, the underside of the running boards is unpainted, although this painting was done on the production model. Mattel's Hot Wheels team, with the influence of the marketing department, later decided to finish this model in a similar color scheme as the original, popular Paddy Wagon created by Tom Daniel for the Monogram model kit company, which at the time was also a subsidiary of Mattel. Tom Daniel is credited with this design, but he was no doubt inspired by the original Paddy Wagon designed and built by Carl Casper.
Casper took nearly four years to construct his wild custom which toured with the ICAS during the 1968-69 season. The hand-built body and "passenger" compartment features highly polished wooden trim and brass plating. The 1910 Ford fenders surrounding the blue and white pearlescent body sit on top of a fully chromed customized chassis, which is powered by a 427 c.i. Ford with four 4-barrel carburetors.
The Hot Wheels Paddy Wagon was in production from 1970 to 1979. It went though some changes along the way, starting in 1973. That year, the windshield disappeared and the redline wheels were changed to the cheaper Type III, and the transitional straight-axle non-suspension was beginning to be applied. Later changes along the production line included the use of a plastic chassis, replacing the original metal base. It was then briefly retired after the 1979 regular production run.
In 1983 the Paddy Wagon was revived and produced in France. It once again stood the test of time and proved to be extremely popular. A decade later, in 1993, Mattel decided to select eight of the more popular models from the early redline years and reproduce them for the special Hot Wheels 25th Anniversary Series. Naturally the Paddy Wagon was amongst the chosen ones and was well received by the Hot Wheels collectors. That year it was produced in a variety of different metallic colors as well. The Paddy Wagon was again produced the following year, in the 1994 Vintage Series. Again it was adorned in a variety of colors. In 1995 the Limited Edition FAO Schwartz Gold Series Collection II saw the production of the Paddy Wagon, clad in a spectacular gold-plated finish. Most recently, in 1998 the Paddy Wagon was produced as a Limited Edition car on its own distinctive blister card for the Los Angeles Police Department. A run of 10,000 was produced for the L.A.P.D. Will we see it again? Nobody knows for sure, but it would likely be issued as a Limited Edition car, or in a Limited Edition set.
1970 also marked the first year Hot Wheels had a special promotional give-away car. The car was the Jack "Rabbit" Special and the car in the promotion was called the Jack-In-The-Box, after a West Coast fast-food chain sporting this name. A special decal sheet was also issued with the car. This promotional car is worth $350 unopened in mint condition.
This is also the year Hot Wheels first type of redline wheels that were removable with pink or white bushings was phased out. They were in production from 1968 - 1970. From 1970 to 1974 the split wheel that was joined together at the lip with the outside wheel was used. This first type of redline wheel was probably phased out as a cost cutting measure to reduce the number of parts needed to produce a Hot Wheels car.
When Ira Gilford left Mattel in 1970, Howard Rees took over as the Hot Wheels designer. His creative contributions to the Mattel line for 1970 are the following models: 6413 Seasider, 6414 Custom Maverick, 6419 Peepin' Bomb, 6423 The Mantis, and 6456 Mod Quad.
1970 also marks the first year Larry Wood makes his own contribution to the Hot Wheels line-up. He joined the Hot Wheels design team late in 1970 and his opening concept car is the Tri-Baby. Larry Wood is still Mattel's top Hot Wheels designer and has created and designed more cars to the Hot Wheels line-up than all the other Hot Wheels designers' castings combined.
Late in 1970 Mattel had to address some concerns with a die-cast competitor called Topper. Topper produced Johnny Lightning® cars and sponsored the Indy car driven by Al Unser, which won the Indy 500. After that, their Johnny Lightning® cars began to sell very well. Mattel countered by modifying and improving their basic wheel and axle design to remain "the fastest metal cars in the world." The removable red-stripe wheel was replaced by a faster type of wheel known as the red-stripe split wheel. It was still partially removable since it snapped onto the existing wheel mounted on the cold head axle. The delrin bearing was history and the mandolin wire now used as the axle was a slightly thinner gauge. These enhancements allowed Mattel to remain ahead of their competition.
"Joey Sputafuoco" points out that more problems were caused when fire destroyed a massive Mattel warehouse south of Tijuana. This great fire of Mexico consumed much of Mattel's raw toy materials, along with nearly a third of the Christmas shipments. This devastated Mattel's bottom line since many retailers decided to suspend their toy orders due to Mattel's inability to deliver the toy products on time.
In 1970 Hot Wheels models were still manufactured in the US and Hong Kong with minor variations in the casting designs.