Post-Redline Timeline

1974 - The "Flying Colors" series was introduced. This was Mattel's first use of tampo-printed ink graphics rather than decals or stickers. Tampo printing uses the same types of inks as silk screening, but whereas with silk screening the ink is forced through the screen, with tampo printing it is scraped across a plate called a cliche that has an impression of the image being printed. Silk screening is good for large, flat areas, while tampo printing is good for small or uneven areas. As is common in offset-printing, there is a knife edge that scrapes excess ink off the cliché, leaving ink in the depressions on the cliché. Then an overhead pad moves down, picks up the ink on the cliché, then moves over and down again, stamping whatever is in the jig. The pad used is made of silicone and conforms very well to almost any surface. At this point the operator takes the car off the machine and places the next car in the jig. It is a quick operation; the ink dries in about 6 seconds. This is only good for 1 color printing, but of course the same operation can be performed again with different clichés photo-etched with separated colors.

1977 - This was the last year Mattel used a red-lined wheel in their regular production line. Famed Hot Wheels designer Larry Wood later recalled: "I remember the meeting that they said, 'Take the Redlines off'. And I said, 'That doesn't make sense,' why would you, you know, we're talking about fractions of a penny, to take that redline off. It's our logo, you know. But at the time, in the '70's, it was a cost reduction. If you stop and think about four wheels, times millions of cars, through the years we've probably saved millions of dollars. But I remember the meeting where they said to take the redlines off and that just, to me, was a major mistake. We should have kept redlines forever. 'Cause it was our logo, I mean, rims were our logo for years. In fact, until just a few years ago, I couldn't change the rims. We had this rim, that was it."

Thanks to Bob Rosas, metallic paints were introduced to the product line in the late 1970s. Metallic paints weren't used in the earlier post-Spectraflame years because it was difficult to formulate them so they would pass the heavy elements safety tests. Bob says, "I just didn't give up on the industrial engineer in Hong Kong. I kept submitting samples of colors and they kept sending them to me for approval if they passed. I ended up with a unique collection of metallic cars that never made it to production."

1980 - The Hi-Rakers were introduced. This was a series of cars on which the rear axles were attached to a separate, hinged basepiece which could be raised or lowered to increase the rake of the car.

1981 - The "Hot Ones" were introduced, with a blistercard that proclaimed them the "fastest non-powered metal cars". The first collector's handbook was issued.

1982 - This was the first time Hot Wheels™ were issued for a promotion in conjunction with McDonald's. Mattel moved the production plant from Hong Kong to Malaysia.

1983 - The 15th Anniversary of Hot Wheels™. "Real Riders", cars with rubber-like tires, were introduced. This was the first wheel-design change in eight years, and the series became very popular. Due to various re-issues since, "Real Riders" is now a generic term for that type of two-piece wheel, as well as the series cars. Also in 1983, domestically marketed cars began to be made in Mexico, and production began in France, for sale to the European market.

1984 - "Ultra Hots" cars, using another new wheel design, were introduced as the fastest Hot Wheels™ ever made. As with the Real Riders, Ultra Hots also became a term widely used to describe the wheel itself.

1985 - The first cereal tie-in promotional cars between Kellogg's and Mattel were offered.

1986 - Two more series were introduced: Speed Demons and Flip-Outs. This was also the end of the Real Riders series until they were reissued nine years later.

1987 - The first price guide was released. Also, the first collector's convention was held in Toledo, Ohio.

1988 - The 20th Anniversary of Hot Wheels™. Special gold and silver chrome cars were produced for the occasion.

1989 - "Park-n-Plates" were introduced. These were special cars in plastic "garages", which were actually acrylic boxes with a license-plate style nameplate lid.

1990 - "California Customs" were introduced, along with a line of cars based on "The Simpsons" television show. The first aircraft, a helicopter named the "Proper Chopper", was issued.

1991 - Only 23 years after their introduction, the one billionth Hot Wheels™ vehicle was produced by Mattel in 1991. To commemorate this achievement, 4 different gold chrome-plated Corvettes were available with special trophy-style display stands. The first "Gold Medal Speed" cars were produced with gold Ultra Hot-style wheels. The first McDonald's Happy Meal offered either a plastic Hot Wheels™ casting or a miniature Barbie doll replica.

1992 - The "Pro Circuit" and "Tattoo Machines" were introduced. The Pro Circuit was another series with a newly-designed wheel. Again, Pro Circuit became more commonly used as the name for this style of wheel, rather than the series cars themselves, as the wheels were occasionally used on various castings. The gimmicky Tattoo Machines came packaged with a small sheet of water-based "tattoos".

1993 - The 25th Anniversary of Hot Wheels™. To commemorate the fact, Mattel reissued the Twinmill, Silhouette, Nomad, Demon, Paddy Wagon, Red Baron, Beatnik Bandit and Splittin' Image, in reproduction style blisters. They were sold only through Toys'R'Us and went through 11 different color sets, although the Red Baron and Paddy Wagon were not issued in as many colors as the other cars. The metallic paint on the 25th Anniversary cars was intended to resemble the original Spectraflame paint.

"The Revealers" were released, a series of cars packaged with a paper covering. Oddly, one was supposed to buy one of these cars with no way of knowing what it was! The production run was short-lived.

1994 - Mattel released all 8 of the 25th Anniversary cars in duller metalflake colors and called them the Vintage Collection. These were sold through retail outlets, excluding Toys'R'Us. (It's thought that Toys'R'Us had plenty of the 25th Anniversary cars still hanging on the pegs.) However, Toys'R'Us was again the exclusive retail outlet for the Vintage II series. In this collection, the Custom Mustang, Vicky, and Deora were put out in 9 different colors. The Snake and Mongoose had 5 different colors. The Whip Creamer and Mutt Mobile came out in 3 and the S'Cool Bus was produced in only 2 colors. There were supposed to be even more colors released, but Toys'R'Us must have cancelled the order due to poor sales. Also note that the last color of each of the cars must not have been completely released, as they are very hard to find. In 1994 the Hot Wheels™ logo was introduced as a tampo on ALL cars.

1995 - Mattel's introduction of "Treasure Hunts" to their regular line of cars in 1995 was the unofficial kick-off to the Hot Wheels™ collecting craze.  Back then, the term "limited edition" was used judiciously on toy products, and the Treasure Hunt Series was limited to 10,000 examples of each car. The most desirable of the 12 cars produced that year is the white '67 Camaro, bringing a premium price of over $175.

Mattel also began to issue 1 new car casting per month in a yearly "Model Series", as well as one four-car series per month. Real Riders were reintroduced as a 4-car series (the most expensive series, with a value of over $100).

Six new wheel types were issued in 1995 - Sp3 (3 spoke), Sp5 (5 spoke), Sp6 (6 spoke), Sp7 (7 spoke), HH (Hot Hubs), & POW (Progressive Oval Wheels).

1996 - Mattel changed the yearly Model Series name to "First Editions", which are the first runs of each new monthly casting. This happened early in the year, but the change caused some discrepancies. The Monte Carlo Stocker was brand new that year, but released in a "1996 Model Series" blisterpack, as there were already 12 First Editions planned.

The First Edition VW Drag Bus was issued this year by newly-hired designer Phil Riehlman, and to this day continues to be a favorite among collectors. The heaviest Hot Wheels™ ever made, it tipped the scales at nearly 100 grams. It was short-run, and quickly taken out of regular production. Indications are that this was done to save shipping weight and cost. Both the FE #3 VW Drag Bus and the Model Series Monte Carlo Stocker were issued in blue, with large white Hot Wheels™ logo graphics, and were part of the first Race Team series.

In 1996, Mattel upped production of the Treasure Hunt series to 25,000 but by then the number of collectors had increased significantly. When people started questioning the actual number of cars distributed, Mattel dropped the production amount from the packaging. During the first couple of years, with a little effort, Treasure Hunts could be found in stores. Today it's nearly impossible since every collector, non-collector, store employee , etc. knows what to look for.

Mattel acquired Corgi Toys, and began to issue Corgi castings with Mattel wheels and packaging in Europe. Three more wheel variations - Dw3 (directional), Lw (lace wheels), and Ho5 (5 hole) appeared.

1997 - Mattel began to sponsor Kyle Petty's NASCAR Winston Cup racing team, and joined the exploding NASCAR diecast collectible market with the introduction of the "Hot Wheels™ Pro Racing" line of cars. These made a favorable splash with collectors.

1998  -   Mattel reached a milestone with the production of its two billionth Hot Wheels™ car, more than the Big Three automakers combined, and has grown to be a more than $250 million brand.

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Hot Wheels™, a line of commemorative cars (1 re-release from each year) was issued. The big news for mainline collectors was that instead of the twelve monthly First Editions, forty completely new designs were produced.

1998 marked the fourth year that Hot Wheels™ offered a 'Race Team Series'. These series have offered a variety of Hot Wheels™ vehicles all presented in the racing blue and 'fireball' logo so well known to children and collectors alike. No other diecast manufacturer has ever produced so many 'self-promoting' models. To be fair, Mattel also springs for the real thing with sponsorship of Kyle Petty's 'Hot Wheels™' stock car for the NASCAR Winston Cup racing series.

The charm of this series is in the wide variety of racing machines and the unique display offered by the complete collection. It is interesting to note that many of the models represented are Chevrolet products. The Chevrolet bow tie logo appears on the nose of these vehicles. Two Corvettes, a '63 and an '84, are represented in the racing series. Two Camaros are also included, the evergreen '67 and a funny car version. Two Chevrolet stock cars appear, a '97 Monte Carlo and an early '90s Lumina. A classic '57 Chevy is the oldest of the bow-tie brigade.

Of course, not all are cars. Three trucks (two Chevrolet pick-ups and a racing transporter) are offered. A Hummer is also included in the series. A favorite piece in the series is the Hydroplane. It is especially nice to combine it with the racing transporter which it matches in scale. Three German vehicles are included. The famous 1995 First Edition VW Bus became an instant collectible and is actually a drag race special. The VW Bug is a Baja rally car and a Mercedes-Benz sedan is in European Saloon Racing form. Two Fords are included, the Shelby Cobra 427 and a '34 Hot Rod.

1999 -  Mattel bought the software manufacturer The Learning Company (TLC) and paid about $3 billion. Amazingly, Mattel spent that kind of money without researching the company properly.  TLC was losing money hand-over-fist and when the fall '99 quarterly results came in, it turned out that the TLC division had lost $150 million in that one quarter. Mattel, which otherwise had an increase in toy sales, posted a huge loss and its stock price crashed from $25 to $9.  Many stockholders filed lawsuits, and Mattel CEO Jill Barad eventually lost her job over it. A year later, Mattel is looking to sell TLC for about $1 billion.

2000 - Hot Wheels™ fortified its position as one of the acknowledged leaders in die-cast replica cosmetics by securing the license to the second generation of the cutting-edge Heat Transfer Process that offers graphic artists endless opportunities in design and produces clear, true to life multi-colored logos. Building upon the product integrity established by the earlier water-based, spot-color Tampo system, the heat transfer method differs in that it affixes pre-developed, high quality decals to the cars and then fuses them onto the unit (rather than applying the images in separate color passes as is the case with Tampo) in a rapid, less traditional labor-intensive manner. Graphic designers also score with the decal option because it enables them to explore exciting new worlds in car design. Hot Wheels™ Design and Development uses the Heat Transfer Process in much of its production to date, and plans to fully incorporate it in 2000.

"What I really like about the Heat Transfer Process is that it gives us unlimited design capabilities as well as being able to do smooth gradient transfers," said Hot Wheels™ designer George Huffman. "Our Hot Wheels™ plant in Thailand has done a great job with perfecting this process. They can probably do it even better than the manufacturer."

Another appealing aspect of the Heat Transfer Process is its cost effectiveness. With Tampo system printing, which is similar to pad printing, colors and detail were added in up to 70 passes per car. With heat transfer, decals can be applied in one step, although to account for surface variations, most cars go through three steps of decal application. As a result, Heat Transfer is much less labor-intensive and, with the proven quality of the process, more cost effective.

Patented by Wan-Ho Industrial Co., Ltd. in China, Heat Transfer is a widely used commercial method of applying decals to surfaces such as coffee cups and mugs. Once the decal has been fused or baked onto the car, each unit is reviewed in a quality control inspection to determine whether or not the car, at that stage, meets quality guidelines. If cars fail to meet these standards, the inferior decals are removed and the car is sent back to earlier stages of the process for another pass. The final production step of the Heat Transfer involves the optional removal of a thin membranous later from the decal. No membrane removal is required for the process known as Generation Two.

2000 also saw the advent of a new wheel type, brought over from the Matchbox line-- the Pr5 wheel. A year later, collectors were already tired of seeing this wheel on so many different releases. The replied: "once wheel tools are designed, they are here for the long haul, because of the expense and time required to develop the tool. A standard wheel tool (usually 96 cavity or higher) costs about 5 times the cost of a car tool.

The design team is well aware of the PR5's overuse/misuse and is working to solve the problem, which was mainly out of their control. I think collectors tend to forget that Hot Wheels designers, and others on the staff, are just as into cars (probably even more so) as the the collectors are.

The PR5 was mainly designed for use with modern concept cars and import tuners, both of which commonly use 19 or 20 inch wheels in real life. As far as them ending up on Hot Rods and muscle cars, it was mainly a capacity issue and also a bit due to miscommunication between graphics (who select the wheels as wells as the graphics) and the plant. While some could argue the PR5 has no place being on a mucscle car, Hot Wheels™ basic cars have never been about complete replication of reality.

Hot Wheels™ is a kids line. While adult collectors make up a big part of the Hot Wheels™ market, reality is that most cars are purchased by kids or parents for their kids. Collectors might think certain wheels look funny on their prized cars, while kids maybe just happen to think PR5s look pretty cool on a car that technically shouldn't have them."

2002 - The Double Vision casting, last seen in a five-pack earlier this year, actually has the longest continuous run in Hot Wheels™ history, from 1973 through 2001, with the only alteration being the replacement of the operating canopy with a fixed one in the 1990s.

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