The following work was compiled from 1994 to 2002, from many varied sources on the World Wide Web. I am not the author. I am simply the editor. I put it together for my own enjoyment and have never publicized it, but since you've discovered it, I hope you find it interesting.
Most of it is from Michael Basile, who conducted research for inclusion on the Official Collector's Guide CD released in 1998, and posted some of his results on the Ultimate Hot Wheels website. My thanks to him for allowing me to use his work.
Additional content was re-worded from postings on the Redlines Online message board. If you are or know of any of the sources of material contained herein, please contact me and I will either credit it, link to it, or remove it.
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in a noncommercial effort to advance the hobby of Hot Wheels collecting. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have clicked a hyperlink, thus expressing an interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
This site is not affiliated with Mattel Inc. or Hot Wheels in any way.
The year 1968 was a milestone for the leading US toy company known as Mattel, Inc. It represented the inaugural year of Mattel's Hot Wheels miniature die-cast cars. Hot Wheels were introduced commercially on September 7th, 1968, in conjunction with a massive Saturday morning television commercial advertising campaign that Mattel launched on all three major networks. This television mass market exposure began to immediately stimulate interest and demand for these tiny 1/64th scale die-cast Hot Wheels. Children and collectors awaited with great anticipation for these Hot Wheels to be released in the retail stores.
Once these Hot Wheels were finally issued, the department stores couldn't keep up with the overwhelming demand. Soon a secondary black market industry emerged selling these cars. Dealers could be seen parked on the side of the California roads selling Hot Wheels from the trunk of their cars at approximately $4.00 each.
Hot Wheels were marketed as the "fastest metal cars in the world" and they certainly were as their slogan suggested. Hot Wheels outperformed all other manufacturer's die-cast metal cars on and off the track for looks, speed, endurance, stunts and drag racing. Hot Wheels cars were wonderfully detailed, beautifully candy "Spectraflame" coloured and real performers. These little cars were made to be played with, to be raced, and generally just to be fun. An excerpt from Mattel's 1968 International Collector's catalog reads:
CUSTOMS RACING CARS FOR COLLECTORS
Hot Wheels are the fastest metal cars in the world! They don't need batteries, or electrical current or motors -- yet they out-race, out-stunt, out-distance every other miniature metal car on Hot Wheels Actions Sets! Hot Wheels are always ready to race! Hot Wheels are THE customs class cars for collectors. They're California Custom styled with red stripe slicks, 'mag' wheels, moving parts, wild California paint jobs! Hot Wheels are for the collector who likes to race!
COLLECT 'EM! - RACE 'EM! - SHOW 'EM OFF!
Mattel's founders Elliott and Ruth Handler were inspired back in 1966 to create their own die-cast cars when they discovered (while playing with their grandchildren, of course) the die-cast cars that were produced at the time were lacking in quality, rather lacklustre, very little variations, few American car castings were represented, and the cars didn't roll very well. So one of Mattel's founders, Elliot Handler, purchased a die-cast manufacturing plant in Hawthorne, California, and appointed Jack Ryan to develop a line of die-cast cars for the toy company. Ryan, a former Navy missile engineer who in 1966 was head of Research and Development at Mattel, brought along Howard Newman (Mattel's top designer) and Harvey LaBranch (head of engineering) to create the die-cast car division. They also brought into the team an elite auto designer from Chevrolet named Harry Bradley who designed such show cars as the Deora.
One legend states that when Elliot Handler first saw Bradley's classic Southern California hot rod in the parking lot he said, "Man, those are some hot wheels!" Ryan thought a suitable name would be "Hot Wheels", having decided upon the Hot Rod theme which was the rage during the '60s. Inspired by this car craze, the cars were Hot Rods which all had the raked body look and California Custom styling. The name would represent the unique 5-spoke cragar red stripe mag wheels and suspension that only Hot Wheels had.
To identify the various Hot Wheels casting models, Mattel developed a four-digit numbering system for the cars, as well as other Hot Wheels track pieces and accessories. These identifying numbers are stamped on the inside of the Hot Wheels chassis and also on the accompanying inventory parts for each Hot Wheels car casting. Usually this number is followed by an additional series of numbers, which refer to the mold or casting number used when the individual part was being minted. Mattel made, at times, a dozen molds for each specific piece that comprises a Hot Wheels® model. The Hot Wheels® castings tools are subject to wear and tear, so more than one tool was produced and each casting mold was issued a number to identify it.
It took Mattel nearly two years to develop and perfect the Hot Wheels product of die-cast metal cars. Much work and effort went into designing the proper wheel device mechanism to enable the cars wheels to roll fast. The main objective was to make these wheels spin and roll better than any of the competitors die-cast cars. The suspension on the cars was designed by Howard Newman who used very thin gauge music wire (0.020") as the axle. He designed the axle so that it would have a torsion-bar spring action movement which made Hot Wheels very durable and realistic. A white or pink bearing made of Delrin, a type of plastic similar to nylon, constituted the hub of the wheel. This hub was slipped onto the axle and was locked in place with a cold head axle. The axle ends were cold formed by a peening type process that flattens the end enough to retain the bearing. A Hot Wheels wheel would then be snapped onto this bearing. The axle was also lubricated with a special secret (whale) oil to minimize surface friction and allow the wheels to roll and spin freely. The wheel design was primarily created by Harvey LaBranch with some assistance from the entire Hot Wheels team.
Mattel in the mid-sixties was a company that did very little in the way of originating production concepts or design. They outsourced most of the tricky engineering machine designs to various job shops in the local area such as PI Industries and Trio Tool located in Gardena, and Paramount Design in Paramount, California. Most all of the design and build of the prototypes of these production machines were done at various of these small job shops, where a group of highly talented engineers, designers and draftsmen were empoyed. The job shops were a tremendous source of talented people who could "think outside the box". After the production machines were constructed and installed at Mattel's local facility there was a period of tweaking and getting the normal bugs out. A short time after this was accomplished, the high volume production of the Hot Wheels™ was relocated to Hong Kong.
The Hot Wheels project was nearly scrapped a number of times due to budget restraints and continuous pressures from a number of Mattel's Board of Directors who didn't believe this toy project would be successful. This long two-year project, when started in 1966, saw Lesney's Matchbox cars dominating the market with Dinky cars and Husky cars a distant 2nd and 3rd in market share. Mattel finally released their Hot Wheels line in 1968 costing approximately 79 cents or more at the stores. (Mattel reports that the historical figure was actually 59 cents retail but this number can't be accurately verified since retail stores set their own prices). The price figure was nearly double the cost of any other manufacture's die-cast toys that were selling at the .49 cents level, yet Hot Wheels sold extremely well at that higher price range because of the outstanding quality and detail that went into each Hot Wheels car. Mattel established itself as the industry leader in the die-cast toys market after just one year of operation. All other die-cast manufacturers followed Mattel's direction from that moment on.