Hot Wheels cars from Mattel were first introduced in 1968, Mattel
releasing their first line of sixteen models of fantasy custom cars with
names like Python, Custom Cougar, and Hot Heap. The lowered front ends
and raised rear wheels was "California Custom", and in the case of the
1969 Corvette, this was the first real look for the public for the real
McCoy. Sales were excellent. By 1969, with sales 10 times higher than
anticipated, Mattel expanded its model line to 40. The next year, 1970,
saw 33 new cars, and 35 in 1971. This was also the last year that Hot
Wheels were made in U.S.A., and the first year that Mattel used the Hot
Wheels name as promotions at drag strips. 1972 was slow year, as the
cars did not sell as well, so only seven new models appeared.
1973 is significant for the release of some of the hardest models to
find, including the Mongoose and the Snake, with only 3 new castings
this year. Mattel had lowered its manufacturing standards, resulting
models that were discontinued after one year, with the result that some
collectors specialize in the 1973 models only. 1974 saw seven new casts
and 8 embellished castings. This was the first year that all models
were enameled. Mattel first used tampo-printed ink graphics, instead of
decals or stickers.
In 1975, the first motorcycles were produced in the history of Hot Wheels, but
they were not produced
again until 1997 with the introduction of the Scorchin' Scooter. 23
models were introduced, and Mattel continued issuing models in alternate
colors. In 1976, Super Chromes appeared, a line of 18 chrome models.
The next year, 69 vehicles appeared with 12 new castings and changes on
10 earlier issued models. To reduce costs, Mattel began to phase out
the "redlines", considered to be like a Mattel logo, despite the
protests of company designers.
In 1978, 12 new models were issued, with all models having basic black
tires. 1979 had eighteen new issues and twelve models in new colors.
1980 saw the appearance of the Hi-Rakers, on which the rear axles were
attached to a separate hinged base that could be raised or lowered to
increase the rake of the vehicle. Workhorses also appeared. In 1981,
with the release of 12 new models, Mattel claimed that their "Hot Ones"
were the "Fastest Non-Powered Die-Cast Metal Cars." A collectors
handbook was issued that year.
1982 McDonald's distributing Hot Wheels as a promotion, and Mattel moved
the production plant from Hong Kong to Malaysia. There were 23 new
releases out of the total 51 models. The next year, 1983, on the 15th
anniversary, "Real Riders" cars appeared with rubber-like tires, and
proved to be very popular. Production began in Mexico for the U.S.
market and in France for the European market.
In 1984, "Ultra Hots" were introduced as the fastest Hot Wheels ever
made. Two models were never sold in the U.S. -- the Datsun 200SX in
maroon and the Pontiac J-2000 in green. In 1985, Army and Indy-style
cars appeared, and was the year of a Kellogg's cereal promotion. In
1986, The Speed Demon and Flip-Out series were introduced, lines of
fantasy vehicles. In 1987, a price guide was released, and the first
collector's convention was held in Toledo, Ohio.
In 1988, gold and silver chrome cars were produced to celebrate the 20th
Anniversary. The next year, Mattel introduced Park-N-Plates, small
plastic see-through boxes with colored see-through lids that displayed
the vehicles' names. These were for special cars in their plastic
"garages". In 1990, a model came out based on the Simpsons cartoon. The
first aircraft (helicopter) appeared, and there was Hot Wheels Cereal.
It was the year the Purple Passion model could not be located for 9
months on toy store shelves.
1991 was the last year for Park-N-Plates, the 1 billionth Hot Wheels
vehicle was produced and McDonald's Happy Meal offered a plastic Hot
Wheels casting. In 1992, the Pro Circuit, Gleam Team, and Tattoo
Machines were introduced. In 1993, popular models were re-issued to
commemorate the 25th anniversary. In 1994, the only new series was the
Vintage collection. 1995 saw the Treasure Hunt Cars, limited to 10,000
each, the most desirable model being the white 1967 Camaro.
In 1996, cars were issued from China. In 1997, Mattel sponsored Kyle
Petty in the NASCAR Winston Cup. 1998 saw 40 new castings for the 30th
Anniversary, and the achievement of the 2 billionth Hot Wheels car. In
1999, Mattel bought a software manufacturer, and its stock price
crashed. In 2000, Mattel introduced the 36 "First Editions". A new
wheel type appeared, brought over from the Matchbox line. In 2003, for
the 35th anniversary, Mattel teamed up with Columbia Pictures to create
a Hot Wheels movie.