A tale of two companies
It all began almost 67 years to the date in a closed down pub in London where an industrial die-casting company, Lesney, was born, leading to a huge collector market for metal 1/64th scale model cars. Lesney is the creator of Matchbox vehicles. The name itself came into being when one of the owners’ daughters wanted to bring a toy to school but the school only allowed children to bring toys that could fit inside a matchbox so a scaled down version of a Lesney model went with her to school. Thinking they might have something, they used the one-0ff creation, the idea of selling a model of a vehicle small enough to fit into the size of a matchbox. Matchbox was born and propelled Lesney to worldwide, mass-market success.
It wasn’t until 1968 that the Matchbox brand received any serious competition in 1/64th scale cars when Mattel introduced Hot Wheels. See the first Hot Wheels TV commercial. The difference between the vehicles produced is that Hot Wheels puts an emphasis on sportier, vehicles like Lamborghini, Ferrari, pony cars, and American muscle while the Matchbox product line is more diverse and includes service and utility vehicles, military equipment, and planes. Sounds like the making of a great partnership. Mattel thought so and in 1997 bought the Matchbox brand but while they are now a part of Mattel, Matchbox continues to develop its own product line independently from Hot Wheels.
Keeping mind that purchased new, a Matchbox vehicle would cost about 50 cents, the return on your investment could be huge. According to historicvehicle.org one of its Top Five Most Valuable Cars is this 1966, “sea green” Matchbox Opel Diplomat consistently valued in the neighborhood of $9,000.
The most expensive ever Hot Wheels car was introduced in 1968 at the 105th American International Toy Fair as a celebration of Hot Wheels 40th anniversary. Named the Diamond Crusted Custom Otto and has more than 2,700 tiny diamonds for a total of nearly 23 carats worth which adds up to $140,000. According to UltimateHotWheels.boards.net under the hood the engine is decorated with pave-set white and black diamonds. Red rubies are set as the tail lights, while black diamonds and red enamel create the “red line” tires and the custom-made case that houses the jewel-encrusted vehicle also holds 40 individual white diamonds, one each year in the legacy of Hot Wheels.
Since the models I highlighted above rarely will pass onto another collector, I thought I’d check the auction sites. One of the Hot Wheels models I found with consistent high value was the Red Line KH Red Cougar, this one listed for $1,699.
Of course I had to see if any American Motors Hot Wheels had any value and came across this Open Fire 1971 AMC Gremlin which featured six wheels for better performance on the track. The only year for Open Fire was in 1972 Hot Wheels series, and came in 5 different Spectraflame colors.
1972 was also the last year that Hot Wheels featured their patented Spectraflame colors. According to the description from the seller Spectraflame is a painting process that is very hard to produce since it requires the metal to have a shiny finish before thin layers of paint are placed on it. This allows the mirror type finish to shine through, thus giving it a bright appearance. This one was listed at $699. Heck, I can almost buy a beater Gremlin for that.
You’ll notice that the Hot Wheels cars that I chose are Redline cars. According to the On Line Redline Guide, A “Redline” Hot Wheels car is one that was manufactured within the first ten years of production, 1968 to 1977.
The term “redline” derives from the fact that, during that period, the cars were manufactured with a red stripe on the tires. Mattel brought back some cars with redlines but they are not as prized as highly as the originals. To tell if you have a legit Redline car the site goes on to say that during the redline years, the cars were sold worldwide but were only manufactured in two places, the US or Hong Kong. If the chassis of the car identifies the “country of origin” as anything other than US or Hong Kong, then it is not a true redline. Therefore, if the car has red striped wheels AND was made in the US or Hong Kong, then it is a true Redline!
For speculators of Hot Wheels cars
Want to start big right out of the gate? I found this huge collection of hundreds of Hot Wheels in their original packaging. From eBay seller victoryawaits. There are over 5,000 plus! Included are rare Kiss cars, Gold cars, and Special Editions. Of course this huge collection has a huge price listing at $12,000. This video will give you an idea how big the collection is.
For speculators of Matchbox vehicles
They hold their own against their counterparts. My last remaining example of a Matchbox car is this No.32C Jaguar XKE COUPE. Good examples of this car are selling for around $100 To get that much, I’m going to have to put a bit of work into mine to get it back to near mint condition. There are others going for much higher prices like this Pontiac G.P. Coupe which, according to a collector site, would cost you over $2,000 to have in your collection. Speaking of cash, a while back we sold off my wife’s collection of Matchbox vehicles and used that for spending money on a trip the family took to Maui, Hawaii. It was a great trip. Prices were all over the board but I remember a box selling for $115. Yup, just the box.
Hot Wheels marketing, why the brand remains relevant
I love their marketing. First, they have their own collectors club where members get first dibs on new cars, soon to be released, along with other goodies and, if I’m reading the notice correctly on the site, membership is sold out at this point. Now that’s an exclusive club.
They do a lot of co-branding of cars too. One of my favorite shows on Discovery Channel is Fast N’ Loud where the Gas Monkey Garage created two vehicles that became Hot Wheels models. The builds were amazing and it gave viewers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Hot Wheels where normally it’s the designers who come up with the ideas. Another idea Mark and I got to experience first-hand at Road America where we took a 2014 Camero with Hot Wheels badging for a drive.
Go on, get out of here and start prospecting for gold!