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The History of Hot Wheels

Elliot Handler co-founded Mattel with his wife, Ruth. She was the brains behind a little famous icon named Barbie (maybe you know her?). Elliot wanted to do for boys what Ruth did for girls. So, he nabbed a GM car designer and an actual rocket scientist and together, they created a toy car that looked cooler and performed better than anything else out there. The original Sweet 16 and iconic orange track revolutionized the toy car industry, and Hot Wheels die-cast cars are now the #1 selling toy in the world.

1966 - Elliot Handler Challenges Convention to create an American Icon

An innovator, a rocket scientist and a car engineer revolutionized the toy car industry. They shared a belief in the power of design, innovation and play. This belief and their relentless pursuit to defy category conventions inspired them to create an exciting new way for kids to experience the thrill of custom hot rod culture and vehicle play. 

1968 - The “Original Sweet 16” Hit Shelves

The "ORIGINAL SWEET 16" hits the shelves. Touted as the 16 most influential cars of their time, they pushed the limits of performance and design. The Custom Camaro was the first available in May 1968, and 15 iconic cars quicly followed. 1969 - THE MOST VALUABLE HOT WHEELS CAR: THE VOLKSWAGEN BEACH BOMB PROTOTYPE

Surfs up! The Volkswagen Beach Bomb prototype featured surfboards hanging out of the rear window. Due to its narrow body and top-heavy frame, this initial design didn’t perform up to brand standards and so was never put into production. The original prototype now resides with famed Hot Wheels collector Bruce Pascal and is worth an epic $150,000! 

1970 - Hot Wheels Brings Drag Racing into Pop Culture with Snake & Mongoose

Mattel tapped into the fierce drag racing rivalry between race drivers Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen. The detailed re-creations encouraged kids to act out their own side-by-side racing battles. 

1974 - Game Changer: “Tampo” Printing Innovation

Elliot Handler and this team pushed the limits of design by reinventing the pad printing process, termed "tampo," which revolutionized the Hot Wheels line with more detailed graphics and brighter colors. 

1975 - Ramblin’ Wrecker: Get a Tow from Larry Wood!    

As one of Larry Wood's early designs, the Ramblin' Wrecker prototype featured his home phone number, but was never meant to arrive in stores that way. After hundreds of kids and fans called the number, it was removed from later versions. 

1979 - Peek Inside the World of Hot Wheels with Scene Machines    

Hot Wheels maximized a new licensing agreement with Marvel by delivering a completely new way to play with die-cast cars.Dubbed "Scene Machines," these vehicles had a tiny magnifying glass portal built into the back of the body so kids could peek inside and view their favorite comic book heroes and other characters in action. 

1981 - Hot Wheels gets Back in the Race with “The Hot Ones”    

Hot Wheels gets back in the race with "THE HOT ONES!" With a thinner wheel and axel design that allowed the cars to go faster, Hot Wheels reclaims the title "Fastest non-powered metal cars." 

1988 - The Magic of Color Racers    

It must be magic! For the first time, kids could change the colors, stripes, numbers and deco of their cars instantly by dipping them into water of various temperatures. It was the first time kids could alter and create the design of Hot Wheels cars for endless fun.  

1990 - Mr. Hot Wheels Pushes Design with the Purple Passion    

If you ask Larry Wood, he’ll tell you the Purple Passion was the breakthrough car, where he elevated Hot Wheels design to a new level. Modeled after a ’49 Merc, it raced onto the collector scene and quickly become a fan favorite. 

1991 - Welcome to the Billion Cars Club!    

This was the year Hot Wheels proudly produces its 1 billionth car! To commemorate this epic milestone, we created the Billionth Car Collection with 4 different chrome-plated, die-cast gold Corvettes, complete with a removable trophy-style display. Hidden with one of the cars was a coupon that could be redeemed for a real ‘Vette. Possibly purchased by a collector who kept the product in its packaging, the winning Corvette coupon was never claimed. 

1995 - Let the Hunt Begin: Introducing Treasure Hunts    

A limited production run of select vehicles with real rubber tires, spectra-flame paint jobs and modified decos were randomly packed into cases with a green bar on the blister card marked “Treasure Hunt” or “T-Hunt.” After these cars proved to be extremely popular with collectors, the 1996 run was increased to 25,000 of each vehicle. Hard-core collectors were known to befriend store stock clerks to grab them before they ever hit the shelves.  Happy Hunting! 

1997 - Gentlemen, Start your Engines… with Nascar    

Hot Wheels brought racing legends to the brand by partnering with NASCAR drivers Kyle Petty and Jack Baldwin and putting NASCAR-themed vehicles into kids’ hands for the first time. The Hot Wheels–NASCAR partnership lasted for the next decade.  

2001  - The First Life-Sized Hot Wheels Car: The Twin Mill    

For over 30 years, boys dreamed of driving a real Hot Wheels car. To bring that dream to life, the Hot Wheels team built and unveiled a full-scale replica of the iconic Twin Mill at the 2001 SEMA custom auto show. Since then, Hot Wheels has brought more than 20 cars to life as full-size driveable vehicles, including Bone Shaker, Deora II, the Darth Vader Character Car and X-wing Fighter Carship.  

2003 - Hot Wheels Answers the Bat Signal    

One of most famous vehicles in entertainment became part of the Hot Wheels line when Mattel signed a license with DC Comics.  The first Hot Wheels Batmobile was an original design co-created by Mattel and Warner Bros. Over the years Hot Wheels released other iconic Batmobiles, including the Dark Knight Tumbler and the Classic TV Series Batmobile designed by George Barris.  Today there is a dedicated Batmobile mini-collection, and the DC partnership has expanded to include Character Cars and playsets. 

2010 - A New Approach to Licensed Vehicles: Introducing Disney•Pixar Toy Story Character   Cars    

Hot Wheels collaborated with Disney•Pixar’s Toy Story 3 for the first line of Hot Wheels Character Cars. Representing an instantly popular and collectible new experience, each car was developed from scratch to capture the essence of these iconic characters in automotive form. Character Cars would eventually grow into the foundation of Hot Wheels’ licensed entertainment segment through collaborations with DC Comics, Marvel Studios, Star Wars and many other iconic brands. 

2011 - Hot Wheels Smashes World Record at Indy 500    

What better place for Hot Wheels to break a world record than the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500? Dropping from the top of a 100-foot-tall door down a life-size version of the iconic orange track, Team Hot Wheels Tanner Foust lands a ramp-to-ramp distance jump of 332 feet, crushing the previous record by an impressive 31 feet! 

2012 - Double Loop World Record at X Games    

Can you imagine a giant 60-foot-tall double vertical loop in the middle of downtown Los Angeles? Hot Wheels made this two-driver, first-of-its-kind challenge a reality at the X Games. Stuntman Greg Tracy and rally driver Tanner Foust completed the double loop in tandem, reaching 52 mph and 7Gs. 

Corkscrew World Record

Stunter Brent Fletcher pulled off a ramp-to-ramp, 92-foot corkscrew to help Hot Wheels set its third Guinness World Record in 2 years. The specialized 2,600-pound buggy rotated 230 degrees per second to beat the previous mark of 74 feet set by Top Gear. Epic! 

2014 - Speedometry Makes Learning Epic    

Co-created by the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and the Mattel Foundation, Hot Wheels combined competition, creativity and experimentation with an accredited science- and math-based curriculum. The result is Speedometry – a program proven to be effective in teaching STEM principles in the classroom that is currently taught in 40,000 schools in the United States and select international locations. 

Star Wars Darth Vader Car Comes to Life    

To celebrate the partnership with Star Wars, the brand built a life-size Darth Vader car and launched it at Comic-Con International 2014. The Darth Vader Car, dubbed "Darth Car," is fully operational, based on a C5 Corvette and has Darth Vader cues throughout. 

2015 - The Gas Monkeys Accept the Challenge

On the highest-rated episode of Discovery Channel’s Fast ‘N Loud, Hot Wheels challenged the Gas Monkey Garage to build a life-size version of a Hot Wheels car with the possibility of its being included in the toy line. Inspired by the iconic ’68 custom Corvette from the “Original Sweet 16,” they crushed it with the Midas Monkey. Never ones to back down from a challenge, the Gas Monkeys did it again in 2016 by building a car worthy of the exclusive Red Line Club: the souped-up 1963 Ford Econoline, which would eventually become the Hot Wheels Hypo Hauler in the 2018 line. 

2017 - Hot Wheels and Forza Join Forces!

Hot Wheels expanded its partnership with the world's most prestigious gaming platform with the release of the Special Edition Xbox + FORZA Hot Wheels Bundle! 

Hot Wheels Camaro Celebrates 50 Years

The Custom blue Camaro was the first Hot Wheels vehicle ever created 50 years ago, and over the past five decades our design team has created nearly every Camaro to date. In 2017, to celebrate 50 years of partnership and design influence we launched the 50th anniversary Camaro that consumers and fans can purchase for their own. 

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