Hot Wheels: A Manbaby’s Delight

A Beginners Guide to Collecting Tiny Fake Automobiles: So why would a grown man buy a tiny car designed expressly for a 4-year-old to repeatedly smash into a wall? Certainly not to play with them, since you’d look like a retard, right?. But hey, it’s not like that isn’t the case when any adult plays with a child’s toy, especially video games. Heh, owned.

I buy Hot Wheels because they’re cheap, they look cool, and the nerdy wannabe designer part of me likes seeing how well the proportions of the car scale down. Of  course, once purchased, there’s not a whole lot to do with them. Either display them for all (no one) to see or horde them in old shoe boxes like an OCD maniac; I’m a proponent of the latter. So what’s the point then? Nothing really, they’re cool to look at and you can make “vrroom” noises and you push ’em across your desk when you should be finishing an article….hold on I’ll be right back.

Ahem… I’ve been buying these things off and on for years now, and for the benefit of no one I shall now elaborate on the specifics of collecting Hot Wheels. There’s generally two types: Hot Wheels originals and officially licensed cars. The originals are generally pretty goofy or hot roddy, though they offer an interesting peek into what kind of cars were popular at the time.

Porsches are always popular

The licensed cars are just that, 1:64 scaled versions of real vehicles, though they’re not always the stock factory versions. Once a car’s mold is made, the body will remain the same for a few years, while Mattel will re-release it a few times with different paint jobs or wheels depending on popularity.


Brand new cars tend to have very faithful casts, while more liberties are taken with older cars. Check out the raced out Triumph TR6, no windshield, fuel cell in the passenger seat, cool roll bar.

Honestly, it’s okay to ejaculate

Some cars get multiple versions on the same year, with different paint jobs, wheels, etc. In some really rare cases a car will get a slight modification to an existing cast, for example:

With and without a flux capacitor

Generally the first and last years of a model’s production get fairly realistic paint jobs, a plain one color or some stripes and racing livery. After that, it’s kind of a toss-up. Cars routinely get lumped into gimmicky “Segment series” themes that change every year, things like “Hang Ten” or “Video Games”. They’re usually plastered with hideous advertisements or gross gimmicky paintjobs so these tend to rank extremely low on my wanted list. Though I make an exception for these shameless Tony Hawk/Birdhouse crossovers:

Sack Tap + Kickflip McTwist = THIS (x2)

Not every car is a success though, a number of vehicles are canned after only a year, including one of my favorite cars: the AE86 Corolla GT-S. To be fair, the cast for this car was ugly as shit and the paintjob wasn’t much to look at either. But it’s mine.

Spot the ugly one

To make things even more annoying for collectors, some cars will have two paint jobs in the same year despite being labeled exactly the same. In even rarer cases, identical cars will be released with slightly different packaging/text.

Project Rerelease

Repackaging the same old stuff means Mattel needs gimmicks, so they introduced the “Faster Than Ever” cars way back in ’06. These featured nickel plated axles that apparently let the wheels spin faster (valuable info for all of you looking to make money betting on illicit, underground Hot Wheels races.) This means there are essentially two versions of nearly every car released, like Garbage Pail Kids, which helps drive the already mentally ill completist collector to even further depths.

Hangin’ with Lil’ Coopers

“Treasure Hunt” cars remain the sign of a true die-hard fanatic. The rarest Hot Wheels of all, these feature rubber wheels and special paintjobs. You’ll likely never find one of these, since diehards routinely camp out and harass store employees to get them before they ever touch the floor. It also doesn’t hurt that Treasure Hunt cars can be sold on ebay for upwards of $40 a piece.

Made in honor of Hot Wheels’ 40th Anniversary, this bling-encrusted whip was reportedly worth $140K!

What about Matchbox? Well back in the day Matchbox was Hot Wheels’ direct competitor, offering a large selection of diecast cars until they were eventually bought out completely by Mattel. That’s right, the same company owns both of them. Matchbox cars aren’t bad, per say, but they’re generally not up to the standards of Hot Wheels casts. Matchbox doesn’t produce anywhere near as many cars as Hot Wheels, and they tend to stick with cheaper, simpler paint jobs. That said, Matchbox actually seems to go for a lot of oddball models that Hot Wheels doesn’t dare to touch.

Looks like a tabletop game version of LA Noire

Porsche 914, Lotus Elan, Citroen DSes and other European oddities are all cars you’ll only find under the Matchbox line. The only other die-cast makers I’m aware of are Jada Toys (who focus on slightly more upscale casts) and Maisto, who make some really god awful die-cast cars (though they also make some pretty sweet die-cast/plastic motorcycles.)

Coming soon from Jada Toys! (Cool… but it ain’t the same)

So if you like cars and have an insatiable urge to clutter up your home with more junk, Hot Wheels are a great way to do that. Just avoid those Cars 2 die-casts, anthropomorphic car eyes don’t belong on the windshield.

Follow the fuck out of Michael Grimm on Twitter! (Art by Batman5273)

Jump right into the world of Hot Wheels with a 50-car Starter Kit!

32 thoughts on “Hot Wheels: A Manbaby’s Delight

  1. Hotwheels leading the way. On another unrelated note, I used to be reminded of what I thought was a toy car advert “Matchbox to the rescue” by the Rage Against The Machine song “Sleep Now in the Fire”. Because in my head they both had similar sounding guitar riffs.

    Coincidence, or am I simply insane? Anyway, I mainly had toy cars so that my toy dinosaurs could chase them, cause otherwise those dinosaurs would have eaten those people every single time.

  2. Dude good stuff, excited to see another collector haha, though i collect action figures. I would love to see more stories like this, talking about collecting the stuff that makes the inner child in us cry haha.

  3. I used to collect and sell Hot Wheels. I actually still have a Treasure Hunt car still in package (mint). When I went to visit my family in Indiana in November I finally convinced my mother to give me all my old Hot Wheels from when I was a kid. I have these really old original bat mobile cars, a shazam car and a penquin car as well as well as the bat copter. Most of cars that she gave me are from the late 70’s/early 80’s.
    I used to collect action figures; mostly M.U.S.C.L.E. figures but money is tight and I’ve fallen out of collecting things that just take up space and don’t get played with. The last time I let someone play with my MUSCLE guys my son put like 20 into our fireplace and I wasn’t able to get them out because of where he had put them.
    Great article Grimm. Not something I would’ve expected from Lasertime.

    1. Ah nice. Yeah I really like the older ones just because the quality of production was so much higher on them. Would’ve liked to have seen those old Batman ones! And sorry about the fireplace story 🙁

  4. I could never resist the temptation of sticking my finger on to the track as the cars were speeding or sticking it onto the speed charger thing.

    1. To be fair the Initial D cars were actually made by Jada Toys not Mattel/Hot Wheels. Jada made pretty much all the cars from the first couple ID story lines, Sileighty, R32, FC/FD RX-7 etc. They did 1/64th scale for all of them, and 1/18th scale for the AE86, R32 and the FD3S RX7 I believe? The 1/18 scale AE86 is probably my favorite die-cast, Jada did a really nice job with it.

  5. Cool article.

    Never really cared for the collectan side of Hot Wheels, I just had a bitching loop-de-loop track that I would play with.

  6. I had these monster truck ones that emulated the hydraulic bounce a bit. We got them from Macdonalds one year and you could either pick the girl toys (miniature non posable barbies [super cop out]) or the hot wheels monster trucks. Well, at least I think they were hot wheels. I got all of the toys that year for both genders.

    Also, are micro machines a different brand? growing up in spain I only remember the horrid way in which commercials butchered their english names (meecro matchins), but I distinctly rmember hot wheels and micro machines being different.

  7. Best title for any laser time article ever.

    I loved hot wheels as a child, I still have most of my collection in a box somewhere.

  8. Wow, I grew up with a literal tote bag full of the things and never realized the complexity of them. They were always the easy thoughtless christmas/birthday gift from relatives and next to pog’s always occupied a spot in my parents closet I rarely visited.
    Nice article, you need to write for the site more.

  9. I used to collect these when I was younger. Might still have a collection in the loft but don’t know if my parents got rid of them or not. After reading this, I hope the latter isn’t true

  10. Such a good read, ending with a picture that made me laugh heartily. Good game, Mike Grimm. Oh you!

  11. Great article! Id like to see more of these. Maybe robotech figures or GI Joe toys? Nice one grimm, I can’t wait for the 2nd anual auto lasertime.

  12. Well, I may not be able to afford that new Audi R8 that I want, but at least I can buy a tiny version of it at Target when I’m picking up shampoo. Great article, Grimm. We’re all manbaby’s at heart.

  13. I loved this post, and I chuckled at the fact that I own a few of the cars pictured. What I tend to do is buy two each of a lot of the Hot Wheels / Matchbox… I take one out of its package to sit out on display, and box up the other.

    A couple years ago, I interviewed for a position at Jada Toys, and during the tour of the place, I got to see a huge wall full of one of every 1:64 size car they’ve made. It was amazing!

  14. I enjoyed the article, Mr. Grimm. It is always fun to look in on someone’s hobby.

    I recently ordered an Initial D “Hachi Roku” online. It looked fairly big in the pictures, and it wasn’t cheap. Well, I was surprised as shit when it arrived and it was the size of a piece of chex and it came in one of those bubbles you get in a vending machine.

    I have severed Johnny Lightning cars still in the box, do you collect any of those?

  15. I used to work at Mattel, some of my friends still work on the Hot Wheels line, one of them was the project designer on the DeLoreans. It was fun to see those guys work, most of them studied legitimate auto design, some were even former Detroit guys… they took their cars pretty seriously. You’d see a lot of crazy real cars pull up into the parking lot, there were always custom designers pitching their real cars as Hot Wheels. One time there was a real full scale Twin Mill somebody built.

    1. Awesome! I always assumed that everyone that worked there was into car design or hardcore customs, nice to know that’s the case. I’m always impressed at how well most of them manage to shrink the proportions of a vehicle down while still retaining the shape of the car, the effort really shows. Just looked up that real Twin Mill, pretty insane!

      1. Yeah, I have no idea how they planned to drive that thing, it had about a 2″ vertical front visibility, and looked like a 30ft turning radius! But very faithful.

  16. Best article about Hot Wheels I’ve ever read in my life


    This was really great

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