Why Hot Wheels is one of the most inflation-proof rides in American history


Bruce Pascal is an avid Hot Wheels collector with a collection of over 4,000 cars.

Bruce Pascal


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Bruce Pascal


Bruce Pascal is an avid Hot Wheels collector with a collection of over 4,000 cars.

Bruce Pascal

Inflation, the bane of our pocketbooks and the Federal Reserve, has hit nearly every commodity in the United States, but the price of a beloved toy has managed to hover around $1—for more than 50 years.

Hot Wheels is a retail oddity. Experts like James Zahn told NPR that these games remain one of the most affordable games in the country at a time when inflation is waning in savings accounts and doubling credit card debt for many Americans.

Zahn is editor-in-chief of The Toy Book, a trade publication that has covered the North American toy industry since 1984. Inflation and other supply chain factors have pushed up prices this year in a few toy categories, most notably motion figures, dolls and electronic games, Zahn said. .


A look at one of the many display cases Bruce Pascal uses to display his Hot Wheels collection.

Bruce Pascal


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Bruce Pascal


A look at one of the many display cases Bruce Pascal uses to display his Hot Wheels collection.

Bruce Pascal

On average, The Toy Book has recorded a 15% jump in manufacturers’ suggested prices for many toys this season. He added that many products that would have been $19.99 a year or two ago come in at $22.99 to $24.99.

“It’s extremely rare to find a game that has maintained its price tag for a few years, let alone more than five decades,” Zahn said. “Hot Wheels is an anomaly in that sustained sales volume and a steep production pipeline manage to keep costs low enough to maintain a $1 price point.”

A Brief History of Hot Wheels

Hot Wheels is the brainchild of Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler, who was eager to create toy cars that reflected “the radical versions that custom auto shops have changed—like the vehicles he often saw on California’s freeways,” the New York Museum of Play states on its website. world wide web.

The result was an initial run of 16 Hot Wheels wheels—including Camaros, Corvettes, and Firebirds—that were unveiled at the New York Toy Show in 1968, MotorTrend reports.


One of the first Hot Wheels ads.

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One of the first Hot Wheels ads.

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Kevin Feeley just so happens to own each of these 16 cars (though not in all of the dozens of colors that were released at the time).

Philly, from Firestone, Colorado, has been collecting Hot Wheels for about 45 years. The 37,000 cars include many of the sought-after Redline models, which feature a red circle on the sidewalls of their tyres.

“Early on, they had something called Spectraflame paint, which was a kind of glossy paint. It was a very shiny paint,” Feely told NPR. “But the paint they’re using now [for most cars] Not Spectraflame paint, it’s not that expensive for the paint they use. “

These early models sold for 69 to 89 cents each (which is about $6 to $7.60 today, accounting for inflation), said Bruce Pascal, an avid Hot Wheels collector and author of hot wheels models which includes the narrative history of the game.


An early Hot Wheels ad featuring some of their original cars.

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An early Hot Wheels ad featuring some of their original cars.

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Pascal said that these prices, along with promotions at gas stations, were crucial to Hot Wheels’ early success.

“There were a lot of gas stations in the ’70s where if you filled up your car with 8 gallons of gas you either got free Hot Wheels or you got one for 69 cents, but most gave it to you for free,” Pascal said. “Mostly it was Shell gas stations, but also private gas stations want to get in on the game.”

Turning a children’s game into a serious business

It’s been nearly 55 years since Handler came up with the idea for Hot Wheels and Ted Wu has been helping keep things rooted at the company.

Wu, Mattel’s vice president of design for Hot Wheels, turned the chair around in his Los Angeles home office in November to show off the company’s collaborations on Gucci collectibles.

“Someone stole my Gucci, oh no,” Wu said with a laugh, unable to find the $120 car on the shelves behind him. “We built a Cadillac Seville. This was literally a Cadillac that Gucci brought back in 1972. So we made a die-cast version of it to celebrate Gucci’s 100th anniversary.”

Cadillac marked Hot Wheels’ first high-fashion collaboration that reflects the brand’s evolution and is the reason many of its cars maintain a $1 price tag.

Wu leads a design team of 60 people spread across the US and Asia who are responsible for every Hot Wheels model. He said the team includes former car designers who worked for Toyota and General Motors.

A glance at Mattel’s Hot Wheels store reveals a variety of collaborations (Nintendo, DC Universe), racetrack accessories, and completely free-to-wheel toys. The brand has also expanded its reach into pop culture with categories such as toys, apparel, movies, and NFTs. Then there are Mattel Creations, which featured limited edition Hot Wheels like the RLC Exclusive Nissan Skyline GT-R that retailed for $25 and included a full metal base and Spectraflame paint.

All Hot Wheels made today have die casts or metal in them but less than they did in 1968, Wu said. Each car’s parts—which are produced in a limited number of colors—are also made of plastic; Sometimes it can be the body or chassis of the car. Wu added that these types of production changes have helped keep costs down.


Ted Wu, Mattel’s vice president of design for Hot Wheels, has been with the company since 2003.

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Ted Wu, Mattel’s vice president of design for Hot Wheels, has been with the company since 2003.

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While Hot Wheels has fully embraced the nostalgic adult demographic, producing quality $1 cars remains at the heart of the company’s mission, Wu said.

“We like to say that everyone’s number one car is Hot Wheels,” Wu said. “And as the parents kind of get into it, they kind of rekindle something that they used to enjoy.”

Today, more than 16 Hot Wheels cars are sold per second worldwide, and more than 6 billion vehicles have been produced to date, the company says.

Selling many of those billionaires to parents looking for an affordable toy for their children says a lot about the brand, said collector Pascal, the collector.

“Would you buy a Hot Wheel for $1.29 today, or whatever the average number is? It’s pocket change,” Pascal said. “One of the reasons I think Mattel is so successful is because, you know, there are 330 million Americans, probably every adult, every kid you know, that played with Hot Wheel at one time, because it’s so affordable.”

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