On January 4, 1968, the first Hot Wheels car rolled off a Mattel production line. It was a 1/64-scale, dark blue 1968 Camaro RS with black roof and redline tires. 15 other models would soon join the Camaro, and the lineup became known as known as the “Original Sweet 16.” The rest, as they say, is history.
These tiny cars with wide wheels and low-friction axles flying around on orange tracks soon became omnipresent in the bedrooms and dens of kids around the world. Since 1968, well over four billion Hot Wheels have been built, far exceeding the production of any other vehicle—real or scale model.
The 50th anniversary milestone was celebrated on the eve of the 2017 Specialty Equipment Market Association in Las Vegas, the world’s largest automotive trade show.
Because the first Hot Wheels car was a Camaro, Chevrolet is celebrating by bringing out a full-scale 2018 Camaro Hot-Wheels 50th Anniversary edition, available on coupe and convertible models in 2LT or 2SS trim. Introduced at SEMA by Jeff Gordon, Todd Christensen, and Chris Down, the Camaro features special orange paint, Hot Wheels badging, and 20-inch forged wheels that resemble its scale-model counterparts. Also included are some Satin Graphire ground effects, stripes, orange brake calipers, and details like embossed interior headrests.
Just like its full-scale counterparts, Hot Wheels cars have become hot collectibles over the years. According to Mattel, more than 40 million children grew up playing with the little metal cars, and the average serious collector has over 1,500 cars.
The Holy Grail for Hot Wheels collectors is a 1969 Volkswagen van prototype known as the Beach Bomb, according to an December 2016 article in the New York Daily News. “It featured a bright pink body with two surf boards hanging out the back,” thus gaining the nickname as “the back loader.” However, the prototype was top-heavy and would not function with an available Power Booster track assembly that propelled the cars. So the prototype was widened with the surfboards relocated to the side of the van before going back into production as the “side loader.” Despite the change, some 41 versions of the prototype were mistakenly released, which accounts for their value. “According to eBay, one of the back-loader prototypes was reportedly bought by a collector named Bruce Pascal for $72,000,” the Daily News reported.
If you’re ever curious about the value of the Hot Wheels cars that you may still own, Tomart’s Price Guide to Hot Wheels Collectibles is a respected source.
If you’re ready to live out your childhood fantasy, the full-size Hot Wheels Camaro goes on sale in early 2018, with the package tacking on $4,995. Just steer clear of the loop-the-loops.