How Hot Wheels Work

Hot Wheels Heat Up

Hot Wheels paint tests
Hot Wheels paint tests

Elliot Handler's faith in kids wanting cool little cars was not misplaced. The first set did so well that in 1969, Hot Wheels issued 24 new cars, and in 1970 there were 33 total cars. Each of these models, by the way, came in a few different colors, so that 1970 Red Baron — a dragster with an inexplicable and inexplicably cool helmet over the cockpit — could be found in different colors.

The demand for Hot Wheels overwhelmed the California production plant within the first few months, and for the first couple of years, manufacturing was split between in there and Hong Kong. In 1973, Mattel moved all Hot Wheels production to Hong Kong, and the next year they sadly ended the expensive and hard to apply Spectraflame paint. A far less-shiny enamel was used ever after. Sad face.

But kids weren't sad for long. In 1983, Hot Wheels came in Happy Meal boxes at McDonald's. This was pretty much the pinnacle of 80s kid-hood. Except that around the same time, Hot Wheels production moved to Malaysia and they added economy cars to the lineup. Because why dream of a Camaro or something out-of-this-world like the "Eevil Weevil" when you could dream about a Pontiac Fiero, just like all the small-time drug dealers in your town?

In 1995, Hot Wheels debuted Treasure Hunt cars, which were limited to just 10,000 castings of 12 models (each year) with the TH logo, including a Rolls-Royce Phantom II and an Olds 442 in the first year. The idea with a limited series called Treasure Hunt, of course, is that they're difficult to find, and rewarding when you do. But the series got really popular with collectors, so while there are still only 12 models each year, they made the decision to make more of them. Which makes them less rare. Which also makes them less collectible, one would think.

The next year, the inevitable happened. Mattel bought their old rival Matchbox. All your tiny cars are belong to us.