How Hot Wheels Work

Collector Cars

The Hot Wheels 40th anniversary jeweled car
The Hot Wheels 40th anniversary jeweled car

Hot Wheels are also hot properties. How hot? Well, according to Mattel, some collections of these little toy cars are valued at over $1 million. The absolute hottest was a VW bus that sold for $72,000 in 2000. There were several things contributing to what sounds like (and maybe is) an insane price for a van you can't even drive. First, the Beach Bomb, as the model was known, was Hot Pink — a color that was associated with girls and therefore not popular with the boys who generally bought Hot Wheels in 1968. Second, it was a Rear-Loader Beach Bomb. Its little surfboards stuck out the rear window, which turned out to be difficult to produce at the factory. It didn't work with the track anyway, so it was redesigned with a wider body and the surfboards loaded in the side. And to top it all off, there are only 25 of these prototype Rear-Loader Beach Bombs known to exist. Ergo, this little guy sold for the price of a drivable Cadillac Escalade rather than the $600 a "regular" 1968 Beach Bomb by Hot Wheels would go for.

While there are other rarities that have fetched high prices, none are even close to that record. There was the "Cheetah" of 1968. Its name was changed to the "Python" pretty quickly when Mattel found out GM exec Bill Thomas owned the Cheetah name; it was his race car rival to Carroll Shelby's Cobra. If you can get your hot little hands on a Python model that still says "Cheetah" on the chassis, before it was changed, you can fetch about $10,000 for it.

Collectors have been holding Hot Wheels conventions since the 1980s, and they've got a few pointers for you, just in case your nostalgia gets the best of you and you want to line your bookshelves with cool cars:

  • Check the car's condition carefully — chipped paint or scratches can lower a car's value
  • Redline tires show that the car was produced between 1968 and 1977
  • But double-check the date on the chassis, too, since Redlines and other popular car models have been reissued decades later
  • There's no other telltale sign of an early Hot Wheels car like Spectraflame paint

If you really want to geek out, there are groups of Hot Wheels collectors all over the place. alone has more than a quarter-million users. Go ahead — make it a quarter-million and one.

Author's Note: How Hot Wheels Work

When I was growing up, I had a cardboard case full of Hot Wheels. Hundreds of little metal cars. My brother had another box full. And I'm old enough now that if I had kept those cars, I would probably be a millionaire. Except that we all know that isn't true.

We played with those cars hard. Really hard. I remember one of our favorite games was to start at one end of our small kitchen with the cars lined up with their noses at a line in the linoleum. Then we would shove them as hard as we could toward the other end of the kitchen. The car that hit the baseboard of the opposite wall with all four wheels still on the floor won. That game was quickly killed when our parents noticed what die-cast metal cars do to wood baseboards.

By the time we grew out of them, our Hot Wheels looked as terrible as the baseboards in the kitchen. Collectors say to look for dents and paint scratches; ours were made of nothing but dents and scratches. So, yeah. Maybe not a millionaire.

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