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.

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