Me and Hot Wheels – How it all began


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Author fell for Hot Wheels cars like the Street Roader some 40 years ago. Photos from Hot Wheels Variations, 3rd Edition

My dad was an auto body man and sometimes I would get to go with him to the shop. I saw a lot of cars and trucks as I was growing up. I’ve collected all types of toy cars as far back as I can remember. I was always trying to soup-up my Matchbox and slot cars to make them look as real as the cars I saw on the street. I used to read Hot Rod magazine and would drool at all the California Custom cars.

You have to remember that this was a time when Super Bee Six-Packs, Hemi Roadrunners, Big Block Corvettes and the occasional 427 A/C Cobra driving down the road or parked in a neighbor’s driveway was commonplace. To me, it was the greatest time to be a 10-year-old boy who was in love with American Muscle Cars and brute horsepower.

My obsession with Hot Wheels cars started one day back in 1968 as I was riding my “Stingray” bicycle with the tall sissy bar and Redline rear slick tire down to the local shopping center to look at the models. I walked into a local department store named “W.T. Grants” and saw a new display of die-cast cars. Well, when I saw “Hot Wheels with California Custom Styling,” I went nuts! I was in Hot Rod heaven. All these way cool cars with mag wheels and Redline tires already on them. Blowers popping out of the hood, sidepipes or Zoomies, and trick paint. I didn’t know which one of the eight cars I should get.

I did know one thing though, I didn’t have 68 cents to buy one, so I had to race home and ask my mom for the money. I ran in the house like I was being chased by a rabid dog, screaming, “MOM, MOM!” I tried telling her about the cool cars I just saw at “Grants” and that I needed a dollar to get one, but I was so out of breath the words got all messed up. After calming down and telling her what I was screaming about, she gave me a dollar and I was out the door and back down to “Grants.”

I think the first car I bought was a purple Silhouette. I loved custom stuff and that was the wildest thing there. I also remembered seeing the Silhouette on an episode of Mission Impossible and fell in love with that car.

My life was all about Hot Wheels cars after that. Every birthday or holiday, everyone knew just what to get me. My aunt was recently cleaning out an old drawer and found a list of cars I sent with her on a trip she and my uncle took to California back in 1969. It was pretty neat to see that list of Redlines again.

My mother still reminds me of the Christmas that I bought everyone in the family Hot Wheels cars as Christmas gifts. My thinking was that they wouldn’t want them and they would give them to me. Not a bad idea for a 10-year-old. Too bad it didn’t work. I had to go out and buy everybody new gifts. I did get to keep the cars though.

I remember writing to Mattel when I was 10 or 11 years old and would put a dollar in an envelope and ask for extra wheels for my Redlines. Back then the wheels came off and you could swap them around. A couple months later I would get a big envelope with a handful of different sized wheels, a real cool letter from Mattel and my dollar back. I did this a lot. I even think that I was one of the first members of the Hot Wheels Club, because I never sent for the Club Kit, it just showed up in the mail.

A question a lot of people ask me is: “What is your favorite car?” That’s like asking: “Which one of your kids do you love the best?”

I like most of the “real” looking cars—the cars that you can see out there on the street. I like a lot of the newer cars as well as the older ones Mattel has put out. The ’56 Ford Panel, Mustang Mach I, ’40 Ford Coupe, ’70 RoadRunner, Tow Trucks and anything that can carry another vehicle and of course the classics like the A/C Cobra, ’57 T-Bird, Corvettes, ’65 Mustang, and the list goes on.

There is no way that I could ever narrow it down to one car.

Some cars are always harder to find than others. Not that they are made in lesser numbers than others—although they sometimes are, but for other reasons.

Construction vehicles are always in demand. There are people that buy them for their train sets; they’re bought for the kids to play with; and there are people that are just plain nuts about construction vehicles.

Police and Fire vehicles are also popular with train people and as gift for kids. There are people who collect police or fire stuff, or even both.

The ’55 and ’57 Chevys are other cars that are always in demand. The ’67 Camaros are always hard to find, especially when they look like a normal production car. The case with the Camaro is just like that of the ’57 Chevy, somebody owned one at one time or has always wanted to have one.

VW Bugs—do I have to say more? I think there are more people that collect VW Bugs than any other car in the world. The Bug is just one of those cute little cars that everybody likes. These are always in short supply, and if there’s a variation, that’s even harder to find.

I’ve made many friends collecting these toy cars from 1968. There is this kind of camaraderie amongst collectors. The diverse types of people that collect Hot Wheels cars range just like the variations that I collect, they are all the same, yet different, each in their own way.

Hot Wheels Variations
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hot wheels variation
The #415 Roll Patrol models shown above are a great example of an interior color variation.
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hot wheels variation
A variation can be as simple as a set of different wheels, as on the #464 Blazer 4 X 4.
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What constitutes a variation?

A variation is something that has changed during the production of a car after it has been released. There are wheel changes, name changes, interior changes, windows, tampos, even a totally different color of the car—these are all variations.

To be a variation there has to be more than one of a particular car found that way and they must still be in its original package to be considered as a true collector number variation.

There are different kinds of variations. There are transitional cars that come about when a car is changed from one style to the next. One transitional car would is the #816 Ferrari 308. When this car was first released it was bronze with a tan interior. It was later changed to a red body; leftover tan interiors were put into the red cars until they were gone and then new black interiors were installed. The tan interior cars were produced in very small numbers and are very rare.

There are cars that are made with a different color interior or wheel or shades of color paint during the normal production run of the car because the parts or paint ran out before the rest of the cars were finished. Sometimes they run out of parts and they had to get parts from another bin. Other times, variations are made purposely just to change things up a bit.

Remember that a variation has to be the physical change of the car. If the car is upside down or backwards in a package, it’s not a variation. They are packaging errors. There have been some packaging errors that have been classified as a variation because they were produced in mass quantities. There have been cards printed and released with misspelled words.When these type of errors show up across the country, most collectors consider it a variation.

More Images:

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#1 Old Number 5
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#10 Baja Breaker
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15 Tank Truck.
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#29 Tail Gunner
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Michael Zarbonck surrounded by a portion of his collection.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Michael "Mick" Zarnock has been collecting Hot Wheels cars since the late 1960s. He enjoys collecting the different card varieties, as well as buying and selling car variations. He is also the author of Warman's® Hot Wheels Field Guide and Hot Wheels™ A Warman's® Companion. Available at www.krausebooks.com or http://shop.collect.com.

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