Mattel, the parent company of the Hot Wheels brand started producing toy cars in 1968 and revolutionised the small scale 1/64 die-cast toy industry. At the time the export market was mostly capatalised by British toy car makers, such as Lesney’s Matchbox Toys, Dinky Toys and Mettoys Corgi. The innovative use of Hot Wheels low friction axles, sports wheel designs and the marketing promise of being the fastest toy cars ever made meant that the Hot Wheels were soon catching the imagination of their key customers. The intial 16 model range consisted of American muscle cars, with a selection of customised European cars and fantasy models influenced by George Barris’ vehicles, all finished in eye catching metallic paint work.
Up until 1968, small scale models (rougly from 1/76 to 1/60 scale) produced by Matchbox and Corgi, maintained a realistic level of accuracy of actual vehicles, ranging from the Queens Coronation carriage, through to your Dads car to milk floats. The Matchbox range always featured 75 models in their collection, with Corgi also maintaining a similar amount to encourage children to collect all models.
Hot Wheels discovered that there was a market for ‘tricked up’ modified and outlandishly styled toys. This was the era of space travel, super heroes and fantasy, a fact that Mattel had understood. Within 2 years, the majority of Corgi and Matchbox models had lost their thick hubs and heavy plastic wheels in favour of similar designs to the Hot Wheels toys, even the commercial vehicles and tractors gained them. Matchbox in particular took the lead in fantasy concept vehicles alongside realistic versions of real road vehicles, something the company maintained until throughout the 70’s.
“fantasy models influenced by George Barris’ vehicles”
By the early 90’s both Corgi and Matchboxes fortunes sadly faultered and both ceased their UK operations. Matchbox were sold to Tyco and eventually to rivals Mattel – Hot Wheels parent company. The same fate happened to Corgi’s small scale models and also became part of Mattel, with several models being rebranded as Hot Wheels for a period. Mattel had finally cornered a huge segment of the market.
Luckily, Mattels influence turned out to be hugely beneficial for both Hot Wheels and Matchbox lines – both have been allowed to carry on as seperate makes with their own identity and continue to sell alongside each other to this day. Hot Wheels continued to offer a broad range of realistic road and track cars and fantasy models with their slightly more youthful appeal, complete with gaudy colours and decals. For the first time Japanese cars, both classic and current were cast by Hot Wheels too, encouraged by the emerging classic and drift scenes. Hot Wheels were now producing a large number of castings, but also paid attention to model year changes details, such as those seen on the Ford Mustang. It became clear that Hot Wheels were now treating both the collectors and child markets very seriously indeed.
Hot Wheels were now treating both the collectors and child markets very seriously
The Ford Escort Mexico was based on the original 1968 UK developed MK1 Ford Escort, a entry level family car designed to replace the aging Ford Anglia and to appeal to a wide range of customers globally, with emphasis on European and Australiasian sales.
Available with a wide range of engines in both saloon and estate forms, the Escort soon became a best seller.
Typically for Ford and its innovative product placement, the car was re-engineered and developed for the rally track and motorsports cementing the cars reputation for durability and reliability.
The Mexico was launched in late 1970 to celebrate Ford’s win competing on the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup Rally, which was a huge coup for marketing. Subsequent rally specials were produced throughout the MK1’s life, with all models produced in a special UK based factory in Essex.
The Corgi range had originally competed with Dinky Toys, both employing the 1/43 scale. Mettoy launched their own range of small scale models designed to compete against Matchboxes successful 1-75 range in 1964. The models were branded Husky’s and consisted of domestic and American cars, as well as lorries and vans. Many of the casting had been designed to accomodate the thick axle and elegant simple metal hubs and rubber tyre style wheel. The new larger and sometimes unsuitable whizz wheels upset some very nice casting such as the Jaguar XJ6, Jensen Interceptor and NSU Ro80, by appearing to be too big for the cars and in some cases the wheel arches had to be modified too. By 1969 Husky models had also been renamed to Corgi Juniors, to reflect the new style of thin axled cars with suitable maglite type wheels. A seperate line, marketed as Corgi Rockets were launched in 1970 in direct response to Hot Wheels. They featured an added extra play value dimension by allowing the whole drive train to be removed by a key. Most of the models were also finished in metallic paint, essentially a virtual copy of the Hot Wheels concept but using European cars. The suspended plastic chassis also provided enough tolerance for suspension, which could match the Hot Wheels cars for speed across the playroom floors.
The Corgi Rockets Ford Escort Mexico (D927) was released in 1970 in White with suitable decals similar to the world winning rally car, complete with black bumpers and black plastic window & headlamp guards. A similar white model (D923) without the rally embelishments and with chrome bumpers was also released in James Bond packaging owing to the cars brief appearance in ‘On her majesty secret service’. The Corgi Rockets line was short-lived and discontinued in 1972, which accounts for their relative scarcity in original blister packaging and therefore worth a considerable amount today.
The far more common blue model, identical to the James Bond casting with a red interior was released as number 63 at the same time as the Rockets model. It was sold without the Corgi removable axles and utilised a traditional fixed metal base with no suspension, with the Whizzwheels text casted underneath to help identify the model as a standard casting.
“A seperate line, marketed as Corgi Rockets were launched in 1970 in direct response to Hot Wheels.”
It came with paper sticker decals to be applied by the owner, to counter balance that (unusually for Corgi) it had no opening features.
Two different wheel patterns were used, the small silver 5 spoke and small silver dot-dash style. Subsequent castings retained the same metallic blue colouring, but with used yellow interior. Later versions were sold with the white interior. The values for the different colour seats are fairly similar with the later 2 variations being scarcer, unboxed versions of all blue versions in good condition often appear on ebay.
The original Mexico rally car (and subsequent production models) used circular headlamps, whereas the casting used the oblong headlamps – usually seen on higher spec non-sporting models – this detail didn’t detract from the model too much though.
A side profile of the model also shows how the wheels are tucked in uncomfortably and slightly offset to the arches – which ruins the way the models sits.
The rear panels are also ruined by the casting join as a result the factory process but the accuracy and detailing on the cast itself is excellent. The baseplate incoporates the rear bumper and combined front bumper and fog lights, and were finished in brushed die cast.
Corgi had established a good record for realism and the casting itself is well proportioned, but is marred by the somewhat bulbious arches and pillar design.
The real car was discontinued in 1975, replaced by a crisper updated MK2 model, and therefore the Corgi Escort was retired from the range.
The MK2 Escort was not modelled by Corgi, although when the hatchback model arrived in 1981, Corgi developed the casting at the same time and launched it very soon after the full size car reached the showrooms. The casting was long lived and survived right towards the end of Mettoys production of die cast models.
In late 2014, Mattel announced the release of The fast and the furious MK1 Ford Escort Mexico. Mattel are aware of the huge popularity of Hot Wheels in Europe, so the combination of the use of the legendary Escort Mexico in the latest The fast and the furious film as well to cater for European classic car toy fans was a double wammy for Mattel. The Escort followed a line of classic European and Japanese cars, joining the BMW 2002 and Datsun 510. Commonly known as the ’70 Ford Escort RS1600 (to avoid confusion with the two previous Escort castings) the model became a firm favourite with both UK based collectors and Ford fans.
The model appeared in American stores in early 2015 and were quickly snapped up, helped by its film status and potential resale demand. Hot Wheels releases in the UK are unpredictable at best, with cases usually distributed for sale 3 months after the US releases. There have been exceptions, when models are sold almost simutaniously but it factors like region or whether it’s a toy store or supermarket selling them.
The majority of Hot Wheels are sold in the UK in the major supermarkets, which help Mattel maintain their status as the best selling toys in the UK. The Fast and Furious Escort in Blue finally arrived in southern England in early autumn 2015, with the subsequent and the more common white models arriving shortly afterwards.
“The blue Fast and Furious model sports gold 5 spoke wheels, which offsets the model perfectly. “
Almost 40 years has passed since the Corgi small scale casting of the MK1 Escort, and its fairly clear to see that the Mattel casting is the better of the two castings but typically for a Corgi Juniors model, it comes with bags of charm.
Opening features, usually a key play value point in the past have been virtually disposed of by mattel, with the occasional exceptions due to the cost of manufacturing. For the collector this is generally not a bad thing as opening doors or bonnet often ruins the flow of the casting, but an opening bonnet to reveal the Crossflow engine on both models would have been most welcome.
Mattel employ a typical 4 component policy on the Escort, not dissimiliar to the Corgi version, but the glass cleverly incorporates the fog lights – a much cleaner solution than the Corgi models.
However had the Corgi model employed the same detailing, the fogs lamps would be a weak point and an issue for small children to break off the fog lights. The use of brittle plastic for the glass used in pre 80’s models often produces sharp shards, whereas the recent use of tougher and softer thicker plastic polyeuthane means that it is impossible for the glass to be shattered.
Both models also have quarter lights, with the main side window ‘wound down’. The similarity between both models are remarkable, which allows us to revisit the Corgi attention to detail with sympathy and compares favourably with the Hot Wheels.
Hot Wheels uses current techniques for tampo design application, as mentioned before the Corgi’s main play feature was the DIY paper sticker application but the realism and detailing used on the hot wheels models really lifts the model – down to the silver coloured FORD badge applied on the bonnet. The realistic bonnet, side stripes and door handle detail complete the accuracy. The Corgi’s approach for using raised lettering as part of the casting is a neat touch and rare these days.
There is a discreet Hot Wheel logo on the lower quarter of the side of the model, with an Universal studios trade mark tampo placed on the bootlid of the blue Fast and Furious model, presumably a requisite for licensing.
The Hot Wheels casting itself is worthy of an award, the subtle wheel arches, ride height, stance and proportions are as good as larger scale models. The detailing on the body, such as the raised casting for the boot and bonnet clips are exceptional.
The vents are realistic, with the single door mirror a neat touch. The only thing on the Corgi body casting that is notible as a positive over the Hot Wheel version is the fuel cap, which is missing on the Mattel version – a minor ommision. Another noticable aspect of the detailing is the raised seams to give a impression of the doors on the Corgi, whereas the Hot Wheels uses a more resolved indentation to suggest shut lines.
The interior of the Hot Wheels fashions bucket seats and gear stick finished in silver as it also is used for the slim bumpers, the Corgi version is a lot simplier in detail but is still realistic.
On the underside, the realism continues with provisions made for the front and rear suspension and exhaust layout. The Hot Wheels model is rife for detailing, and it would be a shame if Mattel didn’t release a more collector oriented detailed version of the Escort.
Both models lack sprung suspension, which would have been a major selling point in the late 60’s, but both use a thin axle design which allows them to glide across a smooth surface gracefully. The plastic base on the Hot Wheels is better suited for frictionless travel and would be most likely to win in a track race.
Hot Wheel casts tend to have long lives, usually appearing for a couple of years in several colours. It is then retired for a period and occasionally re-introduced. The Escort, by all accounts has been a strong seller so it’s going to see another recolour (likely to be in red) Another aspect for Mattel marketing to consider could be developing detailed tampo’s for full works rally versions (a large number of liveries could easily form a series) or perhaps model the later brightly coloured RS1600/RS2000 versions.
Since the introduction of the Hot Wheels Escort in 2015, there have been multiple recolours, with 15 distinct different models to collect, with no signs that the casting will be retired any time soon. From experience there is usually 2 models per box/case but they don’t hang around for long so its always worth checking when you note the blue trays overfilled with a fresh batch of Hot Wheels.
Occasionally they’ll also be on display on hanging plastic pegs which makes things easier to spot. Prices vary, with supermarkets selling them for around £1.50 but expect to pay more on amazon or ebay.
Hot Wheels are probabily the most commonly available die-cast models in the UK, and by good fortune they’re also quite cheap and offer some excellent models. Judging by the continous success of the brand, Hot Wheels have a secure future and have some very promising looking models coming up. They model a wide range of different types of models, from the fantasy vehicles, to retro classics, licensed character toys up to modern super cars so there is literally something for everyone. The fun is in the hunt and is extremely addictive! I intend to write another article about die cast collecting in the future, which will cover the main manufacturers, what to collect, whether you should open the packaging and whether they are worth while investments.