Mattel's Hot Wheels toy cars burst on the scene in 1968 as a California Hot Rod answer to the staid and utilitarian Matchbox cars. These fanciful replicas of '60s Muscle Cars were an instant hit and featured "chrome" mag wheels, independent suspension, brilliant "Spectraflame" paint jobs and realistic body and chassis detailing. What more could a young hot-rodder want?
Aided by extensive television advertising, which set some trends of its own, and those familiar Orange Track sets, millions of these little toy cars were sold in subsequent years.
The earliest Hot Wheels cars are now 33 years old and have become the premier die-cast collectible, achieving incredible prices on eBay and other venues for mint and rare pieces. (A recent private purchase of a Pink "Rear-Loader" Beach Bomb was estimated at $70,000.)
Although not all Hot Wheels cars are valuable, the average sales price for 1968 - 1973 issued cars is between $40 and $100. Rarer cars often trade for between $150 and $500, and some of the rarest pieces sell for up to $22,000.
Because they are toys, many yard sale sellers pay little attention to them. This often results in very low prices for nice items that will bring good prices at online auctions. How do you know if your Hot Wheels yard-sale-find has any value? Here are some things to look for.
Condition - As in any collectible, condition is crucial to what type of price you can expect to achieve. Collectors are concerned with paint chipping and scratches, wear on the wheel chrome, wear or scratching on the windshield or other plastic parts, toning - a darkening of the metal underneath the transparent paint. It is critical that you take the time to describe each car carefully, to avoid returns.
"Redline" wheels - Redlines are what collectors call these early Hot Wheels, because of the Red "stripe" or circle around the wheel's sidewall, much like whitewalls. This was a popular trend in the '60s and indicate that it could be an early car from the '60s and '70s. However, Mattel re-issued some early Hot Wheels under the "Vintage" series and the "25th Anniversary" series in 1994. These re-issues carried redline wheels, but the Redlines is much more subdued and is actually printed on the wheels as opposed to the originals, which were hot-stamped onto the wheel.
Copyright date - This is found on the chassis, or the bottom of the car, and collectors are looking for dates between 1967 and 1977. However, the date on the base of the car is only the copyright date, and not the date the car was issued. So you might have a car that was sold last year, bearing a 1975 date, because that was the year that casting was first issued. It's still a 2001 model, though and will only fetch 2001 prices (not enough to sell at auction).
Look for the shiny metallic "Spectraflame" paint - Good examples of Spectraflame paint (and Redline Hot Wheels) are found at http://www.redlinesonline.com/Spectraflame_colors.html.
Spectraflame paint is actually a transparent paint that was used in Hot Rods in the '60s. On Hot Wheels cars, the body of the cars would be zinc plated to achieve a bright polish, almost like chrome. The paint would be applied and the cars shine beautifully, even today, because you can actually see the brightly polished metal through the clear paint.
Original Redline Hot Wheels also included a revolutionary "torsion-bar suspension" that allowed the car to absorb shock and actually makes the car "bounce" a little bit, when it lands on four wheels. This was designed into the cars to allow them to do the many stunts made possible by the various track sets available at the time.
Values vary based on condition, color (some cars were rarely made in certain colors), rarity and desirability. The best way to find out if you have the real deal? Consult a price guide, available on Amazon or at your local mega-bookstore. I recommend the Tomart's price guide, it is the standard. Use the price guides as guides only. They are not the definitive source of information on a particular car, in fact, many of the guides are outdated and erroneous straight from the printer!
Be sure you are pricing your cars correctly. Nothing irks an experienced collector more than a seller who prices their loose car based on the MINT IN PACKAGE price instead of the Mint Loose price. Most price guides list a Mint Loose price on the left column and a Mint In Package price on the right column. Accessories and even some track sets sell for good prices, also, but the market for these is more limited.
One last tip: Shell Gas Stations did a huge promotion in the early '70s. They gave away a packaged Hot Wheels car with each fill-up. If you know anyone who owned or ran a Shell Gasoline Station in the '70s, ask them if they have any Old Hot Wheels cars. A lot of the Mint In Package cars that are available today have come from Shell Gas Station finds.
Good luck in your hunt for Hot Wheels treasure!