Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ebay Finds of the Scorching Kind

Those who know me or have been following this blog for a while will be familiar with the fact that I am not only into bicycles and cars, but also collecting toy cars. I am not the type of collector who takes into account the future value of the car for resale or bragging rights: I simply grab what I like and what I can afford and that's that.

To give some background, Hot Wheels first started making toy cars in 1968. Seeing a potential market for 1:64 scale die cast toys that rolled as fast and looked as nice as their full-size counterparts and the lack of such a product in the height of the muscle car age, Mattel seized the opportunity, hired a few custom car fanatics and designers, and that was that. The original line included 16 cars, all of which had red-lined tires (hence the nickname "Redlines"), suspension made of "music wire" that prevented axle damage in the event of accidents, "frictionless" wheel bearings, and "Spectraflame" paint. Most models also included opening hoods, exposed engines, or removable parts. The goal was to extract the maximum "play value" from a toy car while still keeping retail price under a dollar. In the years immediately following, Hot Wheels also released "Sizzlers," which were electrically-powered 1:64 cars designed to propel themselves down sections of the already-famous orange track. Through the 1970s, Mattel gradually cut costs by removing the suspension and red tire lines, reducing the number of cars with opening or removable parts, and downgrading to regular enamel paint. While the novel features definitely set the cars apart in the beginning, there is no doubt that children and adults enjoy new Hot Wheels cars today just as much as they have been for almost the last 50 years.

A few months ago, I was cruising the usual website-of-bidding-wars-for-old-parts-and-goodies when I realized I could finally get my hands on some of the original Redline Hot Wheels cars I've wanted for so long.

A few weeks of snooping around brought me seven cars at a surprisingly decent price: Two different Deoras, '67 Custom Cougar, and Custom Fleetside from the original 1968 "Sweet Sixteen" line, and a Ford MkIV, '32 Ford Vicky, and a Sizzlers '70 Ford Mustang from 1969 with a separate "Juice Machine" recharging device.

The Deoras have a story of their own. Back in 1964, Harry Bradley and the famed Alexander Brothers were tasked by Chrysler to give their new Dodge A100 pickup/van a creative twist. Along with a healthy dose of sheet metal work to the original panels, the Brothers actually used quite a few parts from the Ford parts bin, namely Thunderbird sequential indicator/tail lights, Mustang tail light trim for side scoops, and the roofs of a '60 Ford sedan and wagon for the cockpit (check out this sketch by Bradley himself). Here, I have a Hong Kong (antifreeze) version, a US (aqua) version, and a new-in-the-box-till-I-got-it Deora II from about 1999 that I had to have after receiving the first two.

Both of the old Deoras had lost their surf boards ages ago. I actually "accidentally" won the bid on the green one but receiving it was not a bad thing either, as it taught me just how differently the cars from either factory were made. Also, the US casting came to me looking like it had been enjoyed far less in its previous life, which prompted me to wonder if it had actually been restored since the price was so low. It doesn't matter too much to me though - it looks nice and rolls nice, so it's nice to have. Also, note the shape of the Deora II's cab. I realized a few years ago that the designers stayed true to the original and used the trunk of a '90s Ford wagon like my own and I could not contain my excitement. One guy actually took a Hot Wheels NASCAR Taurus and blended it with the front of the Deora II to create a Taurus wagon and it came out quite nicely. I know I will definitely do this some day to make a scale model of my beloved Sable wagon.

Carrying on, the purple Custom Fleetside (based on first designer Harry Bradley's own customized Chevy El Camino) was in rather poor shape and missing the bed cover but the suspension still functioned perfectly and the wheels rolled alright. It came as a pair with the decrepit antifreeze Deora. The '32 Vicky is a US casting and has the same attributes that the US Deora has. It is also very shiny and nice all around and has the same kind of wheels. I forget if they came from the same seller. The front axle on the Vicky is rigid which is kind of a bummer but I understand how it would have been hard to create a suspended one. I have a rather ugly 2008? casting of the Vicky and it is rigid all around. The Ford MkIV is also a US casting and is pretty nice save for the wad of clay(?) stuffed in the back of the engine bay. I'll get that out some day. Something funny is that because it has suspension, and therefore the need for ample wheel travel, there is such a large gap between the wheels and the wheel well that it rides like a truck. Lastly, the Custom Cougar which was the nicest surprise, rolls completely straight, has nice paint, and has perfect suspension. The Hong Kong paint is said to be of lower quality and more prone to discoloration, but as you can see in the second photo on this post, the Cougar still has a beautifully rich color.

The stickers from the Sizzlers '70 Mustang are gone but that's all the better because that means more of the absolutely stunning metallic-ish yellow color is visible. I am really impressed at how the plastic shell stayed in such great shape over all these years. Also, I grabbed the Juice Machine separately but I like how it was designed to be easy to use while retaining a good level of similarity to a real gas pump. 

It looks like the electronics inside are at least intact and I have access to batteries that fit the car as well as D batteries for the Juice Machine, so really all I need is lots and lots of orange track to test it on. Unfortunately, Hot Wheels track is one thing I have never had and do not have a place to build up in the near future so allowing my cars to reach their full potential is something I will have to put on hold for now.

I stopped myself after purchasing a few cars because as I stated before, I'm not big into collectors' value or anything. I just thought the idea of playing with some cars that were played with by kids generations ago was pretty cool. I wanted to have a bit of Hot Wheels heritage in my collection and I liked the special features the original cars had. I started adding guitar string suspension to some of my cars years ago because I was inspired by the originals and it made them more fun to play with. Anyway, I don't feel the need to acquire any more Redlines because the newer cars are much cheaper, much faster, and more finely detailed. They're also less valuable so I can play with them or modify them to my own leisure. I like to enjoy my vehicles, toy cars included, but these vintage specimens are still very nice to have.