Boys' Toys: Hot Wheels and Muscle Cars

Did you play with Hot Wheels as a kid?  If you did, you probably remember that a lot of these popular toy cars were muscle cars.

Even as Ford, Chevy, and Dodge were making "toys" for grown adults, Mattel was making them into popular toys for children, as well. In 1968, when Hot Wheels first emerged in the market, Matchbox was the primary manufacturer of small, die cast toy cars.

Hot Wheelsquickly became a strong success, and according to many toy fanatics, a lot of the toys' popularity was due to the fact that they incorporated many popular muscle cars into their lines.  Matchbox, on the other hand, focused more on European cars, which were not as popular with America's youth. In the late 1960s, when Hot Wheels first started being made, muscle cars were at the height of their popularity.

The Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, and other big, powerful American cars were hungrily sought after by many young drivers.  As a result, small die cast models of these cars quickly became a hit with the youngest generations. When they launched in 1968, Hot Wheels offered many models of muscle cars, including:

  • Custom Mustang
  • Custom Firebird
  • Custom Camaro
  • Custom Corvette
  • Custom Thunderbird
  • Custom Barracuda

There were 16 different Hot Wheels released that first year, with about half of them being based on popular muscle cars. These cars were such a hit that the next year Hot Wheels issued a more extensive line the following year, which included new muscle cars such as the Custom AMX and the Custom Charger.

Hot Wheels were all custom versions of either real cars, or based on show cars that really existed.  This tie to reality created interest in the toys with kids who dreamed of someday having a muscle car of their very own. In comparison, Hot Wheels primary competitor, Matchbox, had been around since 1953. These cars became very popular around 1964, which was the market Mattel was trying to break into with Hot Wheels.

In comparison, however, Matchbox cars focused more on British and European cars. They did have a couple of muscle cars, such as a 1965 Ford Mustang and a 1967 Mercury Cougar, both of which were extremely popular. When Hot Wheels broke into the market in the late '60s, however, their line of flashy, custom muscle cars more accurately reflected the interests of young Americans.  Hot Wheels continued to offer muscle cars over the years, while Matchbox only offered a total of seven muscle cars between the 1960s and the 1990s. As a result, Matchbox suffered a decline over the years, until they were finally bought by Mattel in the mid 1990s.

The popularity of small die cast models of muscle cars demonstrates how lasting the impact of these cars were on American culture.  Not only have they inspired fan clothing such as Mustang apparel, they have also inspired whole generations of children's toys and collector's hobbies.

17th Nov 2010

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