0507 Hot Wheels LEAD ART.JPG

A youngster watches while Hot Wheels race down a track outside the Olive Branch Walmart Supercenter Sunday afternoon, part of the Hot Wheels Legends Tour across the country. The die-cast vehicles have been a toy favorite for more than 50 years.  

When they first hit the living room floor, bedroom floor, outside sandbox, even underneath bare feet, some 50 years ago, the die-cast vehicles from Mattel called “Hot Wheels” quickly became a favorite for boys and girls alike. It was a child’s dream to set up a track and see how fast their cars could go. 

A half-century later, in the world of X-Box, Playstation, computer and video games, the little cars you can get for under a dollar remain very much in demand, not only for the children of today, but also for their parents who have grown up alongside what some consider the most popular toy around.

Mattel still makes them and Sunday, Mattel’s Hot Wheels Legends Tour made the Olive Branch Walmart Supercenter one of its stops on its nationwide tour.

“We’re doing the Hot Wheels Legends Tour, which we did for the 50th anniversary last year,” said Allan Tea, leader of the tour stop in Olive Branch. “ It did so well last year, we’re doing it again this year.”

The visit in Olive Branch came one day after a similar stop in Madison, Alabama as the tour van, made to look like a larger-than-life Hot Wheels vehicle with a vending machine and other related amenities, set up next to Walmart.

Youngsters also got to race Hot Wheels on a special downhill track and another track similar to the original one to see how fast they could go. And those cars went quite fast, both in speed and in sales of a Limited Edition vehicle.

The stop was actually cut short, because a special Hot Wheel that Tea and his partner had brought with sold out much faster than expected.

“We have a Limited Edition 1971 Datsun 510 we were selling that sold out instantly,” Tea said. “We had 70 of them to sell. This morning, we sold out of all 70 pieces in the first half-hour. It was great!”

The Datsun may have been the Limited Edition piece for this particular tour, but it’s a 1969 VW Pink Rear Loading Beach Van that CompleteSet.com reports is valued $72,000. It added a second one of that type exists, but the fact has not been verified.

You won’t find cars like that laying around the living room floor, however. They are most likely found in a collection display behind glass at a place resembling a den or such.

Tea said collecting Hot Wheels is as popular today with the older set as playing with them is with kids.

“Everywhere we go, we have a huge Hot Wheels collector fan base and those guys come super early,” Tea said. “They line up for those Limited Edition cars.”

Tea added the average youngster has about 100 Hot Wheels in the home, also amazing with the other popular options available for playtime.

“There are hundreds of thousands of different Hot Wheels that kids can relate to, whether it be the type of car, the color or the design. Also, just the affordability of the car,” Tea said.

According to Mattel, Elliot Handler co-founded the toy company with his wife, Ruth, who Mattel credits as being the person behind the origin of the Barbie doll.

Elliot wanted to make something equally popular for boys, so along with a General Motors car designer and a rocket scientist, they set about creating the first Hot Wheels vehicles.

The “Original Sweet 16” vehicles hit the store shelves in May 1968, including the first one, which was a Custom Camaro. Special track and accessories were also sold to let youngsters create their own racing and/or stunt tracks.

Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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