Wheels That Just Keep Getting Hotter
By Clay Nichols
Ironically enough, the news coming out of SEMA, about a Hot Wheels Camaro production model, brought back memories of a day spent with my youngest son cleaning house.
I’d ground to a halt. With two black leaf bags already bulging with puzzles and board games with half the pieces missing, I’d been feeling good. But now my annual fall ritual of cleaning out the toy boxes and shelves in anticipation of the holidays has come to a tire-smoking stop. Over a milk crate of Hot Wheels.
We have to be pretty unsentimental about stuff in our tiny house, but looking at the crate, I’m reminded that with both our sons, the Hot Wheels was the basic unit of reward when they were between the ages of 4 and 6. The half-full blue box is like an odometer, a rolling counter of peaceful visits to the grocery store, bravery at doctor’s appointments, reading books completed.
Then another, more recent memory came back to me—of something wide-shouldered and green as the Hulk, a glittering Hot Wheels come to life. I recalled being on the floor of the Detroit auto show last January, catching sight of the Camaro Hot Wheels Concept (inspired by one of the original Hot Wheels released in 1968) and imagining how it might make even my suburban streets feel like bright orange, high-curbed track.
It was clear that for all us boys, large and small, this jackpot is going to be tougher to deal with than the broken Nerf guns and fried RC helicopters. But there’s no doubt that some of these have to go.
Like a lot of kids my youngest son’s age—he’s 8—the toy box is getting tough competition from the Xbox. New Hot Wheels track kits arrive from time to time to renew interest in the cars, but they’re no longer endlessly arranged into great imagined parking lots, parades or starting lines. Because there’s something about How Wheels that guys never outgrow, I’ll let him keep some—but we have to cull the herd.
I pick out a small Tupperware container—probably a fifth the size of the crate—and present my son with a task. He can keep all the cars that will fit in the smaller bin. The rest will be given to charity for other kids to play with. He accepts the deal and gets to work.
I immediately wonder what kind of rubric he will use to select keepers. The process becomes a sort of automotive personality test. Exotics, muscle cars, trucks, racers are all represented in the crate. What kind of car guy is he turning into?
I wonder what kind of influence I’ve had. I like to row my own gears. I like power and performance. I’m not really a truck guy. I don’t really go in for impractical exotics with their absurd sticker prices. My Hot Wheels fantasy is pretty much defined by that concept I saw in Detroit. But will my tastes be reflected in any way in his choices?
He starts his process. The Hot Wheels in our house are not collectibles, they’re playthings, so some are missing wheels or feature cracked windshields. These are the first to go. A few cheaper, off-brand cars have snuck past the guard and into the garage. Off to the junkyard they go as well.
When the process is complete, the survivors line up. I’m satisfied to see that over three quarters are American Muscle cars—some replicas, some tricked out and modded in the way that only man-child designers in Mattel’s secret labs can accomplish. A couple of Camaros and a Corvette make the cut (no original 1968 models, sadly).
The eye-zapping colors, flaring fenders, mag wheels are irresistible. I have to inspect each car.
Before I know it, my son and I are on the floor, racing our favorites, enacting smash-ups, launching physics-defying flights. I look at my little guy and wonder “what if?” What if a Hot Wheels car was more than a concept? Could, some day, one of these little fantasies be parked outside waiting for us both to climb in and grin and paint the road orange?
Now the designers and engineers at Chevy have answered my questions—with a dazzling blue, flame-licked, Hot Wheels-badged “Yes!”
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Clay Nichols is co-founder and editor of dadlabs.com, an author, playwright and public speaker, a happy husband and father of three.