Hot Wheels collectors take a lot of pride in their collections. Whether novice or long-time hobbyist, every collector searches for items that will make his or her collection stand out. That’s one reason variations are such a popular facet of die-cast collecting. Limited in number compared to the rest of the vehicles produced, variations represent a chance for the collector to differentiate his collection from that of his peers by having a few items that they potentially don’t possess. It is this uniqueness that adds an element of exclusivity to any collection. Still, there is another exciting way to bring your collection to a higher level of individuality. Seeking out items that were produced for distribution in other countries, such as those made for the European or Asian markets, will add an undeniable dash of flavor to your collection.
Mattel has produced items for the international market since the introduction of the Hot Wheels line in 1968. Today, some of the most coveted collectibles are still packaged Redline era releases and accessories produced for other countries. For the Italian market, Hot Wheels were marketed as Brucia Pista, which roughly translates to “burns the track.” As the Hot Wheels phenomenon caught on here in the U.S., most items in the line were produced for worldwide distribution. In Germany, the toys were packaged under the name Heisse Räder, literally meaning “hot wheels.”
In most cases, items produced for international markets were the same as their American counterparts. But in some instances, a specific color or casting was used exclusively for that market, making it a very desirable piece. An example of this is the Airport Food Service Truck, issued in 1983. Although at first glance the casting appears to be the same as the Highway Hauler, upon closer examination, the cab’s windshield has a more raked configuration. But the biggest difference is that the box of the truck rises off the chassis in a scissor-like motion, facilitating the delivery of food to an awaiting aircraft. This casting was only available in the European market. The year 1983 also saw the release of the French version of the Prowler, which had a unique “burglar” tampo on the roof. Also released in '83 was a France-only blue, and then lime green, Dune Daddy. There have been several vehicles released in France over the years that are highly collectible due to the originality of their design and deco.
Sometimes an entirely unique line of vehicles was produced. Super Hot Wheels was a line of 1:43 scale cars that came individually boxed, as compared to blister-packed. This meant that these vehicles could be removed from their packages to be played with, and then returned to their original boxes. This line was manufactured in Italy for the European market, and the vehicles were made mostly of plastic. Super Hot Wheels were also produced in 1:24 scale, with the smaller scale cars also being marketed under a variety of themes (such as the Super Safari play sets), which added accessories that could be played with -- thus adding to the fun.
The international line that is most widely recognizable to collectors is the LEO Mattel line, which was manufactured in India. Vehicles in this segment were almost always exclusive in both color combinations and castings. The most commonly known LEO Mattel casting is the Neet Streeter, which actually crossed over into Mattel’s mainline. This casting is still produced today. LEO Mattel was responsible for introducing many unique packaging themes, such as the 3-car pack, as well as many unique items that incorporated Hot Wheels cars into non-traditional uses. One such item was a 3-car “pencil box.” This piece included three Hot Wheels cars in a “garage” that was topped with a sliding 8-inch ruler, which could be removed to access the cars inside. The pencil box also featured the name and a graphic rendering of each of the three India castings that were included inside. Another casting that was inserted interchangeably into the U.S. line was the Second Wind. One of the more popular LEO Mattel castings was the hot pink Barbie hauler, which paid homage to the popular doll also marketed by Mattel.
Though this is only a cursory introduction to the many facets of the international line of collectible Hot Wheels vehicles and items, it wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the huge market that exists in Japan. Over the past several years, the popularity of Hot Wheels collecting has grown to the point where large-scale week-long conventions are held, just like in the U.S. The mystique (and scarcity) associated with items produced for the Asian market has made these pieces some of the most highly pursued of all die-cast collectibles. Their value is usually at a premium, compared to items from other areas. The Japanese releases mimic, for the most part, their U.S. counterparts. In 2003, when the Preferred line was released in the U.S., similar vehicles were produced for the Japanese market. Many of the castings were the same but, in many cases, the vehicle color was unique. The Sweet Rods segment exemplified the difference in not only car color, but packaging as well. The Japanese Preferred line included a storybook called the Preferred vehicles Collector’s Book. It is these subtle differences between market releases that make international items a welcome addition to anyone’s collection.
I’ve personally enjoyed adding items from different countries to my own collection. One of my most interesting pieces is something I found while at a collectors’ convention in California. It was made for the Italian Hot Wheels market in 1979. Produced as an accessory for the Scorchers line of friction racers, it was called the “Muro della Morte.” Translated into English, it means “Wall of Death.” If you are observant, you may have noticed that I have something in common with this item on a very personal basis. The first word of the piece’s name is the same as my last name. When I saw it for sale in a trader’s room, I couldn’t pass it by. The unused item, still with its original decal sheet intact, made the trip back home with me and will always be a part of my Hot Wheels collection.
I can’t promise that everyone will be able to have such an intimate connection with any item that they may find, but I can say with certainty that adding just a few international items will elevate your entire collection to truly “one-of-a-kind.”
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not of Mattel, Inc. Mattel, Inc. has not verified the facts stated herein and makes no representation as to their accuracy.