A very small portion of the Hot Wheels lineup
A very small portion of the Hot Wheels lineup. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo Gallery:
Hot Wheels – They’re not just for children anymore

Toronto, Ontario – What was the best-selling brand of vehicle in Canada last year? Sure, Canadians purchased 1,556,484 “real” vehicles in 2010, but that’s nothing. They also bought more than seven million Hot Wheels. And if you think they’re just for children, think again. Many of those toys are purchased by adult collectors who may already have several thousand of them at home.

This is no secret to Mattel, which makes the toys. The company has introduced a new marketing program intended to present Hot Wheels not just as a toy, but as a brand lifestyle. To that end, along with several new toys aimed at the younger set, the company has introduced adult-size apparel, accessories such as key chains, hats and coffee mugs, video and online games, and the future possibility of car parts such as Hot Wheels-branded rims for customized cars to the Canadian market.

Melissa Chau, Brand Manager for Hot Wheels in Canada
More clothes are available in adult sizes
Melissa Chau, Brand Manager for Hot Wheels in Canada (top); More clothes are available in adult sizes (bottom). Click image to enlarge

“Hot Wheels is evolving into a brand for guys of all ages,” said Melissa Chau, brand manager for Hot Wheels in Canada. “Toys are the core, but we want to expand into video gaming, online gaming, apparel, accessories and even real car parts for life-size cars.”

To that end, the company has a travelling road show: a tractor-trailer that will be making appearances at several events this summer, packed with toys, video game consoles and the new line of adult apparel. It made its debut in Toronto at a public event in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500, which was the site of a special stunt called Fearless at the 500. The company set up a giant rendition of what many children did with their toys: hung the track up on the bedroom door, put the jump at the bottom, and sent a car down the chute. This time, a stunt driver – later revealed to be U.S. Top Gear co-host Tanner Foust – used a real truck and jumped 332 feet (101.1 metres) across the void. (Watch the jump here.)

It’s a long way from 1968, when the first Hot Wheels toy went on sale. The brand came about when Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler watched his grandchildren playing with their toy cars, which were dull and didn’t roll very well. Handler assembled a team of designers and told them that he wanted them to make fast, exciting toys. The very first was a Chevrolet Camaro, followed by a Corvette that hit the toy store shelves before the real vehicle made it to the showroom floor. The first in-house design was a futuristic hot rod with two engines that was called the Twin Mill. The story goes that Harry Bradley, a custom car builder who worked at Mattel on the toys, spotted a hot rod in the parking lot and said, “Those are some real hot wheels,” which became the brand’s name.

Connect with Autos.ca