In May 1968, a revolutionary fleet of automobiles hit the market. Among them: a Spectraflame Barracuda, dragster Beetle, bubble-domed Silhouette and Model T.
The only automaker capable of assembling this all-star lineup? Hot Wheels, naturally.
Yes, Mattel’s iconic toy car company turns 50 this month — an occasion marked internally with the release of anniversary editions of the “Original Sweet 16,” and by enthusiasts in many ways, including a new coffee table book with a forward by Mario Andretti.
Much has changed in the last half-century (chief competitor Matchbox is now under the same ownership), but much has also stayed the same. Namely, the price for a basic model (one dollar) and the giddiness that comes with perusing a wall festooned with hundreds of Tesla killers, hot-tub cruisers and “Fore Wheelers.”
That said, despite the company’s “Adult Collector” offerings, die-cast cars are best left to those who still have to ask their parents for the dollar it takes to buy one. So to honor their legacy, we recommend bequeathing your Hot Wheels collection to a niece or newphew, then upgrading to one of the more corner-office-appropriate options below.
Take classic American cars, put them through a midcentury modern filter, fund them through Kickstarter (six times!), and you’ve got Candylab Toys. While the heirloom-quality wood cars look simple, they’ve got plenty to keep you intrigued, from officially licensed Airstream trailers with magnetic hookups to a constant stream of new releases, like the beach-ready Drifter.
The French family-run company makes a mean toddler-sized Peugeot, but their vintage race cars come small enough for your desk. Question is: do you consider yourself a Cameron Frye-type who’ll keep it under the display case? Or a lead-footed Ferris Bueller?
As the name suggests, U.K.-based Playforever deals in timeless design and durable construction. Founder Julian Meagher went from ogling supercars, to designing for companies like Mattel and Hasbro, to crafting toy cars with influences from both sides of the pond.
Kids come first with Automoblox. A universal connector system allows for the mixing and matching of parts, keeping their iPad-trained brains interested. But the classic European beechwood construction and attention to detail in the different models (here’s lookin’ at you, Berlinetta) mean you won’t mind if the tykes leave their toys out.
Want to get your hands on a handmade Italian sportscar without mortgaging your house? Hit up Alessandro Benedetti on Etsy. His Woodbe shop features a variety of woodworking, but the oiled and waxed wood cars are the epitome of “less is more.”
Steve Baldwin has been churning out meticulously crafted wooden toys in the good ol’ US of A since the ‘70s. While his offerings certainly reflect the arts shows he frequents, when you’re at it for that long you see certain designs come back into style. The Bugatti and teardrop trailer, to name a couple, wouldn’t seem out of place in a Williamsburg watering hole.
Not ready to let go of the Hot Wheels die-cast aesthetic? Ferrari produces scale models of many of their cars, with the Pininfarina-designed, wing-equipped F40 cutting a particularly arresting figure. But if you’re looking for a mini to match the marque, there’s also a $14K handmade reproduction of the 1952/1953 Swiss Grand Prix-winning Ferrari 500 F2.
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