Hot Wheels were conceived to be more like “tricked out” cars, as compared to Matchbox cars which were more city or “real life” cars. There were sixteen castings released in 1968, eleven of them designed by Harry Bentley Bradley. The first one produced was a dark blue Custom Camaro. Bradley was from the car industry and had designed the body for the (full-sized) Dodge Deora concept car and the Custom Fleetside, (based on his own customized 1968 Chevrolet C-10 Fleetside).
In 1968, the first production line of Hot Wheels Cars is known as The Original Sweet 16, which is the first of the Red Line Series, meaning the tires have a red pin stripe on their sides.
Racing track set
In addition to the cars themselves, Mattel produced a racing track set (sold separately). Though it would be updated throughout the years, the original track consisted of a series of brightly colored orange road sections (pieced together to form an oblong, circular race track), with one (or sometimes two) “super chargers” (faux service stations through which cars passed on the tracks, featuring battery-powered spinning wheels, which would propel the cars along the tracks).
As it turned out, the Hot Wheels brand was a staggering success. The series “re-wrote the book” for small die-cast car models from 1968 onwards, forcing the competition at Matchbox and elsewhere to completely rethink their concepts, and to scramble to try to recover lost ground. Harry Bentley Bradley did not think that would be the case and had quit Mattel to go back to the car industry. When the company asked him back, he recommended a good friend, Ira Gilford. Gilford, who had just left Chrysler, quickly accepted the job of designing the next Hot Wheels models. Some of Hot Wheels’ greatest cars, such as the Twin Mill and Splittin’ Image, came from Ira Gilford’s drawing board.
The success of the 1968 line was solidified and consolidated with the 1969 releases, with which Hot Wheels effectively established itself as the hottest brand of small toy car models in the USA. The Splittin’ Image, Torero, Turbofire, and Twin Mill were part of the “Show & Go” series and are the very first original in-house designs by Hot Wheels.
The initial prototypes of the Beach Bomb were faithful to a real VW Bus’s shape, and had two surfboards sticking out the back window. During the fledgling Hot Wheels era, Mattel wanted to make sure that each of the cars could be used with any of the play sets and stunt track sets. Unfortunately, testing showed that this early version (now known as Rear-Loader Beach Bomb, or RLBB) was too narrow to roll effectively on Hot Wheels track or be powered by the Super Charger, and was too top-heavy to negotiate high-speed corners.
Hot Wheels designers Howard Rees and Larry Wood modified the casting, extending the side fenders to accommodate the track width, as well as providing a new place on the vehicle to store each of the plastic surfboards. The roof was also cut away and replaced by a full-length sunroof, to lower the center of gravity. Nicknamed “Side-loader” by collectors, this was the production version of the Beach Bomb.
The Rear-Loader Beach Bomb is widely considered the “Holy Grail” of any Hot Wheels collection. An unknown number were made as test subjects and given to employees. A regular production Beach Bomb may be worth up to $600, depending on condition. Market prices on RLBBs however, have easily reached the five-figure plateau, ranging from $70,000 to $120,000. The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles had a pink RLBB in its Hot Wheels exhibit. It was displayed on a single rotating platform, much like the kind used to showcase precious gems. The Hot Wheels Collectors Club released a new, updated version of the rear loading Beach Bomb in 2002 as a limited edition.