How Hot Wheels Became the Fastest Selling Toy in America

The Mattel brand remains popular in part through the full-size cross-promotion of its cars

In 2017, a graying, bespectacled gentleman appeared on the PBS program Antiques Roadshow, along with a tiny die-cast metal toy car he’d brought in for appraisal. It wasn’t much to look at: a 1969 Volkswagen bus in a rose metallic paint job, with two tiny surfboards sticking out the back window. Many are the toy collectors who think that his childhood treasures are worth money, but this man was in luck. His car happened to be an original prototype Rear-Loader Beach Bomb. Hot Wheels had made a mere 40 of the vehicles, which made them instantly collectible.

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This story first appeared in the March 2, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.