EL SEGUNDO, California — Life-sized Hot Wheels traffic snaked outside of Mattel Headquarters on Mariposa Avenue and continued down Nash Street early Saturday morning.
There were Porsches, pickups, custom cars, and even a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle with machine guns mounted on its roof rack that looks like it exploded off the set of a “Mad Max” movie.
Dozens of vintage vehicles and modern marvels were here for the launch of the Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Tour. One finalist from each stop of the 14-city tour will go to SEMA in Las Vegas, Nevada this fall to showcase their Hot Wheels. From there, one lucky winner will get their ride immortalized in a die-cast model of their own.
A gent from Rhode Island in a red, sputtering and lifted MG stopped to ask me how much further and I tell him about a half block to go.
“Thanks, I’m almost out of gas!”
Shortly after Jay Leno arrived in his silver 1957 Chevrolet Corvette convertible from his famous garage and joined the day’s festivities.
“It’s a great car show—it’s the kind of car show I like—you got multi-million dollar Paganis next to just piece of crap hot rods,” the comedian jokes.
He’s standing next to the blue Hot Wheels Twin Mill, the first life-sized car by the maker, as car owners vying for a chance to have their rides immortalized listen intently to the former “Tonight Show” host.
Leno, 68, inspected each and every vehicle from hot rods to hot nods as a happy trail of enthusiasts gathered around him.
The tour will make 14 stops at Walmart parking lots crisscrossing the U.S over the next six months—from Bentonville, Arkansas to Washington, D.C.
“If you like Walmart parking lots—this is the tour of the century,” said Leno.
At each location, auto aristocrats, Hot Wheels designers, and Walmart employees will cast their votes for the next “Sweet 16” vehicles. The Custom Camaro was the first available of that original 1968 sixteen-car lineup. It was followed by the Custom Barracuda, Deora, Custom T-Bird, Custom Firebird, Silhouette, Ford J. Car, Custom Volkswagen, Hot Heap, Beatnik Bandit, Custom Eldorado, Cheetah, Custom Fleetside, Custom Corvette, Custom Cougar, and Custom Mustang.
Back at the show, Roxanne, The Doom Buggy—a battle scarred bug looked like a serious contender—it took nearly four years to build said Joe McQueen, one of its owners. He wasn’t even stopped by the cops driving it over from the valley—fortunately the guns are all show.
Alas, McQueen’s Beetle didn’t win this battle, which went to Mitch Allread of Simi Valley and his 1948 Ford F5 custom “Dually Rat Road.”
“There are more Hot Wheels than there are real cars—four billion Hot Wheels—it’s unbelievable,” Leno tells the crowd.
Chris Down, Hot Wheels GM and senior VP, said, “There are 25 thousand different variants since 1968 and we make 16 and a half a second.” And he says they still sell for only a buck a pop.
“In 1968 I worked at McDonald’s … the minimum wage was a Hot Wheel an hour—that’s what it was you got one dollar—one Hot Wheel an hour,” Leno adds.
Down gave the comedian a few gifts for his birthday including an original 1968 Custom Camaro in its original blister pack.
“Yeah, that’s worth a dollar,” Leno said as Down held up the Camaro for all to see. “Hey, don’t drop my one dollar gift!”
Got a life-sized Hot Wheels of your own? The tour heads to Gladstone, Missouri on May 5 for the next leg of the competition.