There are more Hot Wheels cars than there are actual cars in the world. It makes sense: Hot Wheels have been around for more than 50 years and, in that time, have become a regular part of the American childhood. What kid didn’t have at least one Hot Wheels car or truck that they kept in their pocket and spent afternoons racing around a track for imaginary trophies? The number of Hot Wheels collectors and coveted rare Hot Wheels collectibles only add to the brand’s notoriety.
As Hot Wheels are such a major part of culture — and because so many of the models are limited releases — the market for rare Hot Wheels is massive. Some limited edition cars can fetch tens of thousands of dollars on the market. Some coveted rides are one of only a few in the world. So which rare Hot Wheels should you check and see if you have them in the attic?
To gain some intel on the most expensive or rare Hot Wheels collectors should know about, we spoke to Mike Zarnock, author of more than a dozen books on the brand, owner of more than 30,000 die-cast cars (a feat which earned him two Guinness World Records), and one of the foremost Hot Wheels collectors and experts in the country. Zarnock’s been plugged in to the Hot Wheels scene for decades, knows all the players, all the prices and, most importantly, all the cars. Here, with Zarnock’s help, are the rare Hot Wheels to keep an eye out for.
10. 1968 Volkswagen Custom (no sunroof)
Why? “The first Custom Volkswagens that were made in Hong Kong did not have a sunroof and were only available in Europe, with most of them sold in Germany and the UK,” says Zarnock. Other features of this rare Hot Wheels include no plastic side windows and a modified interior. (White is common, dark is rare.) According to Zarnock, most of these cars exist in blue, with rare variations being orange, red, green, copper, and green enamel. You can also check the car’s undercarriage to look for the number of rivets — legit Hong Kong models only have one.
This one is currently on eBay at a People’s Car price.
9. 1968 Pink Beatnik Bandit
Value: around $3000
Why? As one of the original “Sweet Sixteen” Hot Wheels released in 1968, this rare collector’s model was designed by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and originally available in 18 colors. The rarest of these colors was an ultra-bright, hot metallic pink, which can be easily confused for the similar magenta and rose colors. While the hot pink version commands almost three grand, the next-rarest hue (yellow) is only worth about $200.
Magenta may be not as valuable as pink, but under the right lighting, this one looks similar.
8. 1971 Purple Olds 442
Why? “Most of the 442s are magenta, and often get confused for the purple ones in photos,” says Zarnock. “There’s really no special reason for the value of this car other than purple being a very rare variation. There are also versions in salmon and hot pink, which can be valued from $1,400 to $2,000.” This now rare Hot Wheels also came packaged with a sticker sheet which, if still in mint condition, can add to the value of the car. In fact, the sticker sheet alone — which features several bluish stars — can fetch respectable dough. Just beware of reproductions.
While purple may hold the pole position as far as price, magenta also commands a hefty cost.
7. 1970 Red Baron (white interior)
Why? Inspired by the World War I fighter pilot of the same name (real name: Manfred von Richtofen), this rare Hot Wheels rarity was initially offered in 1970. “There are less than 10 of these known to exist; it’s a truly rare piece,” says Zarnock. “The prototype has a white, plastic interior, a blank metal base, no iron cross decals, and shorter rear fenders than the publicly-released version.” The public version – which goes for about $20 – features a black interior, decal enhancements, and a plastic helmet cowl instead of a metal one.
The original is valuable, but it’s also exceedingly rare, and while you wait to pound on an original, this reissue can hold its place..
6. 1995 Collector Number 271 Funny Car
Value: $3,500 (MOC)
Why? Funny? Funny how? Funny, like, worth more than your actual car? According to Zarnock, it’s reported that only 144 (or 288, depending on who you ask) of these cars were packaged and released on the rare blue card with white collector number 271. Of those about 80 were opened and stripped for prototypes of the popular Pro-Circuit line. “Another 24,” says Zarnock, “were sent to Mattel Toy Club members, and the rest were put into random Hot Wheels shipments that went to Wal-Mart and KB Toys.” (Rest In Peace.) Thanks, possibly, to intrepid Kondoers, there are only about 20-25 carded Number 271 cars that have survived today.
Good luck finding the original, but if you’re willing to add a few more numbers (and subtract a whole lot of dollars, number 277 is extremely affordable.
5. 1970 Ed Shaver Custom AMX
Why? Packaged on the “Exclusive Racing Car Series” card, this UK exclusive is a model of the drag racer driven by U.S. serviceman Ed Shaver. “The blue version of this car isn’t hard to come by,” says Zarnock. “But the Ed Shaver decals and the blister pack add to the value. This one is probably the most sought-after diecast AMX replica ever produced.” Some were given away at the tracks where Shaver raced, and some were also available through a promotion, through which UK consumers could send in proof-of-purchase points to redeem for the profitable prize.
While the car itself may be rare, you can pick up the sticker pack pretty cheap here.
4. 1974 Blue Rodger Dodger
Value: $6,000 (MOC)
Why? “The last fully carded blue Rodger Dodger I saw sell went for $6,000 in 2012,” says Zarnock. The rarity of this car goes back to 1985, when a collector named Bob Parker stumbled upon the unique, blue variation, and plotted to sell them to turn a profit. “[Parker] was actually trading Matchbox cars for Hot Wheels with a collector in England,” Zarnock explains. “In one of the boxes he got, there were two of these cars. [Parker] knew the color was different, and asked the other guy to see if he could get more. The next box had five, which made a total of seven blue Rodger Dodgers…all of which he sold. He didn’t keep one for himself, because he assumed he could get more.” Of the seven, Zarnock says that only three were in complete packages, while the other four were perfectly cut “half packs.”
This restoration may not be original (or as valuable), but it still the real McCoy.
3. 1968 “Cheetah” base Python
Why? If you’ve got a car that looks like this, flip it over and check the metal base. If you see the word “Cheetah”, you’ve got one of only nine known to exist that feature the exclusive Hong Kong mold. “There are six red, one orange, one yellow and one unpainted, unassembled original ‘Cheetah’ cars that we know of,” says Zarnock. The name later changed to “Python” when it was discovered that “Cheetah” was already the registered name of a Corvette race car belonging to a General Motors executive.
Good luck finding one, but there are many non-“Cheetah” versions that still look beautiful.
2. 1970 “Mad Maverick”
Why? “Very few of these are known to exist,” says Zarnock, of this car based off the 1969 Ford Maverick. “There are two blue ones, one purple one, and one unassembled, unpainted piece.” Originally released under the name “Mad Maverick,” due to the similarity with a competing brand’s car, which was also named “Mad Maverick,” the popular model was later re-released as the more common “Mighty Maverick.” The new release included a difference in base plate adjectives—and a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in the collector market.
“Mad” may be preferred, but this orange “Mighty” restoration is still climbing in value.
1. Pink Rear Loading Beach Bomb
Why? Owned by Zarnock’s good friend, commercial real estate agent Bruce Pascal, this scaled-down, metallic pink prototype is perhaps the rarest and most sacred Hot Wheels car. “In this version, the surf boards were loaded into the vehicle through the rear window,” Zarnock explains. “Because of this, the car was too narrow to fit and function properly with the popular Hot Wheels Super Charger playset, and so this version was never released to the public.” Instead, the few that were produced were given to Mattel employees’ children for “play testing” which is why, according to his Hot Wheels Field Guide, the collections of past employees are the only place they could possibly exist.
Build your own with this unassembled kit.