Hot Wheels nostalgia at art gallery

HOLLYWOOD They may be tiny, but they've been a huge part of American culture since the late 1960s.

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It was 40 years ago that Mattel launched "Hot Wheels" -- scale model race cars that rolled on brightly colored tracks. Other toy cars just sat there, but Hot Wheels went fast.

"And hence the idea of Hot Wheels was born," said Mattel Spokesman Simon Waldron. "And it was really born out of California car culture, and to this day still represents that."

The early designs reflected the muscle cars of the era, shrunk down to pocket size.

The milestone anniversary is being celebrated at Gallery 1988 in Hollywood -- art inspired by Hot Wheels cars through the years. Artists were also invited to customize these larger scale Hot Wheels VW's with varying themes.

Back in the day, kids couldn't wait to tear into a Hot Wheels gift, whether a car or an accessory like the carrying case.

Mattel has made more than 4 billion Hot Wheels over the years, so it's not hard to find people who have fond memories of playing with them as kids. Even some people in pretty high-profile positions.

Ralph Gilles is a superstar designer at Chrysler. He too remembers his Hot Wheels.

"I had a sleeping bag full of Hot Wheels, and we'd come over to a friends' house, dump them all over, all play together and it was great. The stories you build, you wait for the next one. I still collect them to this day," said Gilles.

Too bad so many of those old Hot Wheels ended up destroyed or lost. Originals that survive command big prices on eBay.

If you're nostalgic and want to own a one-of-a-kind, this jewel-encrusted example worth $140,000 will be auctioned off for charity later this year.

In the meantime you can take in the Hot Wheels exhibit at the gallery through the end of the month.

Mattel's still making the cars, and they have no plans to stop.

"There'll be no doubt there'll be a 50th anniversary for Hot Wheels, and probably a 60th as well," said Waldron.


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