For Eric Elrod there is nothing cooler than Hot Wheels.

You know, those miniature die-cast customized cars that Mattel began making for Gen Xers back in 1968? The company has produced more than 6 billion of the 1:64 scale toy cars over the past 53 years. And you could be a lucky grown-up if you hung on to some of those from the early years.

“The Hot Wheels community has taken off,” says Elrod, who operates Elrod Stud Welding in Lebanon. “Their maker, Mattel, is really great at keeping the love for Hot Wheels going and does a really good job of creating and encouraging collectors. For example, in 1995 Mattel began selling Treasure Hunt Hot Wheels, which are just mixed in with others on the rack for the same $1 to $1.50. However, the Treasure Hunts are a limited-edition car that is immediately worth 10 times that or more. But I don’t collect these. I mostly only collect the Redline Hot Wheels.”

Elrod, whose collection exceeds 500, got his first Hot Wheels when he was 3 or 4 years old.

“I was a maniac about them. It was my main thing. One year I asked my mom for 200 Hot Wheels. They were about 95 cents each back then, but I didn’t get them. She got me a chemistry set instead. I was disappointed,” he recalled.

“The really collectible years for Hot Wheels are from 1968 to 1977. Those were (premium) years for Redline collectors. All those cars had a red line around the tires. If she had just gotten me those 200 cars, who knows what I would have had. That was the start of it.”

As he got older, he put aside his toy cars, but then his son was born in 2003.

“I gave him a lot of Hot Wheels he could play with, and I also started buying some of the old Redlines to start a collection of the originals. He loved playing with them during his younger years, but, for me, I can look underneath a coffee table and see a garage where I can line them up.”

Keeping the wheels hot

Explaining a bit of history behind Hot Wheels’ first decade, Elrod said, “The cars that came out in 1968 are called ‘the Original 16’ or ‘the Sweet 16.’ There were just 16 models made. In the early years from 1968 to 1977, they were called Redlines because they had red lines around the tires. They’re survivors. Hot Wheels were the most-played-with cars. Matchbox were not as popular. So, the Hot Wheels kids played with ’em and beat ’em up, stepped on ’em and blew them up with fireworks. So, they are hard to find in excellent condition and tend to bring more money than cars that show playwear.”

Elrod said that over the past four years, he has returned to collecting the cars with a passion. He finds them on eBay and Facebook and shared that “Facebook has a lot of Hot Wheel auction group sites. The most popular is Redlines on the Block.”

“The cars I have are the cleanest I can find. I collect high-quality and high-rarity cars,” he said of his tiny treasures on four wheels.

“Some cars you can tell how much they were played with by the wear on the wheels, called ‘track time.’ Collecting for me is all about finding those that look like they just came out of the package.”

Elrod grew up in Beaumont, Texas, and served in the Navy from 1989 to 1995 in an anti-submarine helicopter squadron, HS-14, which deployed with the USS Ranger CV-61 aircraft carrier. He deployed as part of Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Restore Hope.

He made a great Hot Wheel score one year due to the Watertown Mile-Long Yard Sale.

“I was selling main lines (regular Hot Wheels cars) at the yard sale. A guy read my advertisement that I’d be there and later called me and said, ‘I’ve got my childhood Hot Wheels.’ He had about 65 Hot Wheels 1968-1977 Redlines. One of them was a lime Camaro, rare because of how pristine it was. Camaros are one of the more collectible cars from the Original 16 that were sold.

“I have favorites and others I am honored to own,” Elrod said. “My favorite Hot Wheel is probably one from my childhood, a beat-up paramedic van that was yellow, but the paint has been worn off from me playing with it. My most prized cars are my Red Open Hood Scoop Custom Mustang on a Cheetah card (a very rare version of the Original 16 blister packs because they had to change the name of the Cheetah to the Python on the back of the card where it lists all 16 cars, and some cars shipped on those cards). Another high-end favorite is a 1968 brown Custom Cougar. I also collect the carrying cases and the tracks.

“The big deal is Hot Wheels are really hot now. If anybody has Hot Wheels, now is the time to check the attic because a mint condition one can be worth $90, $250, $1,000 and up. And, according to a popular price guide, a 1971 Oldsmobile 442 in mint condition can go for $12,500 and for $25,000 if still in the blister pack. But in an auction, it would most likely bring more.”

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