Hot Wheels cars from Mattel were first introduced in 1968, Mattel releasing their first line of sixteen models of fantasy custom cars with names like Python, Custom Cougar, and Hot Heap. The lowered front ends and raised rear wheels was "California Custom", and in the case of the 1969 Corvette, this was the first real look for the public for the real McCoy. Sales were excellent. By 1969, with sales 10 times higher than anticipated, Mattel expanded its model line to 40. The next year, 1970, saw 33 new cars, and 35 in 1971. This was also the last year that Hot Wheels were made in U.S.A., and the first year that Mattel used the Hot Wheels name as promotions at drag strips.
1972 was slow year, as the cars did not sell as well, so only seven new models appeared. 1973 is significant for the release of some of the hardest models to find, including the Mongoose and the Snake, with only 3 new castings this year. Mattel had lowered its manufacturing standards, resulting models that were discontinued after one year, with the result that some collectors specialize in the 1973 models only. 1974 saw seven new casts and 8 embellished castings. This was the first year that all models were enameled. Mattel first used tampo-printed ink graphics, instead of decals or stickers.
In 1975, the first motorcycles were produced in the history of Hot Wheels, but they were not produced again until 1997 with the introduction of the Scorchin' Scooter. 23 models were introduced, and Mattel continued issuing models in alternate colors. In 1976, Super Chromes appeared, a line of 18 chrome models. The next year, 69 vehicles appeared with 12 new castings and changes on 10 earlier issued models. To reduce costs, Mattel began to phase out the "redlines", considered to be like a Mattel logo, despite the protests of company designers.
In 1978, 12 new models were issued, with all models having basic black tires. 1979 had eighteen new issues and twelve models in new colors. 1980 saw the appearance of the Hi-Rakers, on which the rear axles were attached to a separate hinged base that could be raised or lowered to increase the rake of the vehicle. Workhorses also appeared. In 1981, with the release of 12 new models, Mattel claimed that their "Hot Ones" were the "Fastest Non-Powered Die-Cast Metal Cars." A collectors handbook was issued that year.
1982 McDonald's distributing Hot Wheels as a promotion, and Mattel moved the production plant from Hong Kong to Malaysia. There were 23 new releases out of the total 51 models. The next year, 1983, on the 15th anniversary, "Real Riders" cars appeared with rubber-like tires, and proved to be very popular. Production began in Mexico for the U.S. market and in France for the European market.
In 1984, "Ultra Hots" were introduced as the fastest Hot Wheels ever made. Two models were never sold in the U.S. -- the Datsun 200SX in maroon and the Pontiac J-2000 in green. In 1985, Army and Indy-style cars appeared, and was the year of a Kellogg's cereal promotion. In 1986, The Speed Demon and Flip-Out series were introduced, lines of fantasy vehicles. In 1987, a price guide was released, and the first collector's convention was held in Toledo, Ohio.
In 1988, gold and silver chrome cars were produced to celebrate the 20th Anniversary. The next year, Mattel introduced Park-N-Plates, small plastic see-through boxes with colored see-through lids that displayed the vehicles' names. These were for special cars in their plastic "garages". In 1990, a model came out based on the Simpsons cartoon. The first aircraft (helicopter) appeared, and there was Hot Wheels Cereal. It was the year the Purple Passion model could not be located for 9 months on toy store shelves.
1991 was the last year for Park-N-Plates, the 1 billionth Hot Wheels vehicle was produced and McDonald's Happy Meal offered a plastic Hot Wheels casting. In 1992, the Pro Circuit, Gleam Team, and Tattoo Machines were introduced. In 1993, popular models were re-issued to commemorate the 25th anniversary. In 1994, the only new series was the Vintage collection. 1995 saw the Treasure Hunt Cars, limited to 10,000 each, the most desirable model being the white 1967 Camaro.
In 1996, cars were issued from China. In 1997, Mattel sponsored Kyle Petty in the NASCAR Winston Cup. 1998 saw 40 new castings for the 30th Anniversary, and the achievement of the 2 billionth Hot Wheels car. In 1999, Mattel bought a software manufacturer, and its stock price crashed. In 2000, Mattel introduced the 36 "First Editions". A new wheel type appeared, brought over from the Matchbox line. In 2003, for the 35th anniversary, Mattel teamed up with Columbia Pictures to create a Hot Wheels movie.