Mattel Hot Wheels: Coloring Playtime, One Car at a Time

Mattel Hot Wheels: Coloring Playtime, One Car at a Time

The launch of Mattel’s first line of Hot Wheels cars in 1968 was the beginning of what would become a big part of many of our childhoods. Almost 45 years later, Mattel estimates that about 41 million kids have grown up with their model toy cars, while the faithful enthusiasts have become collectors as adults. So, what was the secret to Hot Wheels' success?

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For starters, a constant stream of new models and concepts has enabled Hot Wheels to remain competitive. Its rivalry with Matchbox, which had a 15-year head start debuting in 1953, has resulted in a very colorful history that has transformed our entire preconception of what model toy vehicles should or should not be.

Hot Wheels 1968 Advertisement Featuring the Cheetah (source)

Often referred to by collectors as the “Sweet 16,” the first 16 cars that were released featured metallic “spectraflame” paintwork in such exotic colors as Antifreeze, Magenta and Hot Pink. Soon to follow were a collection of 48 cars released in the 1970s, which included the Paddy Wagon and models with rotating crash-panels called Crack-Ups.

Original Paddy Wagon, with removable plastic top (source)

Crack-Ups (source)

In 1988 Mattel brought the concepts of color and model car to a whole new dimension with its release of Color Racers. The thermal color-change paint “magically” gave the model cars a “new” paint job when immersed in water. Released in single and multi-car packs, the cars were made of all metal and had the appearance of having a thicker coat of paint than the original Hot Wheels.

Color Racers (source | source)


A speeding rainbow colored car adorned the bright packaging, and advertisements promised a miraculous experience: “Watch the magic! Cars change color, instantly, right before your very eyes! You can ‘paint’ them, again and again!”(source)


Micro Color Racers (source) | Color Racers II with "Ice Pen"

After a booming success, Mattel came out with Micro Color Racers, which were a just-as-colorful and magical, but smaller version of the original.

Color Racers II upped the ante on the “magic,” allowing the users to customize their cars using the “Ice Pen.”

Military Machines: Hummer and Big Bertha (source)

In 1994, yet another version emerged, this time under the name Color FX. This version brought on color customization with a “Blast!” and a “Splash!” The main difference was the addition of a little plastic tool with a sponge on the tip, which could be dipped in water and then applied to the vehicle.

‘57 Chevy (source) | T-Bird Stocker (source) | Dump Truck and 1980s Camaro (source

When “painting” gets boring, what do you do? Stamp, of course! Color FX Super Stampers were next to hit the shelves.


’67 Camaro (source)

In 2008, a name change to Color Shifters brought another little twist with hidden designs that are revealed as the vehicle is exposed to warm or hot water. Picture bright flames, camouflage, and racing stripes! Soon to follow were a whole variety of color-bending cars.

Color Shifters Creatures 2010 (source)

Color Shifters Creatures: Vampyra (source) |  Dragon Blaster (source) |   Evil Eye (source) | Rig Dog (source)

Creepy, crawling, and colorful, Color Shifters Creatures appeared on shelves in 2010. With this version, varying degrees of water temperature could be used for a multi-color experience.

Water Revealers Series: High Voltage (source)

The year 2011 marks the twenty-third year of color changing cars. The popular Color Shifters were broken down into four categories: Water Revealers, Hypercolor, Metallics, and Glow in the Dark. The Water Revealers series are simply the traditional Color Shifters.

Hypercolor: Skull Crusher ( source | source)

Hypercolor: Ratmobile (source)

Similar to mood rings of the 1970s, the Hypercolor series has the ability to be changed by the warmth of your touch.

Metallics Series: ‘69 Chevelle (source) |  Volkswagen Beetle (source)

The Metallics series features an awesome sparkle to its colorful paint job.


Glow-in-the-Dark Series: Fandango (source) |  Deora II (source)

The Glow-in-the-Dark series has the ability to be changed traditionally, but it also glows in the dark when it is in its “warm” color.

(source | source )

Mattel really brought its Color Shifter series to life when it created a life-size Color Shifters Water Revealer in 2008. Kids had the opportunity to spray or apply water-soaked sponges on the state-of-the-art genuine Ford Mustang as part of its road trip throughout Canada. (source)

The history of Mattel’s Color Shifters line demonstrates how color can be a key player in the longevity of a successful product. Color Shifters have truly colored our world in a magical way by making kids and grown-ups alike smile at the simple application of water to a toy that has been a part of our lives for over 40 years!

header image + palette: source 

Showing 1 - 8 of 8 Comments
Cool! I owned a couple of (Micro?) Colour Racers when I was perhaps 9 years old.
Wow.. I remember these from when I was little!
I played with Hot Wheels all the time when I was a kid. My brother had a whole box of them, and we would make them race each other. My brother still wouldn't play Barbies with me, though.
My son has at least 80 Hot Wheels! LOL We've JUST started getting in to the color changers and I'm thinking we may have to get a glow-in-the-dark one (or 10) too! I love the designs!
Great combinations of colours on the packaging. It is really eye catching and shows what the product is about. In this case its the colour changing ability.
Love the vintage advertisement from 1968 ♥
Thanks for all the great comments! My three year old is an avid hot wheels fanatic, so this was a fun one to research and write!
Very cool .

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