A 1968 Hot Wheels store display, created to launch the toy line with the biggest possible bang. This example, which is unusually complete, could fetch $50,000.

Update: The 1968 Hot Wheels store display sold for $36,300.

What you see: An exceptionally rare and unusually complete 1968 Hot Wheels store display. Van Eaton Galleries estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Joel Magee, consigner. He is also known as The Toy Scout, and has appeared on the TV show Pawn Stars.

How did this 1968 Hot Wheels store display come to be? Why did Mattel make it? This was the very beginning of Hot Wheels. Matchbox had dominated the industry for literally decades. When Mattel made Hot Wheels, they took it to the next level. Everything they wanted, they put into the cars. They made these gorgeous store displays which were unheard of at the time. They looked like a dealer showroom. When the kids saw that, they went crazy. No marketer had made something so elaborate for a toy.

A close-up on the Hot Wheels store display, which was designed to look like a dealer showroom.

Mattel realized they had to go big or go home if they were going to compete with Matchbox, and this is what they did? They literally created a piece of art to sell these toys. Nothing had really been done before at that level.

So, this Hot Wheels store display is pretty much how the world was introduced to Hot Wheels? Exactly. There were a lot of commercials on TV, but from a point-of-sale situation, it was everything. You were not able to not notice the display. Mattel just made it look so cool, you couldn’t resist.

Did every toy store get a Hot Wheels display of this level of quality, or was it reserved for FAO Schwarz and other high-end venues? The stores had to put in a big pre-order to get the display, but pretty much everybody got it.

What makes this 1968 Hot Wheels store display extremely rare? Mattel sent one display per store. Most were thrown away. Some displays were cut open so they could take the cars and throw the rest away. A few people saved the displays and took them home. This one is even rarer because it has a fold-out flap that advertises Hot Wheels accessories. Only three examples still have the flap.

This overhead shot of the 1968 Hot Wheels store display gives the best angle on the all-important advertising flap, which most examples lack.
This 1968 Hot Wheels store display is rare in and of itself, and it’s one of only three surviving examples to retain a flap that advertises Hot Wheels accessories.

And someone at Mattel would have had to personally assemble each display before shipping it to a toy store? They put them together like a puzzle. It’s lithograph on card, and it took a lot to put this together. Each car had to be hand-tied down, two straps per car. Mattel spared no expense in making these displays.

What else adds to the Hot Wheels store display’s rarity? It has toys in colors that were not used in the main product line. The watermelon pink Mustang only came in store displays. That adds excitement and allure to the set. It highlighted 16 cars, but not every display had exactly the same cars. Some had a chocolate brown Camaro. This display doesn’t have one.

One car in the 1968 Hot Wheels store display is unusually rare--the watermelon pink Mustang. Other versions of the display contained an equally rare chocolate brown Camaro.

Do we know why this Hot Wheels store display doesn’t have a chocolate brown Camaro? I don’t think it was intended at the time. I think they [Mattel] pretty much said, “We’ve got a bunch of cars over here, OK, take these,” and later, they made a different decision during production. The two specific [rarities unique to variants of the 1968 Hot Wheels store display] are the chocolate brown Camaro and the watermelon pink Mustang.

Does this 1968 Hot Wheels store display have all 16 toy cars that it came with originally, or have some been replaced over the years? All 16 in the display are original to the set.

The toy cars in the display are called “Redline” cars. Why? There are red lines on the tires. They’re like whitewalls, only they’re red. They’re considered the premium Hot Wheels cars, and they were made between 1968 and 1976. Then Mattel shifted to black-wall tire cars. That’s where old-school collectors stop.

Do we know how this particular Hot Wheels store display survived? It was acquired from a local hobby store in Cleveland, Ohio in 1968. A father had pestered the store owner because he wanted it for his son. One day he came in and the display was gone. He asked where it was and the owner said “I put it behind the counter. I didn’t forget you.” The father got it for the price of the 16 cars, so, he paid 59 cents times 16. [That would have been $9.44 in 1968 money, which translates to roughly $71.34 in modern dollars.]

Does the Hot Wheels store display come directly from the family? I bought it from them myself. They enjoyed it for many years, then they put it away in a closet. Fast forward 50 years, and they realized, “Oh my God, this is a life-changing moment here.”

What condition is the 1968 Hot Wheels store display in? Everything is in its original place. The plastic cover, which is an acetate-type material, tends to shrink over time, but amazingly enough, I knew a Mattel employee who had a few covers. So this has a new cover, but it’s 50 years old.

What is the Hot Wheels store display like in person? Mattel painted the cars with what they called Spectraflame paint. The best way to explain it is it glows. It’s like they take on a new life. It’s one of the things that makes people crazy for them–they’re mesmerized by how beautiful they are. [Magee later explained that Mattel stopped using Spectraflame paint on Hot Wheels cars around 1973 or 1974.]

How large is the Hot Wheels store display? It’s about two feet long by about one foot deep. It has a commanding presence. Mattel really went out of its way to make it look like the ultimate showroom. They spared no expense. The buildings and scenery in the back added to the mix.

What’s your favorite detail of the display? In my opinion, it’s the three-dimensional look to it. Mattel designed it so it doesn’t look like it was printed on a flat background. They gave it depth. They could have just stuck a few cars on bases, but instead, they put them on round platforms that do move–they’re on a rivet, they can swivel.

How many of these 1968 Hot Wheels store displays have you handled? I’ve been doing this for 35 years. I’ve handled four.

How does this example compare to the other three? This one has the flap. The flap is the big deal. The others had their flaps torn off.

Why does that front flap on the Hot Wheels store display tend not to survive? The cardboard probably got weak, and tore off, or someone tore it off intentionally. I just know that only a few have the flap.

The 1968 Hot Wheels store display carries an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. What percentage of its value belongs with the display itself, and how much belongs to the toy cars? Between 90 and 95 percent of the value is in the display. The cars, you can get, except for the brown Camaro and the pink Mustang. The display, you can’t.

It seems like sales of Hot Wheels cars mostly happen in private, not at auction. How does that affect the estimate for this display? Very rarely does one of these come up for sale. I figure it will settle around $50,000 to $70,000 this time. Again, it’s all about quality, rarity, and desirability, and this has all of that. It’s the Holy Grail of Hot Wheels.

What’s the likelihood that this 1968 Hot Wheels store display will set a new world auction record for Hot Wheels toys? In my opinion, it will absolutely set a new record. I can’t imagine it won’t set a new record, just based on all the other stuff that’s going on. COVID-19 has changed the situation. Everyone is at home and researching different hobbies, and they want something fun that’s an investment. Hot Wheels are just skyrocketing. There are Hot Wheels that sold for $2,000 or $3,000 that are going for $5,000 or $6,000 now.

How to bid: The 1968 Hot Wheels store display is lot 0633 in A Celebration of Pop Culture–Day 2, taking place at Van Eaton Galleries on January 31, 2021.

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