1970 Hot Wheels Speedometers

Measuring the speed of “The Fastest Metal Cars in the World” was a one year event.  In 1970 Mattel made both single-lane and dual-lane speedometers for Hot Wheels.

Box art- front. Single-lane Speedometer.

Box art – front. Dual-Lane Speedometer.

These purely mechanical toys use no batteries or electricity.  For such an inexpensive toy, the design structure is quite remarkable.  As cars enter the speedometers they are tilted  30 degrees onto their side where they first contact a plastic bar that automatically resets the speedometer needle to zero, then they hit a paddle mechanism that pushes the needle around the dial and records the speed of that pass.

Dual-Lane Speedometer “Tunnel Entrance” showing the automatic reset bars and the more distant black pads of the paddle mechanism which is connected to the speedometer needles.

On the underside of the speedometers is a dial that allows the spring sets to be adjusted which regulates how “fast” or “slow” the needles will move.  On the “fast” setting the springs are fairly loose and will allow the needle to move a long way around the dial and record a high speed value.  On the “slow” setting the springs are tighter and restrict how far the needle will move, thereby recording a slower speed value.

Underside “Tensioning Dial”. This particular Single-Lane Speedometer works best at the 4th space which I have marked with a black felt marker.

It stands to reason that every kid wants to see the highest possible speed on a race set but there are situations, primarily with high speed Sizzlers, where you want to slow the cars down a bit as they hit the paddle mechanism.

The other purpose of the tensioning dial is to balance both sides of the dual-lane speedometer.  You run a car through one side of the speedometer and set the tensioning dial to give a particular speed.  Then you take the same car and run it at the same speed through the other side, tensioning the dial, so that the second speedometer gives the same speed reading as the first.  If you happen to be running two single-lane speedometers side by side the same procedure would apply.

Here are the instructions for the single-lane speedometer.

Front page of instruction sheet.

Back page of instruction sheet.

And here’s the instructions for the dual-lane speedometer.

Front page of instruction sheet.

Back page of instruction sheet.

In general, it’s always been true that certain Hot Wheels cars work better on some sets than others.  With the speedometers I find that the fastest readings are determined more by the front end design of the car than by the speed of the car.

Cars with a square front end will hit the paddle mechanism more solidly and push the needle further around the dials.  So, even though my purple 2007 Shelby GT500 is faster than my magenta 1971 Plymouth Road Runner, the rounded front end of the Shelby will usually record a slower speed than the square front end of the Road Runner.

Aerodynamic front end of the Shelby Mustang compared to the square front end of the Road Runner.

Here’s an example of what I mean from my YouTube Channel: Smackeral Cafe.

What should you look for when purchasing a 1970 Hot Wheels Speedometer?  Ideally, on the top of the dials, the needles should be sitting at “Zero”.  And on the bottom, the tensioning dials should be sitting on “Fast”.  Any other position will place extra tension on the speedometer springs and, over 40 plus years of storage, those springs will stretch out and make the speedometer less functional.

So there you have it.  The 1970 Hot Wheels Speedometers.

They show you that Hot Wheels are still fast.  Still fun.

Box art – side. Single-Lane Speedometer.

Box art – back. Single-Lane Speedometer.

Box art – side. Dual-Lane Speedometer.

Box art – back. Dual-Lane Speedometer.

1970 Hot Wheels Dual-Lane Rod Runner Drag Set

In a prior post, about the 1970 Super Speed Action Set, we saw that the single-lane rod runner clocked the highest car speeds of the three single-lane speed sets produced that year.  Now we are going to look at a set that, basically, puts 2 Super Speed Action Sets together and creates a drag set.  But this time, not only are the cars launched at high speed, they are also brought back down to a stop with drag ‘chutes.  It’s like those real world auto tests that show how quickly high performance cars can race from 0 to 100 mph and then brake hard all the way back down to 0 again.

This set is the 1970 Dual-Lane Rod Runner Drag Set.

Dual-Lane Rod Runner box art – front.

It comes with 28 feet of orange track, 10 joiners, 1 dual-lane rod runner with 1 “fair start” T-bar, 1 dual-lane speedometer, 1 finish gate, 2 ‘chute traps, and 4 drag ‘chutes.

Here’s the instructions:

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Track layout. Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Track layout. Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Set contents close-up. Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Set contents close-up. Copyright Mattel, Inc.

This may well be the busiest track set that Mattel ever made for Hot Wheels.  Just to get ready for a race you have to load the drag ‘chutes, set the finish gate flag, adjust the speedometer, cock the rod runner handles down to start position, and place 2 cars on the track in the cradle of the “fair start” push bar.

The race, itself, is totally high speed.  Getting a smooth, even start with the push bar takes a bit of concentration.  In the moment it takes to satisfy yourself with the start, the cars have already gone through the speedometer.  Before you can even look at the dials, the cars have flashed through the finish gate.  And before you realize who won, the ‘chutes have popped and the cars are slowing down.  You almost need a mental “instant replay” to appreciate the recorded speeds and who won the race.

Set up time, the actual race and post race evaluation takes a couple of minutes for just one person to do.  And then you have to do it all over again for the next race.

If you look at Mattel’s original 1970 TV ad for this set you will notice that there are 3 kids playing at the same time.  I have come to realize that there is a lot of merit to having a bunch of people help you run this drag set.

Also, close-up shots of the cars in the TV ad are presented only in slow motion (which still looks fast).  Even then, the speedometer section requires 3 repeating views from different angles for the action to be grasped.  This set is what fast is all about.

Here’s Mattel’s original 1970 video courtesy of Mark Roach:

And here’s the 4 cars I’m racing on this drag set today.

L to R: ’67 Pontiac Firebird 400, ’70 Pontiac GTO, ’71 Dodge Charger and ’70 Camaro.

At the starting line.  Waiting for the Rod Runner handles to be shifted down and a push from the T-bar.

Flying out of the Rod Runner and heading for the speedometer.

Hard tilt into the dual-lane speedometer.

Clocking the speeds.

Flat out to the finish.

Winner about to take the flag.

Hitting the ‘chute traps.

Poppin’ the ‘chutes.

Here’s my YouTube video of this set in action.

So there you have it.  The 1970 Hot Wheels Dual-Lane Rod Runner Drag Set.

It’s still fast.  Still fun.

1970 Collectors’ Catalogue. The “short track” version! Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Box art -front: 1st close up.

Box art – front: 2nd close up.

Box art – front: 3rd close up.

Box art – front: 4th close up.

Box art – back.

Box art – side: full color.

Box art – side: red, black and white.

Box art – end.

A complete Dual-Lane Rod Runner Drag Set with box insert. Courtesy eBay.

The above Drag Set unpackaged. Courtesy eBay.

Sunday Newspaper Comics Section.  Mattel's Hot Wheels Ad for drag racing with the Dual-Lane Rod Runner.  August 30, 1970. Courtesy eBay.

Sunday Newspaper Comics Section. Mattel’s Hot Wheels Ad for drag racing with the Dual-Lane Rod Runner. August 30, 1970. Courtesy eBay.