Hot Wheels art by Alex Toth

One of the remarkable features from the early years of Hot Wheels is the artwork. Great car designs came from Harry Bradley, Ira Gilford and Larry Wood. Amazing package art was handled by Otto Kuni. But when it came to classic comic images with story telling, Mattel’s go-to-guy was Alex Toth.

Self portrait of Alex Toth.

Self portrait of Alex Toth.

Alexander Toth (June 25, 1928 – May 27, 2006) was an influential American cartoonist whose work began in the American comic book industry during the 1940s.  But he is also known for his animation designs with Hanna-Barbera throughout the 1960s and 1970s. His TV work included Super Friends, Space Ghost, The Herculoids and Birdman.

A book of Alex Toth's work featuring Space Ghost on the front cover.

A book of Alex Toth’s work featuring Space Ghost on the front cover.

For Mattel, he worked on the 1970 Hot Wheels comic book issues, the 1969 Saturday morning “Hot Wheels” cartoon series and all 4 Sunday newspaper cartoon ads from the summer of 1970.

Comic Books

The Hot Wheels comic book project began with this promotion.

Comic ad

A total of 6 issues were generated and Alex Toth was heavily involved in the first five.

Issue 1.

Issue 1. April 1970.

Issue 2

Issue 2. June 1970.

Issue 3

Issue 3. August 1970.

Issue 4.

Issue 4. October 1970.

Issue 5.

Issue 5. December 1970.

Issue 6.

Issue 6. February 1971.

My favorite as a kid was issue 2. Here’s part of the story line from that issue courtesy Captain Videos Secret Sanctum. http://captainvideossecretsanctum.blogspot.ca/2012_02_01_archive.html

Hot Wheels 1970 #002_p014

Hot Wheels 1970 #002_p015

Hot Wheels 1970 #002_p016

Hot Wheels 1970 #002_p017

Hot Wheels 1970 #002_p018

Hot Wheels 1970 #002_p019

Saturday Morning Cartoon

In the late 1960s there was one time, and one time only, for every kid to watch cartoons. That was every Saturday morning. The Hot Wheels cartoon show first arrived on September 6, 1969 and new shows continued to air through December 20, 1969.

Saturday cartoon

A total of 17 shows were produced (each 1/2 hour long), often with 2 episodes per show (a total of 32 episodes were made). This popular cartoon remained on the Saturday morning circuit for 2 years from September 6, 1969 to September 4, 1971.

Here’s a link to the cartoon’s introduction.

Here’s a show with 2 episodes: “Ardeth the Demon” and “Tough Cop”.

Sunday Newspaper Comic Ads

Back in the day, the Sunday newspaper “Funnies” always had the best comics. They were large. They were colorful. They told the fullest stories. As a kid, you spent the whole week looking forward to them. During the summer of 1970 Mattel took advantage of this enthused audience and ran a series of ads in comic strip form. I know of 4 ads. The first showed up on July 19th and the last on Aug 30th.

The story line always starts with 2 friends, the Hot Wheels Kids, at the track watching their automotive heroes in action. Either Dan Gurney or the duo of Tom McEwan & Don Prudhomme would be in a spectacular race.  But each episode took what transpired in the real world and then replicated it with a Hot Wheels set.  The kids demonstrated the ins and outs of their toy tracks much to the interest of Gurney, McEwan & Prudhomme.

Here are the 4 Sunday newspaper comic ads.

Sunday Newspaper Comics Section. Mattel's Hot Wheels ad for the Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Set. July 19, 1970. Courtesy eBay.

Sunday Newspaper Comics Section. Mattel’s Hot Wheels ad for the Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Set. July 19, 1970. Courtesy eBay.

Sunday newspaper Comics section. Mattel's ad for the Sizzlers California/8 Race Set. August 16, 1970. Courtesy eBay.

Sunday newspaper Comics section. Mattel’s ad for the Sizzlers California/8 Race Set. August 16, 1970. Courtesy eBay.

Sunday Newspaper Comics Section from August 23, 1970. This ad is for Mattel's Road Trials Set featuring racing legend Dan Gurney.

Sunday Newspaper Comics Section from August 23, 1970. This ad is for Mattel’s Road Trials Set featuring racing legend Dan Gurney.

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.

So there you have it. The simply amazing artwork of Alex Toth for Hot Wheels. He certainly captured how Hot Wheels are “Still fast. Still fun”.

Hot Wheels Store Displays

From 1968 to 1970 Mattel produced elaborate displays that were intended to showcase the Hot Wheels line-up for store customers.

This late 1968 display looks like something right out of a big car show in Los Angeles or Detroit.

Each of the “Sweet 16” cars is represented. Five of the cars have custom paint jobs just for this display. This includes a Watermelon Custom Mustang, Chocolate Brown Custom Camaro, Honey Gold Custom T-Bird, Light Blue Custom Cougar and the Ruby Red Custom Barracuda.

For 1969 three displays are offered. The first diorama shows Hot Wheels cars on a hilly coastal roadway crossing above cars that are travelling through a tunnel.

1969 Coastal hill and tunnel display. Courtesy

1969 Coastal hill and tunnel display. Courtesy http://www.hwredlines.com/menu-grp-cars/Displays/display-US-69.shtml

The second display is located in Europe, possibly Monaco, where Grand Prix race cars are being paced at the race’s start by a Maserati Mistrel. Spectators have parked their European cars nearby. A ship at water’s edge is a nice touch.

1969 European Gran Prix display. Courtesy

1969 European Gran Prix display. Courtesy http://www.redlinegrandprix.com/Redline_GP_OddsEnds.html

The third display puts us at the Daytona Motor Speedway where race cars are on the high banks of the track. In this case, spectators from a vintage car club have shown up presumably to cheer on the Classic ’57-Bird.

Close-up. Courtesy Instagram by Bruce Pascal. http://www.online-instagram.com/media/894901587630698938_1622287635

Close-up. Courtesy Instagram by Bruce Pascal. http://www.online-instagram.com/media/894901587630698938_1622287635

The 1970 Display is a ‘Multi-Mural’ diorama with a white curved sloping track.

1970 display. Courtesy

1970 display. Courtesy eBay.

The first three murals, from left to right, show a Spoiler style car, a heavyweight vehicle and a race car.

1970 display 4

Close-up left side.

The last mural on the right reveals the open road for Hot Wheels to travel on.

1970 display 3

Close-up right side.

1970 display 2

Top view – left.

1970 display 5

Top view – right.

Also, for 1970, Hot Wheels was going ‘head-to-head’ with Matchbox so in England a special store display was used.

1970 U.K. display. Courtesy

1970 U.K. display. Courtesy pinterest.com.

The English store display is an open six-tiered white grandstand made of wood.  The entire display holds 50 cars (6 rows of 8 or 9 cars each) and has a colorful backboard illustrating a Porsche 917 with the caption, “ Here’s why more Boys prefer: Hot Wheels”.  Obviously a direct challenge to Matchbox whose display looked like this…

U.K. Matchbox display. Courtesy

U.K. Matchbox display. Courtesy pinterest.com

So there you have it. A look at some of the early Hot Wheels diorama displays used in stores.

It’s still fast. Still fun.

For more information you can check out http://redlinewheels.com and look under “articles”.