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”.

1970 Hot Wheels Mongoose and Snake Drag Race Set

Drag racing in the 1960s was very much a fledgling sport.  It was a tough way to make a living.  Prize money was a pittance. Drivers could look forward to $100 plus free parts and oil if they won it all on any given day.  Consequently, living conditions were bare bones.

One way to draw in the crowds was to highlight match races and generate rivalries that people wanted to see.  Nicknames were also common in this era so Don Prudhomme earned the handle “Snake” because of his cobra-quick launches off the starting line.   Ed Donovan, a drag racing pioneer, thought it would be a good idea to name Tom McEwen, “the Mongoose”.  This set up Mongoose vs Snake matchmaking and people paid attention.

As the 60’s wore on,”the two racers realized that a colorful rivalry based on their racing nicknames was very popular with fans, especially the young fans.”1

Bearing this in mind, Tom McEwen approached Mattel and negotiated a unique deal that moved drag racing from barnstorming to a multimillion dollar profession.

Mattel became drag racing’s first sponsor outside of the automobile industry.  And they did it both right and big time.  The Mongoose & Snake rivalry rose to a new level on the drag circuit and Hot Wheels fans were treated to the 1970 Hot Wheels Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Set.

This set comes with 32 feet of orange track, 12 joiners, 1 universal clamp, 1 start gate, 1 finish gate, 2 dare-devil loop bases, 2 ‘chute traps and 4 parachutes.

The main highlight of this set is the 1:64 scale replica of Don Prudhomme’s yellow 1970 Plymouth Barracuda funny car and Tom McEwen’s red 1970 Plymouth Duster funny car.  To showcase this set for you I am going to race four 1994 reissues of these 1970 Mattel funny cars.

2 Snakes and 2 Mongooses in their 1994 blister paks.

Like the 1970 original, this 1994 reissue opens up like a real funny car. Too cool!

The instructions.

Page 1. Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Page 2. Copyright Mattel, Inc.

Page 3. Copyright Mattel, Inc.

This is the layout.

At the start…a blue Plymouth Duster “Mongoose” and a yellow Plymouth Barracuda “Snake”.

And…they’re off!

Into the loops.

Flat out down the straightaway.

Checkered flag.

Poppin’ the ‘chutes.

Rolling to a stop.

Here’s my YouTube video of some Mongoose vs Snake matchmaking races.

So there you have it.

The 1970 Hot Wheels Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Set.  Probably the most famous Hot Wheels set ever produced.

It’s still fast.  Still fun.

Box art – back

Box art – back. Close Up.

Box art – back. Close up of message.

Box art – side

Box art – side. Close up.

Box art – side

Box art – end

1970 toy catalogue. Courtesy eBay.

From 1970 Hot Wheels Racing World magazine. Courtesy http://www.toycarcollector.com.

From 1970 Hot Wheels Racing World magazine. Courtesy http://www.toycarcollector.com.

Original 1970 Mongoose and Snake cars in blister paks. Courtesy http://www.toycarcollector.com.

Original 1970 buttons. Courtesy eBay.

Hot Wheels “Wide World of Racing” Poster featuring the Snake & Mongoose. Courtesy eBay.

Mongoose & Snake poster. Courtesy www.toycarcollector.com.

1970 magazine ad. 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 Hot Wheels ad for the Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Set. July 19, 1970. Courtesy eBay.

Reissues of Mongoose & Snake Drag Race Sets have been frequent over the years. Here’s the “Classics” version. Courtesy eBay.

The UK version, from 1971, was quite different. A Match Maker & Big Belter to launch the cars, no loops, and narrow chute traps for a better dual lane fit. Courtesy eBay.

Sides and back of the UK Mongoose & Snake version. Courtesy eBay.

1. Snake vs Mongoose: How a rivalry changed drag racing forever.  By Tom Madigan.