Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tripping down victory lane

Stains untouched since the fourth quarter of the 20th Century.
As the story goes, my childhood friend Brian LaMay got a Hot Wheels®™© car every time he set the dinner table.

Maybe this is true. Now that I've reconnected with Brian, I'll have to ask.

Until then, I should not discount this story as a ploy my mom used to discourage sloth and promote industry from her seven-year-old.

If so, she picked an extremely effective one. Mine was a Hot Wheels®©-based economy, the cars my currency. I lived for them during two important years of my childhood.

They came out right about the time I would be interested in hot rods and dragsters.The cars were the first thing I remember saving for.

I'd collect the dimes Mrs. Christopher paid next-door neighbor Buddy and me for ridding her sidewalk junipers of fallen leaves. We worked 47 straight days, as I recall, from before sunup in grueling heat in the Sisyphean task of plucking leaves from the prickly plants' poisonous maw — for the princely recompense of a dime.

My toys were well loved.
Seven or eight dimes got me a new car at Uncle Tom's Toys in town; with each car came a little tin badge (Matching Collector's Button®™) cut in the shape of a tire with a picture of the car in the hollow; bend the little tab on the edge and wear the badge on your shirt collar. Why? I don't know.

What I also don't know: How Uncle Tom's Toys got to be the name of a store.

My collection, you can gather, was hard won and small.

Christmas loomed large in this economy. Christmas signaled a windfall. Christmas was bags of unmarked cash, falling out the back of an armored car, except it happened every year at an appointed time, so you knew where to stand when the booty spilled.

Hot Wheels®© products went forth and multiplied on Christmas.

Deeply conflicted, I tell you now that my Christmas miracle was seeing — first through a glass darkly and then in unmistakable psychedelic glow — the great tangle of orange-sherbet colored track already assembled to the assortment of devices that propelled the Hot Wheels™® cars — perpetually, in theory — along that track. I was a very young capitalist tool.

Also I got this, the Popup 12 Car Collector's Case.

All the online auction sites indicate the collector's case was issued in 1967, when I was five, but I couldn't possibly have gotten it then. That was during my I-may-or-may-not-own-Matchbox™®-cars-but-I-have-no-idea-how-many-or-where-they-are-because-I'm-only-five-years-old phase. I'm gonna say this beauty showed up when I was seven and far more mature.

Besides holding cars, the vinyl-covered case opens to reveal a grandstand that pops up, with tabs in front of the grandstand to which you can attach the track, known originally as Hot Strip®™Trak (Google™® "Hot Strip" at your peril).

I attached the track once, maybe, to see how it worked: Not too well. The acrid vinyl popup never really stayed popped up, and wanted to revert to its packaged state, swallowing any attached track.

It still held cars, though. Where they are now, I have no idea. They surely included:
Splittin' Image, designed by Ira Gilford
(Someone's collector pic; my actual car is dim memory)
  • Splittin' Image (which was a play on "Spittin' Image," a phrase I'd never heard at the time, so the joke was lost on me)
  • Silhouette, with its clear plastic bubble canopy
  • Boss Hoss Silver Special, a steroid-enhanced metallic-painted Mustang
  • Beatnik Bandit, another bubble canopy car; Hot Wheels™© alone kept the bubble canopy industry alive
  • Nitty Gritty Kitty, a souped-up Cougar, my favorite for unknown reasons
  • A McLaren M6A, based on the Le Mans-style racer
  • (And definitely maybe) not only The Snake but The Mongoose, probably the two most famous funny cars in history; the snake ate its tail on this one — the real funny cars were sponsored by Hot Wheels®©™
    Beatnik Bandit, designed by Harry Bradley based on real
    car designed by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

    (Collector's pic)
I did not own:
  • The Custom Volkswagen Bug, world's tiniest Hot Wheel®©, easiest to lose
  • The Hot Heap, a classic hot rod
  • The S'Cool Bus, a yellow bus funny car; the body could be lifted and propped over the chassis
  • The Red Baron, a hot rod with a silver German infantry helmet, based on a model, based on a car
  • Any of the Indy style cars
Buddy owned most of those and I coveted them, of course. As far as I know, we made no trades. A dime is a dime.

The printing was misregistered, engendering ghostly images
all over the case. Mr. Hamburger Slinger has a huge crowd in
the stands, yet three stools, no waiting.
The cover of my collector's case shows two driverless cars racing side by side just past the grandstand, the sky on fire.

The picture has always puzzled me because I wondered how much the artist knew about Hot Wheels®© when given the assignment.

Though the wheels are faithful to the distinctive five-spoke metallic mag design and the red line along the tread — the hallmark of the early cars — and the track surface is vaguely orange, the cars pictured didn't match the product.

"Here are pictures of the wheels," Mattel® told the artist. "We're still figuring out what the cars look like. Use your imagination."

Billboards, I guess, on a decal affixed to
one side of the cars' compartments,
set quaintly on lattice-work stands.
During my brief love affair with Hot Wheels©®™, I acquired every banked turn, loop, jump, starting gate, finishing gate, lap counter, Super Charger™® (battery operated) and Rod Runner©™(manually operated) perpetual motions devices to push the cars along the track. Set gingerly on wire springs, the Hot Wheels®™© cars were surprisingly fast. We either spent hours building tracks or, getting bored quickly, pushed them around on the kitchen floor.

When the affair ended, my room looked like a city corporation yard, haystacks of track strewn about … raspberry-colored plastic biscuits to join the tracks, scattered by the hundreds … and myriad peripheral devices. All thrown away in one classic I'm-tired-of-asking-you-to-clean-this-room! parental swoop.

The crowd goes wild.
The collector's case alone remains, my memories held bound by the nifty metal snap.

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