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Monday, December 15, 2014

The revival of an original Hot Wheels 1968 Redline




Last month,  I showed some recent finds from a Flea Market (or Jockey Lot) run.  I found eight vehicles, but only showed 7.  Why?  Well the last one was a work-in-progress of restoring a Hot Wheels original 1968 Redline back to new in a Resto-Mod setup.  After days of cleaning, prepping, and a new coat of paint, the Custom Barracuda is ready to go!


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Inside the original 1968 Hot Wheels

If you want the full details of how Hot Wheels came to about in Mattel, read "Hot Wheels: 35 years of speed, power, performance, and attitude" by Randy Leffingwell.  The story started at Mattel back in the early 1960's as founder Elliot and Ruth Handler noticed that most diecast vehicles were crude and bland, and was looking to spice up the drabby diecast vehicle group with something more exciting.  After years of research and hiring designers straight from the Big 3in Detroit, including Larry Wood from Ford, to come to El Segundo, California to work for Mattel and design a new cool diecast vehicle category, the Hot Wheels line was born.  Even with good ideas to create the new line, there was still a debate on how the Hot Wheels cars would look like, until Harry Bradley drove in one day in a custom 1965 Chevrolet El Camino, which impressed Elliot Handler and suggested all Hot Wheels cars should look like Bradley's custom El Camino (and was the basis for the Custom Fleetside casting.


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In 1968, the Hot Wheels brand was first introduced with 16 vehicles, all with varying degree of Spectraflame colors, 5-spoke wheels with redline tires, working suspension, and opening hoods.  The rear-ends were raked, the engines big and the side exhaust sticking out, and the bulging hoods.  The engine's were fully-detailed, and every casting had an interior.  The base is metal as well.  First production was in the United States, but when the brand started to become popular Mattel also started production, which would eventually shift later on, to Hong Kong.  The Redline era would continue until 1970; in 1971 the colors were changed to a traditional enamel coat and into the 1970's the paints would change, some bases would appear in plastic, and the neat suspension system and wheels would be traded for a more traditional wheel design with a pin axle, though the Redline tires would continue until the mid-1970's.



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The most spectacular thing about the original Hot Wheels redlines was the suspension setup:  Basically a piano wire that is shaped like a Z either behind the wheels (front) or ahead of the wheels (rear) toward the center of the base.  Unlike other manufacturer's suspension setup, which usually consisted of pin axles that are restrained by a metal or plastic rectangular tab that is secured at the center of the base, this setup allowed for independent wheel movement; something the traditional suspension setups could not allow.  Then there are the wheels: While the front of the wheel looks very traditional, it's mostly a cap that covers the second part of the wheel, the backing.  This is where the trickery hides as a white nylon washer between the axle and the wheel housing gives the original Hot Wheels the fastest cars on the track!  Even after 46 years, the wheels still roll smooth on this Custom Barracuda example that I restored, even though the suspension setup has a bit too much downforce to the point that the wheels bend toward a negative camber.  However, success only lasted so long as the setup was complicated and proved costly to manufacturer, so the setup was eventually abandoned for a traditional axle setup five years later.

Before paint prep

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The restoration of a Redline

You can read more about the history of Hot Wheels outlined in Leffingwell's book, which is a good read for any diecast collector.  As for me, I was akin to try and get at least one of the original Hot Wheels over the years of my collecting, but prices are outrageous as even a well-worn example can fetch as low as $25 at some Flea Markets to Antique Malls (don't even ask about what a mint one costs).  Even higher is the ones that are mint in car and with the long-lost original button.  It stems from a regret about 15 years ago on passing up on a Custom Cougar in copper  that was missing the hood, yet the hood was in the same box as the car, in a 50 cents box.  I never picked it up and I kicked myself since then for not getting it right away.  Since then I've been on the lookout for one that was affordable and can be easily brought back to life.  Now I've seen plenty of Redlines since then, but all of them have been out of a price range.  Heck, I even tried to find a way to look for hidden treasures (basically when someone stores the original Hot Wheels for a long time, in mint condition, then rediscovers it years later when cleaning out the house and sells it at a very good price.  There's quite a few stories from collectors about finding these amazing treasure finds!).  No luck.


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Then one day I spotted a well-worn Custom Barracuda in blue, without the hood, in a pile of loose cars for $1.00.  Before I pulled the trigger, I carefully checked the vehicle out to see if it was fixable.  Casting was in good shape despite the missing hood (I can fix that), the windows are good despite the cracks, the interior is excellent, and the base is in good condition even though it was covered in what appears to be cake frosting and dirt.  The wheels are in rough shape, the chrome on the spokes long gone, and as is the redlines on the tires, but overall they're still in good shape to be reused again, and all four are there.  The only question was the suspension:  While the suspension still works in good shape, the right-front wheel was bent at a 45 degree angle.  Could it be easily bent back in shape?  I'll have to find out.  Overall aside from some cleaning of the base (and behind the wheels), a new hood, new coat of paint, and bending the right-front wheel back in place it was a good start, so I bought it!


 
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First, and foremost, was bending the right-front wheel back in place.  I was fearing for the worst:  either the axle breaks or the wheel breaks off?  After a little prying up with the needle-nose pliers the wheel miraceously straightened back up to about level with the other three!  Then there's the hood:  I could order a new hood for the car from a website that specifically deals with restoration parts for redlines, but I noticed that I would have to take off the original rivets to access the inside of the body to reinsert the hood.  I wanted to keep the body and rivets in original shape, so that's a no-go!  The trick here I used was the same clear, thin plastic used in plastic containers to use as a new hood to pay tribute to the lightweight fiberglass hoods on Musclecars of the 1960's.  Also the thin gauge of the hood allowed it to slide between the windshield and dashboard to give it a secure look, and a clean look to cover the hole where the hood once hinged.  The base consisted more of rubbing with Nail Polish Remover, towels, a toothbrush, and a flathead screwdriver to rid of the cake and dirt that bonded to the base and wheels.


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Then there's the wheels:  I could've installed a new set from the Redline restoration website, but after seeing how these two-piece wheels are removed I said "No way!  The current ones are still good to reuse again.  So out came the silver Sharpie to bring back the color of the spokes.  Looks good, but what about the redline?  Well after countless hours and days researching and looking for a solution I come to find out there really isn't any way to smoothly reapply a red circle on a wheel, but when you consider the fact that the rest of the wheel (and suspension) has the origins of the original redline tires you really don't need a redline to tell yourself that you are an original Hot Wheels Redline!  Now it was time to scrape off the old blue paint (which looks more enamel than spectraflame) and prep the body for paint.  After cleaning the body off with paint and using rubbing alcohol to prep the surface, I tended to carefully mask off every corner of the body that was not going to be painted with masking tape and printer paper; for larger areas like the interior and wheelwells I used cotton balls to catch any overspray.  Using Testors white primer, then it was time to lay on the first coat of Dark Blue enamel that looks dead-on like the original dark blue that was on the car.

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After some drying time, another coat was used to cover some missed areas, and it was done.  Now as for the hood I was pondering if I should paint it flat black or make the hood match the color of the car.  I opted for the latter for a cleaner look, though I used a black Sharpie to paint the underside of the hood.  When it was dry, I removed the tape and cotton balls, touched up any missed areas, and then wrapped it all up in Glosscote finish; note that I removed everything off before doing this: not only does it add an extra barrier to the paint but also to other areas of the body, especially filling in the cracks of the windows for a smooth, if not visually-appealing, look.  Now when it was all done and dry, I assembled the hood back and made a few minor touches, one of them was the use of a silver Sharpie for hood pins.  Now I rebuked this idea at first, then I saw two air bubbles in the paint from the Glosscote, and oddly both are equidistant from each other on each side of the fender.  Perfect spot for the cable the holds the hood pin clips?  You'd bet!

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End result is an Original Custom Barracuda redline that looks way better than what it used to look like, and almost like new.  This is not a full-on restoration by the use of a custom hood, non-original paint, and the lack of redlines on the tires, but it's more of a Resto-Mod (Restoration-Modification) and i'm proud of not only owning an original Redline, but also bringing one back to life!

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