Chuck:

"April 6, 1968,  my next door neighbor, and best friend, got a Strip Action Set for his birthday. Five pieces of track, four joiners, and a blue Custom Camaro with black vinyl top. I cannot recall if we had seen any commercials beforehand or not, but that car whizzing down the track sure was cool."

 
         
  And that's how Mattel hit the market with Hot Wheels. Until then, toy cars were made to be driven around firmly pinched between thumb and forefinger. Hot Wheels were a new breed of diecast metal cars. Free rolling wheels were an innovation. Sounds absurd now. But, for whatever reason, it wasn't until 1967 that anyone had even thought of a non-powered car that could travel any distance with a simple push....or gravity. Mattel didn't just introduce new diecast cars. They developed orange track to run them on.  
         
  Well, as usually happens in the free market, all of the other companies had to play catch up. Hot Wheels caught on so fast in 1968 that there were several other companies with their own cars and playsets by Christmas. Matchbox, Corgi and Aurora were three brands with existing product that were updated to compete with the upstart. Matchbox created the SuperFast line. Corgi introduced Rockets. Aurora retrofitted their HO scale Cigar Box cars with Speedline wheels.  
         
  We'll take a closer look today at the latter of the three. For the most part, the Cigar Box cars were simply slot car bodies fitted on to metal chassis with the same rubber tires as used on the slot track. Aurora's answer to Hot Wheels was to add wire thin axles and skinny, low-friction mag wheels. To complete the new look, they were given bright chrome paint jobs which included racing stripes. Many popular makes were used such as Ferraris, Porsches, Camaros, Willy's Gassers, etc.  
         
  Screws were used to attach the body to the chassis. These were interchangeable with the Aurora slot cars.  

 
 

 
         
 

The cars are kind of cool to collect now. Back then, they were a bit unattractive (note the stance from the head on view). Hot Wheels looked like real tires but maintained low-friction with the raised edge on the inside of the wheel that was the only part that

 

 

actually touched surface. Another problem was that the Speedline cars still used the plastic bodies that were manufactured for slot cars. They were broken easily. Mostly the front window pillars. Finding one without broken pillars is tough for collectors.

 
 

 

     
 

Barbara:

"At Christmas one year, on the list was the 'Orange Track' I looked at all the stores for the track and, finally, a week before Christmas, I found it. This, I figured, would keep the three of them happy and out of my hair. Christmas morning all the packages were opened that Santa brought, and the orange track was the favorite of the day. I lived in a mobile home and the track was run all the way down the hall and little cars all over. What a mess, but what happy little boys...."

 
         
 

 
         
 

I picked up this set last year. Being the avid track collector, I didn't have a Speedline set. I had always wanted to try one out. This one was a great opportunity. Not only was it a one piece, dual-lane track, but it also had eight cars that came with it.

 
         
   
         
  The setup is pretty basic. A straight line of track with a start, a loop and a finish. The track itself is a plus. One piece, no connectors. The one drawback (to me) is that it is made for the Speedline cars. They are HO scale and that makes the Hot Wheels cars too wide for the lanes. I like my track sets to be semi-compatible so I can run all types of 1:64 cars.

Starting the cars is a simple tray on top of the clamp the uses a dumping action to send them on their way.

 

 
     
 

  The most fascinating detail about this set was not found in the box, however. It is the sticker on the bottom.  
         
  Hot Wheels were so popular in their first year, Sears was substituting this Aurora Speedline set that came with two cars and added a bonus pack of six more cars. Considering the shape of this set 35 years later, I'm thinking the recipient wasn't impressed.  
         
 

Joe:

"Every Christmas cars and accessories were at the top of the wish list and we always got a few cars. We felt like kings! Parents and grandparents could have skipped the socks and underwear. If we were given 5 or 6 cars, that would have taken care of the Holidays. We always spent Christmas at my grandparents house and they kept dozens of cars in the toy box. They both worked at Sears (when Sears sold toys) so keeping a fresh stock wasn't a problem for them."

 
         
  Isn't it ironic that Joe's grandparents worked at Sears? Well, I hope you have enjoyed this bit of history. Part of this article was a little bit of a review on a little known track set. Part is a bit of insight into the domination of Hot Wheels that began with a bang 35 years ago. And a bit was (as is usual here and out in the collecting world) fond memories of how it all began for most of us.  
         
 

Joe:

"Then Hot Wheels gave way to AFX and other slot cars for a long time."

 
         
 

Good thing Aurora kept making slot cars....huh?

---Keldog

 
         
 

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