the 1930's - Art Deco
the 1950's - Fins and Chrome
the 1960's - Power, Speed, Italian Style
the 1970's - Baroque, Neo-Classic
the 1980's - Excess and Opulence
the 1990's - Retro Roadsters
|Since the 1930's, automotive style has come in waves. Fads and trends come
and go as car designers try to re-invent the box on wheels. It is not easy
to find new ground, year in, year out. While these trends vary depending
on geographic and cultural influences, some trends are more global. Good
or bad, these stages of automotive design help us define the history of
While most toy cars simply reflect existing models of production cars, one company has consistently offered something more. While Hot Wheels may not be the most accurate or offer the best detail, some of the most creative small-scale diecast cars have come from Mattel. Over the years, Hot Wheels has produced an incredible variety of toy cars and continues to do so.
Three recent models provided the motivation for this story. Each seemed to represent a school of automotive design but at the same time was not an example of a real or production car. Whether pure fantasy or based on dream-car designs, these models provided an icon of the design extremes. As these new models represented the 1930's, 50's and 60's, it only remained to select like models for the 1970's, 80's and 90's.
In the 1930's, Paris was the center of automotive design and the custom bodied Delage, Delahye or even Dusenberg was the epitome of style. Hot Wheels' Phantastique takes the sweeping art deco lines to an extreme that could have come from the design house of Figoni and Falashi. All the styling cues are here. Hidden headlights, covered wheels, chromed rocker panels and the raked windshield all make this a perfect icon of style from the 1930's.
If the car representing the 1950's looks familiar, that's because it incorporates several cars into one. Produced by Hot Wheels as the car from Toy Story 2, this is a perfect icon for the age. The nose is 1957 Lincoln, the tail is 1960 Cadillac and the sides are 1957 Ford. The two-tone is perfect in turquoise and white. This is a very well-done model for Hot Wheels and to date, has only been offered in the Toy Story 2 gift pack.
For the 1960's, the rakish Thomassima III is a perfect icon. On the base, it reads 'designed by Tom Meade', the first time I have seen a designer credited on a diecast base. This car has all the Italian styling cues of the period. The flying buttresses, side scoops, vents and nose are Pininfarina trademarks featured on many Ferraris. The long hood owes some credit to Sir William Lyons of Jaguar and the Kamm tail completes the ensemble. This car has the flavor of the Drogo bodied Ferrari models and is a delightful, over-the-top design.
With the 1970's, automotive design was forced to deal with external forces such as fuel shortages and emission regulations. One result was the baroque school of design that added hood ornaments, opera windows and continental tire bulges in place of truly innovative design ideas. This neo-classic trend was started by Virgil Exner of Chrysler in the 1960 but truly came to fruition in the 1970's with models like the T-Bird, Monte Carlo, Toronado and Cordoba. The perfect representative of this trend is the Stutz Blackhawk. This custom-bodied car used a Pontiac Grand Prix platform and power train. The body was indeed an Exner design and featured free-standing headlamps, a classic grill, side pipes and the trademark Exner 'toilet-seat' continental tire bulge. Hot Wheels produced the only model of the Blackhawk in 1979 and it was only recently discontinued. Unlike the previous cars, the Stutz was actually produced in limited production, and perfectly represents '70's baroque.
Cars became smaller and squarer in the 1980's while the Donald Trump types practiced the fine art of excess. This trend toward opulent consumption spawned the yuppie culture and a re-birth of materialism as the prime motivator. Hot Wheels produced a model the is a perfect icon to materialism in the Limozeen of 1990. The gold plated model is truly gilding the faux lily. The front grill is a bit Lincolnesque while the top and tail are from the Cadillac school. The modest side-mount tire bulges in front of the windshield are as silly as they are a sign of the times. While the 1980's also saw some positive design trends, the Limozeen represents the worst of the yuppie culture.
By the 1990's designers had found several new trends for Automotive style. Square was out and round back in. Small could be made to look good and big was relegated to the regressive SUV, monster truck market. While SUV's and trucks could be considered the dominant trend of the 1990's, these are not cars and that's the focus here. Two other trends have come with the 1990's. Retro-style is back with models like the VW Beetle and this trend combined with the re-birth of the roadster to produce cars like the Dodge Viper, BMW Z3, Porsche Boxter and Mazda Miata. Hot Wheels has done all these cars but in 1993, they produced a Corvette show car, the Stingray III. Originally done as one of the cars featured in a forgettable Sly Stallone movie, this GM dream car never saw production. While the model is not one of Hot Wheels best, it does represent the twin themes of retro and roadster. The curved, pointy nose and faired head-rests are a nod to the roadsters of the '50's-'60's with a '90's twist. GM may regret that the Stingray III was not put into production as it might have sold well against the competition.
None of these models represent the best or brightest of automotive design, that was not the idea. These cars represent the extremes of each decade. Perfection is always one step below excess and all of these cars are several floors beyond excess. Hot Wheels has never been afraid of making cars into cartoons and in doing so have produced models that are as much fun as they are fantasy.