Being the greatest of anything is a big claim. Hot Wheels has been gracing kids and car lovers of every age with amazing toy cars for over 50 years, and along the way there has been some pretty impressive castings. From the original 16 Redlines to the current Car Culture premium lines, the Hot Wheels catalog of castings ranges from basic to downright spectacular. When you really dig in and look at some of the brand’s various lines, like Sizzlers, Crack-Ups, Rrrumblers, Flip-Outs, Scene Machines, Real Riders, RLC releases, Car Culture, Retro Entertainment, 100% — you’ll see they contain some true icons of the industry. Along the way Mattel has snuck in some real gems, and one of those lesser known releases is what I consider to be in the running for greatest Hot Wheels ever: the 1997 Hot Wheels NASCAR Legends Kyle Petty Pontiac Grand Prix.
I’m sure some of you see the word NASCAR and want to skip right over this, but keep reading as this is no ordinary Sunday stocker. This NASCAR has some big secrets, and came in what is possibly the biggest and most elaborate single-car retail Hot Wheels packaging ever. Let’s dig in and see what makes this car an epic stand-out.
Ever since the first releases in 1968, Hot Wheels mainline packaging has remained pretty similar — but premium releases often get a special treatment. From the individual boxes some RLC cars come in, to the “oil can” cars of the 2000s, and the masterful SDCC releases, premiums take packaging to the next level. The 1997 Legends release takes packaging even further with a near foot-long box. Yes, a 10.5 inch long box for a single car.
While I had checked the box for contents when I bought it, I hadn’t “opened” the car yet. I did an unboxing video of it and was GEEKED about the car — more on that to follow though. The box contained the car itself housed in a Danbury Mint type Styrofoam cube, a bag of paperwork, and a two-tiered acrylic showcase wrapped in bubble wrap.
The extra large acrylic showcase (almost six inches long) has a mirrored base and an angled back, almost like an extra shiny banked turn of Daytona. Its two-tiered design signals something extraordinary is meant to be displayed in it.
The car itself is housed in its own private vault with a light sheet of plastic over the top to protect it even further. Mattel went to great lengths to protect this model and it worked – 23 years later the car looks showroom fresh.
After two decades in a box, the car still looks excellent. The colors are vibrant, the tampos are very crisp, and the body detailing looks pretty accurate. Although King Richard still holds the title for most recognizable Petty livery, Kyle’s Hot Wheels theme is pretty recognizable – and was one I grew up with. Hot Wheels plastered the car EVERYWHERE, and I mean everywhere. The car was on storage cases, book bags, store displays, anything a budding car lover would beg their moms’ for. As a NASCAR fan I would watch Kyle race on Sunday, then hop over to our Hot Wheels XV Racers Daytona 500 track and played with it until my brothers and I ran it out of batteries. And this Legends release embodies the real car perfectly.
The car is downright beautiful. The tampos are equal to or better than anything Hot Wheels currently makes – which is amazing given it was made using 20+ year old technology. All of the contingency and sponsor logos are readable, the windows have raised/colored safety bars on them, and the lower grille tampos are some of the cleanest tampos I’ve seen on any car, modern or otherwise.
The side windows on the car also have nice detailing and simulated vents molded into them. The car looks good from any angle, including from above.
The wheels are typical NASCAR color matched steel wheels wrapped in yellow-letter Goodyear Eagles. They look great on the car and roll nicely, which is always a plus in my book.
As you can probably tell from some of the photos above, the body has an opening hood which reveals a detailed engine bay. A moving part is a welcomed addition to this already detailed casting.
Now you may be thinking this is a nice casting, but the best ever? Not so much. I have to admit I was impressed but not greatest ever impressed, until….
IT HAS A REMOVABLE BODY!
While at first I wasn’t sure if the body was actually removable, but after a few tries of delicate prying I was able to pop it free…and holy smokes it’s impressive. Watch me comically struggle to find out the body did indeed come off:
Yes, the body comes off this beauty to reveal a very detailed chassis. Seriously – this is the most intricately detailed Hot Wheels I’ve ever seen. I have several 100% and Kalifornia Kustoms models that have removable parts or bodies, like the Toyota Tundra Baja and Jack Baldwin’s 1994 Camaro Race Car (which is a very close 2nd as my personal #1 pick for greatest Hot Wheels ever…if not tied for 1st, and definitely the greatest Camaro), but neither of those have a detailed chassis, removable body and an opening hood.
The chassis of the car is the most impressive part. The detail Mattel went to in order to make the car as accurate as possible is definitely noticeable, especially with the body removed.
From front to back it’s packed with race car goodies. The front end has an engine bay enclosed in protective tubing, along with visible suspension components. I love the blue valve covers and the silver accents on the radiator fan and shroud.
The interior is a maze of tubing and cooling ducts, just like a real NASCAR. What amazes me about this car is that the roll bar is separate from the blue cooling ducts, and has the vertical bars coming up through the dashboard area — the level of detail in this is really something else.
As you can see the driver’s side of the roll cage is detailed with several black portions to signify they are covered in safety padding, along with the window net. The dashboard has silver rimmed gauges that look like they even have some face detailing on them, but it is a little hard to see. But the details Hot Wheels added to the Legacy cars don’t stop there – the passenger side seat well has what I believe are the on-board telemetry and electronics on it, which are a different shade of blue (bright blue metallic color).
The details flow through the car like a Talladega back-stretch draft, with more tidbits out back. The rear end holds the silver fuel cell and filler nozzle – which does lineup to the exterior fuel “door”. The whole fuel cell area is protected with another simulated roll bar, just like the real cars had.
Think we’re done yet? Nope! Flip the car over and there is whole ‘nother world hiding beneath the chassis. The engine cradle and rearend components are color matched in Hot Wheels blue, and the full-length headers go all the way to the side exit exhaust pipes. The transmission is silver as is the bottom of the fan/air induction up front, and the driveshaft is a nice white/gray color. This car is a stunner from top to bottom.
The whole body-less chassis is a masterpiece in itself, and looks like a genuine NASCAR stocker, just a touch smaller.
Hot Wheels was ready for you to be impressed and knew you’d want to show off your newly purchased NASCAR, so they did indeed include a dual level display so you could see all those spectacular body-off details.
How rad is that?! The banked mirror design lets you see almost every angle of the car, including the chassis detailing a “regular” display wouldn’t allow.
I know that was a long post, but in my opinion the car deserved the hype. No other single release, licensed 1/64th Hot Wheels car I know of has its own two-tiered showcase, a removable metal body with moving parts, a painted metal chassis with separate suspension components, a detailed interior with multiple pieces and paint colors, and last but not least, Goodyear Real Riders. Simply put, the 1997 Hot Wheels NASCAR Legends collection cars are in a class all their own, and the true Winner’s Circle is at home in your collection 🏁