Hot Wheels Collectors and Red Line Club: A Recollection of the Production Quantity Roller Coaster

The recent increase in Red Line Club release quantities has brought up more debate as to what is too much. While I have my own personal opinions on the matter, I feel it would be good to go over some of the history of the club, the drop off of production and seemingly meteoric rise in recent years. Now, fore warning, a lot of this is based on my memory and some recollections from members on the HWC/RLC message boards, so some things may not be exactly right as far as timing. But this should still give a good idea on how production amounts changed over the years. This will be a long article to bear with me; I will be leaving out a few items in my description of what has happened but overall those products followed the trend of everything else from HWC/RLC those same years.

Series 1 spoilers, ’67 Charger and Mutt Mobile. Say what you will but the Mutt is awesome.

The Red Line Club started with one primary mission, to make Hot Wheels in a similar way that they used to be made. In 2002, the first “series” of cars were released. The cars weren’t separated into NEO Classics or Real Riders yet, just all mixed into one line. The NEO Classics wheel took a page from Hot Wheels of old, being on bearings and designed to look like an old school “Mag” wheel. Real Riders are… well, Real Riders. That first year, the RLC Membership car was the ’67 Camaro in 2 versions: chrome with red stripes at 5k production and chrome with blue stripes at 10k production (there was a third, chrome with black stripes at 10k production, but I’m not totally sure it was a membership car). The majority of the cars that year had a production run of 10k pieces. Now, this was well before I joined the site, but I’ll say by 2009 not a single one of these was still in the shop. For 2003, with a better idea of how things were going, Red Line Club memberships went to 18k pieces with three versions of the Custom Mustang. This was the first year with the separate Series cars, this one with NEO Classics, Super Chromes and Flying Customs segments (4 cars each at 12500 production each). The bases of the cars started getting polished this year, starting with the Super Chromes releases. This was also when those in charge realized how important tooling was to the end product (the ’67 GTO from this set ended up being done in metallic paint due to not getting clean enough raw castings to plate and polish for spectraflame). They couldn’t rely on old tools and they had to go in a direction of creating new tools of still-in-use designs to get the super clean look they were going for with HWC cars.

Series 3, all four NEO Classics and 2 of the Super Chromes. Note the metallic paint on the GTO rather than spectraflame, due to the tooling for the car being quite old and the raw casting was too rough to correctly polish.
Series 3, a mix of NEO Classics and Real Riders.

A similar trend continued into 2004 and Series 3. Membership cars went to 20k total with three versions of the Custom Barracuda (based off of the King Kuda retool from 1999). Series 3 was changed to just NEO Classics and Real Riders, 6 cars each at 10500 production each. This was also the first year of RLC sElections, where the 4 chosen cars based on a voting process are made-to-order. Between the 4 cars, and members only being allowed to order 4 of each car per membership (remained this way for years, until the Texas Drive ‘Em in 2016), total ordered was up to a bit over 28k. The following year was more or less the same. 22k memberships with the Olds 442, Series 4 cars at 11k each for 12 cars. RLC sElections ordering went up to over 38k for the 4 vehicles (and the W-Oozie of this set was the single highest production of sElections at over 12k for quite a while). 2006 with Series 5 was again similar. Memberships were again 22k with the Beach Bomb Too and the Series cars stayed at 11k each, and sElections shy of 34k. Basically rinse and repeat for 2007 and Series 6: 22k memberships with the VW Drag Truck and 11k for series cars. RLC sElections was interesting that year, as there was a tie in one of the votes and we ended up with 5 vehicles. Between them, there were a total of a bit under 45k made (this was also the rise of the “Blue Real Riders Club” nickname, but that’s another story).

Series 4 NEO Classics with the lone Real Rider I have loose. Note the rear wheel on the Mighty Maverick; this was one of the faulty bearing-style NEO releases that drove them to the simpler design down the road.
No Series 5 Real Riders in my loose set yet, just these four NEO Classics. The TNT Bird and the ’57 Chevy were long-time place holders in the HWC shop well after I joined in 2009.

At this point, there’s a few things that need to be pointed out. For one, the series cars weren’t selling out as they originally did. This could be due to a few factors, as there was indeed a focus on resurrecting original RL era tools for use on the site, be it real cars or original HW designs. Even when I had joined the site in 2009, the shop still had pieces going back 2006/Series 5 (the ’57 Chevy and TNT Bird in particular), many of which took until well after I joined to fully sell out from the shop. Another thing that happened either during or after 2007 was they did a re-design on the NEO Classics wheel, going away from the “torsion bar system” and bearing style wheels, changing to an affixed version of the wheel and straight axles. This was done to help alleviate some of the issues they were having with the wheels not sitting as they should. A quick search of the aqua Mighty Maverick from Series 4 Neo Classics shows how this was becoming a problem (both loose ones I own have this issue). Much like many things that happen today, this change was met with quite a bit of criticism, though from what I understand, those that ran the HWC at the time had actually put it to a vote with the membership. Either way, they could see the sales on the site were starting to dwindle.

I only have these three Series 6 cars in my loose collection, all 3 of which with opening hoods. Sadly all 3 of these tools were only used the once. All three stayed in the shop for a number of years.
Four cars from Series 7. This was the only instance of the solid roof Evil Wheevil, and the Custom Charger retool sadly never saw a NEO Classics release to pay homage to the original. Again, another batch of cars that took several years to clear out of the HWC shop.

Series 7 in 2008 started the trend of declining production numbers of general releases. What’s interesting to note is that this is before the economy crash that happened later that year. Anyway, the Boss Hoss was chosen as the RLC membership car, still having 22k total memberships available. At this point I’m not sure if memberships ever sold out for this year (or really the prior couple years). For the Real Riders segment, most of the cars dropped to 10k production, though the Custom Charger retool (a personal favorite) was only at 7500. Same thing happened with NEO Classics, where numbers were dropped to 10k, except the Shelby Cobra at 7500. RLC sElections also showed a sharp decline from prior years, with only a bit over 25k ordered between the 4 winners. And as prior years, many of the series cars for this year were left unsold in the shop.

The infamous RLC sElections tie: ’69 GTO and Bye Focal from 2007. Blue With Real Riders Club, indeed.
Five of the Series 8 cars for my loose set. Three of these tools haven’t been seen since. The Sugar Caddy unfortunately became a “consolation prize” during the party car VVM fiasco, and they STILL had stock well after that.

Now on to 2009, which was used as a celebration for Larry Wood, and Series 8 was used to commemorate his legacy. The membership vehicle this year was the VW Drag Bus, but instead of the Chrome/Red/Blue/Purple colorways used the prior 3 years, they went with homages to the Flying Colors Olds 442 releases form the 1970s: police, fire chief, Army staff and taxi. The VW Drag Bus had been a collector darling since it debuted in 1996, so this was sure to be a hit and sell out all 22k memberships, especially for those that wanted all, right? Not quite…. Membership sold stalled out somewhere during the Army staff version of the bus for most of the year, almost not getting to the Taxi colorway until the latter half of the year (I recall this being somewhat different but, again, I was new to the site at the time). Series 8 went up to 18 cars, with 6 Real Riders, 6 NEO Classics, and 6 Larry Wood special cars. For Real Riders, production numbers were all over the place. A couple at 6500, one at 7500, one at 8500, then the (in hindsight) oddly only 3k for the ’83 Silverado and weirdly high 10k for the Baja Bruiser (which I think ended up being the longest lasting HWC Shop item). NEO Classics, 2 were at 6500, 2 at 7500, one at 8500 and one at 10k. Now I’m sure you noticed how this was a rather large decline from prior years. It’s possible this was due to the addition of the 6 Larry Wood cars (1 at 3500, 2 at 5000, 1 at 6500, 1 at 7500 and 1 at 8500), but I’m not totally sure on that. For sElections, and even further decline compared to 2008, with only 15500 total between the 4 winners ordered. Among these was the Gremlin Grinder, which had the lowest (at the time) production of any sElections release a 3071 ordered. A lot of the problem was it wasn’t the original winner of the vote, which was the Beatnik Bandit. There was a licensing issue and they weren’t able to clear the Bandit for release, and after another vote the Gremlin Grinder took the win. With the decline in interest and the economy likely also being a factor, about every car of Series 8 remained in the shop for quite a while (only the ’83 Silverado and I believe the ’38 Ford COE sold out before my arrival to the site).

Only two cars from Series 9. The Ice-T was the only time it ever had a metal roof from Hot Wheels. Yes, my Large and in Charger has a large chip on the front fender. Dropped it after I had opened it *d’oh*

2010 saw even more decline in members and production. RLC membership car was the resurrection of the Custom AMX, with 20k total memberships for with 4 colors (back to chrome/red/blue/purple). This one stalled out on purple, and honestly can’t remember if it indeed sold out or not (pretty sure it didn’t). The Series 9 cars saw production get slashed, with each only having 5k or 6k made each. This was also the first year that saw a drop in sElections releases, with only two votes this go round. Between the ’57 Buick Wagon and ’69 Camaro, only 8203 cars were made. My first year as a RLC member ended up being 2011, when the Custom Barracuda (a true retool this time) was the membership car, with only 15k memberships available. But also for the first time, Mattel offered what was called the Chrome Level membership, where returning RLC members could get all 4 colors of the membership car instead of having to buy separate memberships. With 2000 Chrome Level memberships offered and actually sold, this meant that only a total of 9000 RLC memberships were available. Following the trend of the prior few years, Series 10 cars were only 3500 or 4k pieces each. Of note, though, the members were offered a Subscription Plan, where you agreed to buy 1 of each of the 12 Series 10 cars. I believe 2000 of these were offered, all of which sold out. This meant that on the normal sale day, only 1500 or 2000 pieces were up for grabs. Even still, several of the Series cars remained in the shop for a little while. RLC sElections saw the first increase in orders in a few years, with the Blown Delivery winning one of the votes. This actually drove the memberships to sell out before the ordering window closed for the Blown Delivery. In the end the Blown Delivery earned 9408 orders, and the other winner (Ramblin Wrecker) getting 3192 orders. What was awesome for sElections planning this year was the interaction of Steve Vandervate and the members who would take part on the forums. From what I understand, this was the first time the membership had input beyond the normal voting process; Van had showed some early progress drafts on what he was doing with the Blown Delivery and it was a hit among the members, and the diamond plate effect on the Wrecker was at the urging of our input (this sort of set in motion his yearly interaction with the members on the boards to truly make the final designs all inclusive).

Three for Series 10. The Vicky was tooled to represent the “open shocks” version of the original, and both the Show Off and Breakaway Bucket were 3500 production pieces.
The only RLC membership cars I have loose: chrome and purple Classic ’57 Thunderbird. It’s actually the only one I’ve been able to acquire all 4 colors of so far.

2012 was an interesting year. The Chrome Level membership option remained, but I don’t think it completely sold out, so a bit more than 9000 memberships were available in the end (the Classic ’57 T-Bird wasn’t quite the hit Mattel had hoped). The Series 11 cars ended up all having 4k production, with the Subscription Plan again offered (which left 2000 of each Series car available on sale day). Also, while all HWC/RLC cars had typically remained at $14.99 since 2002, they upped the price by a dollar in 2012 due to increase in costs. This was also the first year that members were allowed to order 2 of the cars in the priority window (this actually meant that Subscription holders could end up with 3 of each car if they so chose). However, the extra releases that year were almost ALL made-to-order. By this point, the plant in China where the cars were being made with the polished chrome plating were starting to put Mattel releases on the back burner, prioritizing bigger money-making projects. With that issue, backorders were a big problem with the Series cars and the extensive number of made-to-order items. And with the further declining interest in the RLC, everything suffered. The Original 16 releases that year were made to order, and that’s the reason the Hot Heap and Beatnik Bandit are so insanely hard to come by now (only 2400 and 1800 made, respectively). RLC sElections with the Mob Rod and Mighty Maverick were extremely low with 3981 and 2400 pieces respectively (and to note, the Maverick wasn’t the one that won; the Street Snorter was technically the winner, but they couldn’t get the tooling ready, so they went with the Mighty Maverick before ordering commenced, which is essentially the Street Snorter but with a wing; many members were quite unhappy over this, likely causing a decrease in orders). There was a made-to-order HW Racing deco Convoy Custom that only had a bit over 5500 ordered, but the final product was sub par with the wheels being too small. This added to the the compounding issues with the production plant.

My lone loose Series 11 car: ’71 Plymouth GTX Real Rider.

OK, are you still with me? Cool. Go ahead and grab a drink and snack. Because this is where things really change.

Series 12: the beginning of the “mirrorized” production process. I’ll have to get some pictures with better lighting, but trust me, these were rather inferior to prior releases, but it wasn’t too big a problem to me as they were only $9.99 each. At least, for a while they were…

On to 2013. Started out normal enough, with the ’68 COPO Camaro membership car, with again about 9000 RLC memberships sold with the Chrome level offer and the standard memberships. A few non-series hold-overs from 2012 were sold at the beginning of 2013, but at a price increase to $19.99 (blue ’72 Torino, green Datsun 240Z, antifreeze VW Ghia). These were the last items to come from the China plant (for now). The big news was the change for the Series cars and HWC/RLC cars going forward: they were changing the process in the cars, as well as the price. Instead of going with the chrome plated polished look that had to be essentially contracted out, they developed an in-house process to attempt to get the look. They called it “mirrorized” and it was apparently less invasive than having to go the plating route, which was getting too expensive for the production numbers to justify. With this new process they were able to control it themselves, in the hopes of not being able to stick to a schedule. And with this new process, the Series 12 cars were to drop in price to $9.99 each. They ended up dropping 4 series cars in favor of doing 4 Gulf themed releases. Sub plan remained (only for the 8 Series 12 cars). Production numbers remained quite low still, as demand in the years leading up to 2013 had, as shown in the previous paragraphs, declined quite a bit. We were also left to be able to order 2 on sale day. The first mirrorized car to go up for sale I believe was the ’92 Mustang with 3500 pieces (strangely the only one not at a 4500 production number). At $9.99 it was an instant hit. But the real test was the TWO Blown Deliveries. One Real Rider with large HW logos on the sides, one NEO Classic in an olive delivery deco (which was not the original planned release; it actually changed at the urging of the membership because of a drawing of a shelved livery Mr. Vandervate showed the message board). Those Blown Deliveries broke the mold. Near instant sell-outs were unheard of on the HWC/RLC shop. The four Gulf series cars had 4000 pieces each, of which I believe both the GT-40 and Porsche 917k were not sell-outs the first day. This was also the year of the RLC Datsun 510 Bluebird, which had 3000 pieces made. And yes, it too was $9.99. And if I recall correctly, it was NOT an instant sell out, I believe it took a couple hours. And yes, we were able to order 2 of it. Now with the new production process of course came delays. Backorders were still a thing. There was more to it than meets the eye… You see, two of the Series 12 cars ended up being made and shipped in two separate batches due to production issues: NEO Classics Convoy Custom and Real Riders Dairy Delivery. The Dairy actually has a clear way to tell what was done in which batch: xxx/4500 stickers were first batch, xxx/1000 stickers were second. Of course you could also just look at the base codes to tell the difference. At least the first mirrorized sElections, the purple Long Gone and yellow ’69 Mustang, had respectable production numbers for the time, at ~4500 and ~4000 respectively.

Series 13, the last for the “mirrorized” cars. Actually was able to snag extras of all 4 NEO Classics releases that year, and had to have an extra loose Breakaway Bucket because I just love the casting.

Moving on to 2014, the Drag Dairy was the membership vehicle. Same story as before, 9000 memberships with the Chrome level memberships selling out once again. The delays in these membership vehicles was… astounding. I don’t think we received them until late in the year. Series 13 production generally dropped to 3000-4500 production, though the Subscription plan was upped to 2500 plans. This left only 500 cars available on sale day for a few of Series cars (including my beloved Breakaway Bucket and ’64 Dodge 330). Backorders mounted this year, and membership was extended through 2015. A lot of the Series cars weren’t made available for purchase until 2015 (Belvedere in February, ’83 Silverado 4×4 in July, Maxi Taxi in September). In fact, the Series 13 Subscription plan that year wasn’t offered until NOVEMBER. People think things are bad now? You weren’t around 7 years ago. 2015 was the year of the infamous ’55 Chevy Gasser “Candy Striper”. This, along with the Gulf ’67 Camaro, were questioningly raised to $19.99, when this whole sub-par mirrorized process was supposed to make things cheaper. For the Candy, we were limited to 1 per membership, the first time that happened since before 2012. This may be hard to fathom, but it didn’t sell out that first day. No, 9000 memberships did not actually go to purchase the Candy Striper. It didn’t sell out until the next day when it was erroneously opened to non-RLC members with no quantity limit. We were allowed to order 2 of the Gulf ’67 Camaro a week later, but quality control on that was atrocious. There were TONS of paint issues on that one, where the orange stripes and deco weren’t adhering to the Gulf blue paint. The sElections cars for this two-year membership ended up being the Firebird Funny Car and Custom AMX. The Firebird ended up being one of the absolute, hands down best quality releases of the mirrorized look, which on top of the quality issues and delays, was notorious for orange-peel. And then the AMX… this one took FOR-EV-ER to arrive. Plus orders were hindered by the pink used as it wasn’t the pink many seemed to expect (another situation where people not partaking in discussions on the RLC boards lose their voice, because in the vote thread there was a lot of talk about making this like the Playboy Bunny Car instead of the more “hot pink” many expected). They ended up scrapping a large batch of them due to paint issues, and even then when the “good” ones arrived there were still issues. I’ve ended up with 3 of them, and one of the 2 I opened is missing a section of pink on one of the rear pillars.

2015 RLC sElections AMX.
Quick side-by-side shot of the Series 10 NEO Classics Breakaway Bucket and Series 12 Real Riders Breakaway Bucket.

I think it was around this time that more and more of the shop stragglers started to finally disappear. To go along with the original sentiment of the RLC, many cars released over the prior 13-ish years were retools of HW original designs, or just straight fantasy cars. Pit Crew Car, Mantis, Rocket-Bye-Baby, Sand Crab; these all remained in the shop for years, but cars like the ’80 El Camino, ’65 Mustang Coupe, ’57 Chevy, ’68 El Camino, Maverick Grabber, these remained side-by-side with those originals as well. Even big money cars nowadays like the ’85 Camaro IROC and green Datsun 240Z hung out in the shop for a weirdly long time, needing a Thursday “deal of the day” sale to clear out (for a while they’d do a sale every Thursday, taking a car that’s been in the shop for a while and mark it down to half price to move product). Eventually RLC Rewards points could be used towards items still in the shop, and even then it was hard to get rid of everything. Before the shop finally cleaned out, Series 8’s Baja Bruiser and Pit Crew Car the final pests in the kitchen. So while the HW Original designs did take forever to move out of the shop, a lot of real cars took a good long time as well. And again, these were items that had production numbers often under 10k.

Series 14, the last of the specific NEO Classics and Real Riders sub-set Series cars for HWC. These are the only 2 I have loose. The quality with going back to the chrome plated and polished process is very evident having these two in hand.

Moving into 2016, after all the complaints and issues with doing these things in house on top of some of the price increases despite the inferior product, they decided to move back to the original chrome plating and polish and the plant in China. The membership for this year was the ’55 Chevy Gasser, and back to 3 colors instead of 4 (chrome/black, red/white, blue/white). With the Chrome Level membership again offered, total memberships available after Chrome sold out was at 9000. The number of Series cars remained at eight, but production numbers went up, I’m guessing partly due to deals with the production company. Production quantities were back up to 5000-7500, roughly 2009 Series 8 numbers. With the return to polished chrome plating, these cars started to sell out again. Not always immediately, but a lot quicker than most the last 10 years. We did lose yet another sElections car, but this time ordering limits were lifted, so we were allowed to order however many we wanted. With the winner that year being the Texas Drive ‘Em, and the beautiful blue and white one from 2012 growing in popularity, around 9000 of them were ordered. Unfornately, thanks to yet more delays due to the plant change, membership was essentially extended through 2017, but at least we got a bonus sElections release out of it with the “Gassa Nova” ’66 Chevy Super Nova (which moved over 11k units).

Tale of two ’72 Torinos: the blue being one of the last of the original plated and polished cars, olive being one of the first after going back

2018 saw some more changes. The membership car went to one colorway only, which was a first for the club. We saw the debut of the NEO RR wheel (which I feel unfairly criticized due to the execution). They jumped the membership number back to 17500. The membership car was the Datsun 510, a casting that saw a meteoric rise after the RLC BRE and Vintage Racing BRE caught world-wide attention. This year also saw the death of the NEO Classics/Real Riders series, and everything was just its own release at this point. The year was used as a final dash to get the Original 16 line completed (as the plan to do 2 a year from 2011-2018 completely fell flat after all the issues), and NEOs ruled the sales that year. The sElections car hit a new record, too, with upwards of 20k 240Z’s ordered. Going into 2019, production numbers went up even more on releases, many getting 10000-12500 production runs. And they were selling out! 2019 was the first year that the membership car went unnumbered, along with the sElections car. And now 2020. Membership is seemingly unlimited, and production runs are 15000-20000. And outside the Holiday Hi-Po, they sell out.

A few HWC convention special releases. For a number of years, Hot Wheels would make a HWC/RLC-level release for the spring Nationals and fall Conventions, separate from the RLC party car.

Oh, one other thing: RLC Rewards used to be awesome. While the first year of them in 2006 was poorly executed (distribution was a CF from what I’m told), the subsequent years were pretty cool. 2007’s set were enamel but the cards made a whole scenery, 2008 had all Heavyweights castings, 2009 were two-tone chrome and spectraflame color (which was a first), 2010 had Golden Machines tribute Super Chromes. They went down to 2 cars starting in 2011, with the Heavy Chevy and SS Express celebrating 100 years of Chevrolet. 2012 had the Hudson Hornet and VW Drag Truck, and weren’t related in any way. 2013 went down to one Rewards car, a green Beatnik Bandit that actually used the shelved deco from the cancelled 2009 RLC sElections release. The next two dedicated Rewards cars were the blue ’66 Chevy Super Nova, and the blue Boss Hoss Mustang. And sadly, the Boss Hoss was the last, adding a 5th Spoiler to the set of 4 from earlier that year.

Well, there you have it. The beginning, decline and resurrection of the Red Line Club. Hopefully that gives some insight as to why production numbers were so low for a while. There was more to it than I think many newer collectors realize. The demand just wasn’t there at the time. People also wonder about prices, well, chrome plating and hand polishing aren’t cheap. The way the cars are done now was never the $9.99 price point of the mirrorized cars that some people point to as far as cost is concerned. On top of that, actual tooling the last several years has been fully exclusive to RLC. Remember how I mentioned that new tooling often had to be created for HWC/RLC cars earlier in the article? That development isn’t cheap. Yes, the cars are getting up there in price. But there’s more to these cars than I think most of those griping about the prices realize. Plus, licensing costs. For a long time, I think being able to do a lot of HW Original designs in HWC/RLC helped keep some of the costs down. That’s not really the case anymore, everything they’ve been doing the last couple years outside the Steam Punk Truck has been a licensed release. Time will tell how the production numbers affect things going forward. Here’s hoping whatever happens, HWC/RLC remains alive and well for years to come.

If this has intrigued interest in the old (or even new) releases from HWC and RLC, be it the NEO Classics series, HWC convention cars or any other random shiny car, check out the old and new Red Line Club releases on eBay (click here). You won’t be disappointed.

5 Replies to “Hot Wheels Collectors and Red Line Club: A Recollection of the Production Quantity Roller Coaster”

  1. I have been collecting since 1966. First with Matchbox then upgrading to Hot Wheels. At no point over the last 15 years have I been able to secure an RLC membership possibly due to collectors having multiple accounts. This leaves me to the aftermarket scalpers to get a chance to buy the cars I want. For a guy who has been collecting their cars for (essentially) all his life this is frustrating and often makes me want to quit the brand. There are plenty others to choose from. Sorry for the rant, but coming from a collector who has a collection of approximately 15,000 cars I welcomed this chance to speak out. Mattel always declines to respond on a yearly basis.

    1. Huh, how could you not get a RLC membership in the past 15 years? Up until like three years ago, you had a week, 10 years ago months to get one.

  2. One of the things dropped from the rlc cars that may not have been mentioned or seemed important to anyone but me, was the rlc logo on the cars. I think the graphics of rlc at that time was a higher quality and able to print that logo clear and small. The best quality issued imo was the red blown delivery and the blue selections blown delivery. I still have trouble getting some rlc that have high product numbers, but at 15 to 20k production I figure the secondary market prices cannot hold. I am all for killing off the secondary market with the new release production numbers. It has always griped me that as a club member I could not get cars that pages of epay were full of, even before the sale.

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