The views expressed in this piece are solely my own and do not reflect the opinions of the other Lamley writers.
Tuesday, March 16, marked opening day for the 2021 Red Line Club season and Mattel certainly came out swinging. Their heavy-hitting VW Drag Bus, a casting of Babe Ruth proportions, was dressed in pinstripes as an ode to the ’55 Gasser ‘Candy Striper’ that was part of the 2014 team and has reached stratospheric values on the secondary market (Have you checked it lately?) The inclusion of ‘Type II’ into the deco was a clever line referencing both the air-cooled VW platform and the second coming of the Striper. It was not going to last long, so as the clock neared noon for Eastern Standard time dwellers (myself included), countless fans lined up in front of their Internet connection devices and prepared themselves to become one of the lucky 20k (five times the original Gasser) that would claim ownership once the dust had settled.
In three minutes, the entire stock had been exhausted as an indeterminate number of members were left scrambling through random reCAPTCHA wondering what constitutes a crosswalk. Even though I had multiple fishing poles in the water, I still missed out on the VW Drag Bus. I was waiting in line for eight minutes before I made it to the Continue to Payment screen and by the time I chose the right bicycles and checked I wasn’t a robot, it was gone. The big one got away.
With Mattel’s introduction of a digital RLC membership for 2021 that eschews the constraints of the physical kit (Membership car, patch and button), they’ve essentially lifted the limits at the community pool without considering there is a finite amount of people that can fit and enjoy the water without having to worry about drowning. Where was the lifeguard on duty when the suits decided that was a good idea; to make sure no one was “left out of the club,” as Mattel puts it. That digital membership is still available, and will be all year, so who’s to say that many multiples of last year’s membership count will all be grabbing at the same 20,000 cars each time a sale goes live. For the more desirable cars, there are going to be a lot of disappointed people, much more so than last year. Seems contrary to Mattel’s initial reasoning of the digital membership, because while everyone gets to participate, even more will miss out on the trophy.
In my opinion, Mattel needs to either throttle back on Red Line Club memberships or shift up production numbers. Since we know the former is out of the question for this year, you think they’ll bump production numbers on future releases? That could have other unintended effects such as members not seeing the pieces as collectible or desirable anymore, regardless of how cool they are. For a far more detailed post on RLC production numbers and why they are what they are, check out Derek’s post HERE.
That brings me to my second point and the catalyst for my fired synapses and flappy fingers: the secondary market for RLC releases, which I understand is not a new concept.
Before the Unlimited Membership Period (UMP), there was a set number of RLC members who had a chance to purchase the newest RLC release before standard HWC members got a bite at the apple. I can’t think of many recent instances in which the sale made it that far before selling out – maybe the unfortunate 2020 Holiday car did? Regardless, those that missed out had to find their way to either eBay, or The Toy Peddler, or some other secondary channel to add the piece to their collection. Focusing on eBay as the source, once there, the poor saps would be presented with countless listings for the sold out car at what seemed to be an arbitrary price. I still remember having to do that with the 2015 RLC Shelby SCCA-inspired Toyota 2000 GT. I really wanted one to open even though, six years later, both still remain blistered in a bin in my basement.
How do the sellers determine the Candy Striper VW, and all the preceding RLC sellout’s value when they head to the ‘Bay after a successful snipe of the fresh release? Does one person say, you know what, I think that’s easily worth $100 or more and the rest of the sellers follow suit? As I type this post, there are currently 247 live listings, some sponsored, some Buy It Now, most well over the hundred dollar mark. One auction’s starting bid is $180, with a BIN of $630! Thankfully for the good of common sense and the future of humanity, there are no bids. As far as sold listings, that number is just under 1,200, or six percent of total sold. I am sure that number is going to go up as people start to receive their orders. I can tell you that I want the Candy Striper VW, but at the going rate, it’s not a need – I can’t be a player for those prices, as Mike Wolfe would say.
Or perhaps I’m just wrong, or bitter, and the Drag Bus sold the way it did, not because of increased members, but because of the hype bestowed upon it from the ’55 Gasser’s northward trajectory in resale value. Will the same interest be there for the upcoming ’32 Ford, or the DeTomaso Mangusta? What about the ’64 Impala? Will I and many, many others be shut out from adding those sweet diecast models to their collections at a reasonable cost? If only the Rodger Dodger Magic 8-Ball was more accurate…
And I know RLC cars are not outliers in the collector world and outrageous secondary market prices. As with anything desirable, there are going to be the people who want it, the people who can afford it no matter the cost, and those who are looking to make money off the ones with the deepest pockets. Maybe it’s those deep pocketed people who guide the value of a certain piece – something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay, so if they’re paying up, it’s going to shift the market.
Again, I understand it’s a free market and people can list whatever price they feel their item is worth. I get it. It’s going to be interesting to see if the market cools down after the folks who missed out get their fix from price gouged auctions. Who knows, though, given that the Candy Striper Gasser’s value continues shoot skyward (and granted, I mentioned above they made one fifth as many Gassers as Drag Buses). As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. In this case, however, the gross amount of people in the boat looking to flip their purchases for a quick profit has the possibility of capsizing it, thus spelling out doom and gloom for everyone on board. And unless Mattel throws a life preserver in the form of significantly increased productions numbers, I think a lot of those people are going to find a new boat.