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.
38 Replies to “The Red Line Club Conundrum.”
The worst thing about toy collecting is toy companies taking notice of toy collectors.
I don’t fault Mattel for trying to maximize profit here, either for the HWC club or Mattel as a whole. End of the day all that matters is the MAT share price (and I do have MAT and it has done VERY well this last year, up 160%!).
I suppose we need to readjust our expectations going forward. Probably going to me more misses than hits for the dedicated collector. We can only hope they up production numbers.
That’s an interesting opening line. It’s a double edged sword – you definitely want, as a collector, to be able to have your voice heard as far as what’s released and whatnot. But that needs to be balanced with the company not trying to overdraw on its collector base and really dilute the experience by chasing profit.
But a profitable is an existing one, so there’s that. I dumped MAT a long time ago when the bottom really fell out of it.
I agree though on your final point – I don’t think it’s going to be shooting fish in a barrel anymore for anyone…we’ll have to see how the next sale goes.
I am completely befuddled by what Mattel is doing. The RLC is no longer exclusive. A ten dollar fee to join will make so many people disappointed. If a 20,000 run casting will sell out in three minutes then my chances of getting things I want is reduced massively. My son got one I did not. I’m fine if I don’t get everything I go after but now many many thousands have a chance for these offerings and the exclusivity is gone. And in this case I am rightfully disappointed.
This right here is exactly what Mattel should be concerned about – the luster of exclusivity has been exchanged for a quick grab of $10 from an unlimited amount of people who want to be involved.
If they had kept the membership to the same numbers and maybe offered a split between digital and not (and offering surplus club cars later in the year), I’m sure there wouldn’t be as big an issue.
The answer to this question is how many are staying in collectors hands and how many are selling on the internet for an outrageous profit?
Based off my quick math of eBay listings, it seems about 7.5% have already gone from sellers to collectors.
Unpopular opinion; I find RLC membership (and the diecasts sold exclusively) are undesirable. The mad race to exclusivity doesn’t interest me one bit but furthermore, the prices demanded for these things on listings afterwards is pretty laughable. It’s not my cup of tea.
Totally understandable. 20,000+ people may disagree, but that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.
Non collectors have figured out how to utilize bots to get the product and flip it…They are coming into our territory beating us to the register then selling it back to us at triple the price.
This is accurate.
I understand i’m the minority here. Detail & quality > Exclusivity
That is definitely a good mantra to collect by. Thankfully I haven’t fallen under the spell of Green Machines or Ultra Reds or I’d be in trouble, ha.
Same here. For the same price, I would be more happy to get a bunch of 90s’ basics instead of this.
It would be interesting to see the growth in the RLC membership over the years. There appears to have been a large growth the last couple of years. What happened last year may be why the change was made. The complaint about exclusivity in membership will probably differ depending on which side of the fence your on. You get a membership, your golden. You don’t, your left out of the party. Didn’t the 2020 sales also go quickly? How will this year compare with last year? Need more data. We’ll see what happens.
Derek’s post digs deeper into production numbers and I’m sure you can correlate membership numbers along with it. But I would love to track sales closer.
I think the E46 M3 was still available for a few hours after it went live. I believe the Charger, too.
That is surprising to me. I really like the E46 M3 and Charger. The next option for exclusivity to me would be a higher price for membership.
I just participated in the latest sell for the ’32 Ford. It took about 5 minutes and went very smoothly.
I hope the RLC is looking to see at the membership data this year to determine what to do in the future.
I was a member since inception until just several years ago. What is the point of being involved with a club if you can’t purchase the desirable cars available? Too many times I was unable to purchase what I wanted due to sell outs in minutes. Yet you can find them 3, 4, or 5 times the cost on eBay. Time to move on and spend my money elsewhere where I won’t be disappointed .
Yeah i got a membership and had to result to ebay like last year to get the ones i wanted i hope for better luck going forward.
Dear RLC Collectors,
The first random puzzle ask me to find bicycle , I refresh and change and get cross roads, I managed to enter payment page. Usually I failed becoz have to read the number from the card. This time I write down BIG NUMBERS. So I can type with speed. This need training. Not everytime I success to buy RLC stuff but I still Thanks Mattel to bring me JOYFUL MOMENT AND CHALLENGE …. I hope The member will grow fm thousands to billions. Then This is INVESTMENT.
I have said it before, and still feel that it would be valid… Bring back the subscription plan… or simply make RLC a Subscription plan only!
Think about it… Mattel has your money up front, and now knows exactly how many cars to make.
Maybe a $275 fee would scare some people off, but if you are guaranteed to get one of EVERY car for the year it would remove the frustration that plagues the RLC every a new car comes out.
Maybe a cap on the membership to keep them RLC cars in the “limited/exclusive” category…
I completely agree that selling 50,000 or unlimited memberships and only producing 20,000 (or less) cars is just a recipe for upset customers.
Maybe Mattel just doesn’t care… as some people have said… they just sold $500,000 worth of cars in 4 minutes, and we are all happy to try again next go round.
But at some point, having 50% or more of the members unable to get the cars is going to lead to fewer people joining, and even collecting.
The idea of adult collectibles has never really sat well with me. Yes, I collect them as well. Tomica TLVs, Schuco 1:64 and RLC cars have all entered my collection. They are beautiful models and wonderful to own. So, what’s my issue with them? In so many ways, they have propelled fully grown humans not to have fond memories of their childhood, but to often become those children in the worst way. People fighting in Walmart over Hot Wheels. People letting their blood pressure spiral upwards over RLC cars being sold out. Twenty thousand Drag Busses are never going to be rare, yet some of us are acting like our kidneys have been harvested unknowingly when we don’t get the car we want.
I think about my return to diecast as an adult back in the ’90s. It started with a trip to a local antique mall, discovering several 1960s Lesney cars in a display case. I brought them home, and stared at them for some time, remembering how much I used to love those things. I suspect that was the best day of my adult collecting life. From that moment forward, I might have made a mistake thinking collecting masses of these things would bring the same amount of joy.
When I look at what some people have to say about this Drag Bus situation, it makes me wonder if we might have lost our way with the hobby. Not everyone, obviously, but many of us might be taking this thing a little too seriously.
I. Absolutely. Love. This. Comment. Been wrestling with thoughts like that for quite some time, now, but have never really been able to get my thoughts down. This is really good.
It’s why I just started doing some light — very light — diorama work. Because I feel that showcases the beauty or realism of these castings and it lets your imagination flow a bit; a diorama doesn’t care if the car(s) featured is (are) 1 of 20K or whatever; it (they) just have to fit the scene. Which is what I think diecasting should be all about.
The idea of adult collectibles has never really sat well with me. Yes, I collect them as well. Tomica TLVs, Schuco 1:64 and RLC cars have all entered my collection. They are beautiful models and wonderful to own. So, what’s my issue with them? In so many ways, they have propelled fully grown humans not to have fond memories of their childhood, but to often become those children in the worst way. People fighting in Walmart over Hot Wheels. People letting their blood pressure spiral upwards over RLC cars being sold out. Twenty thousand Drag Busses are never going to be rare, yet some of us are acting like our kidneys have been harvested unknowingly.
I think about my return to diecast as an adult back in the ’90s. It started with a trip to a local antique mall, discovering several 1960s Lesney cars in the case. I brought them home, and stared at them for some time, remembering how much I used to love those things. I suspect that was the best day of my adult collecting life. From that moment forward, I might have made a mistake thinking collecting masses of these things would bring the same amount of joy.
When I look at what some people have to say about this Drag Bus situation, it makes me wonder if we might have lost our way with the hobby. Not everyone, obviously, but many of us might be taking this thing a little too seriously.
stephen, I hear all of your words. I agree. See below for a process fix.
Oops! Sorry for the double post!
Anyone have a Bot for sale?
BeardedMugMedia, you have hit my major complaint. Mattel can solve this once and for all, in a simple move. If you care enough to join the RLC, add a MODEL SUBSCRIPTION to your membership. You will automatically get one on release day at the $30 (or whatever, pre-approved at membership time) cost, shipped to you. If Kickstarter can manage this, Mattel can. That will take down 60-70% of the buying traffic. Then set the day for Extra copies as the current day is set. Limit the extra copies to ONE PER MEMBER and only the cheaters with ten accounts will get extras. And we know where they sell (fleabay). Hey, Lamley, they listen to you two. Take this to them! (I wrote a similar rant to a video a short while ago.) Until they fix this, RLC can go to ………!
Anyone know why some of the VW drag bus cards have a pink VW emblem and others are silver?
The entire RLC issue has me gravitating to other manufacturers. To me, every club car is just another release. Once in a blue moon I’ll get one in the aftermarket, but I won’t pay anything outrageous. I only get cars that impress me, and I stopped collecting for rarity and popularity a long time ago. If a particular car I have is rare and/or popular, it’s just icing on the cake.
On Epay, it always baffles me as to why when there are multiple listings of the same item, the most expensive sellers seem to get the most watchers. This makes me wonder if the watchers are stupid enough to purchase from given seller, or maybe they want to see what else they’re offering at the silly price. I hope it’s the latter.
I have no problem with the digital membership idea but I feel that the RLC cars should only be available to the digital members only AFTER the regular full paying members have a shot at a RLC car going on sale.
As it currently stands adding an indefinite number of new digital memberships with as much chance of picking up a new RLC car as a full paying regular membership is ultimately going to hurt RLC as a whole. Sure, Mattel made a bundle off of offering new digital memberships this year. I’m glad AND I want Mattel to succeed, make profit etc but at what price to the dedicated collector who just wants the piece to add to his/her collection, not flip it on eBay, etc.
For the past 2 years I have tried to “Join the Club” with no luck. Finally this year I was able to join as a full regular member only to find out when I went after RLC Drag Bus I find I was competing against thousands and thousands of $10 members.
We all know about the cheaters out there and like some of the commentaries I’m going to have a wait and see attitude as to what Mattel does to correct this. If nothing changes I may start buying lottery tickets… I’ll probably be more lucky.
Let’s also talk about the slow degradation in quality. I’ve been an RLC member for 10 years. Quality has never been an issue until last year: The black Countach, one door won’t close completely, it kind of springs back partially open. The M3, the car sits noticeably higher in the front like some slag got caught between the pieces – big wheel gap in front. All the pictures show a stance similar to the white F&F premium car. My membership Mustang, I was very disappointed with the matte tampo placement all around the windows etc. All my previous RLC purchases have been exquisite. Nowadays, I can get the car purchased about half the time. And when I get them I’m meh on the quality.
Missed out on the Candy Striper Drag Bus. I had the model in the cart (where it should, in my opinionon, be held for a couple minutes while I enter info), was entering my info, and the page requested and told me that my cart has been modified because the product was sold out.
Today was the Deuce Coupe sale and I was curious how it would go. It’s the kind of model that wouldn’t sell out immediately in previous years. Luckily I got one this go-round, but it was sold out in 7 minutes. Wild.
The club has definitely changed. I would pay $10 extra per car for a guaranteed/subscription style club offering. The current club/purchase experiense has just gotten silly.
It is blatantly clear that Mattel really does not care too hoots for the collector, all they care about is the money, simple as that, they refuse point blank to allow the UK to purchase anything, unless you have a US address to send it too, and then hopefully the person there will send it to you, and not steal it and sell it on eVilbay.
When asking why they refuse to send to the UK, they have NEVER come up with a proper excuse, there is NO reason why not, if it is because they have to fill in a piece of paper for customs, SO WHAT, legally they are supposed to do the same for many countries including Germany, so what really is the issue.
My opinion is, if you PAY good money to be a member you should get a model, automatically be offered one, simple as that, not have to scramble in a failure of a system, that clearly allows thieves, scoundrels and tossers, to take multiple models and the immediately resell them, the company as a whole treats the UK dreadfully, we want to buy the products, I want to buy the Car Culture sets, the Premium Boxed sets, the mainlines and so on, but now getting them from the USA is becoming a joke, the customs depts at the couriers are ripping open case, yes ripping, slicing open the boxes on the sides, not even using the flaps, the costs to buy the stuff from my UK suppliers, are as expensive at TRADE prices as it is buying them from Tesco.
The club set up is so very flawed, totally so, making people PAY to join a club that then does not guarantee you the chance of getting models, is wrong, those that pay, should be able to log into a webpage two days before launch, each email address can only have ONE model, of each release, then when release day comes those email addresses should be unable to buy more, giving more people the chance, and to allow the UK to buy the models, it is just down to their laziness that they refuse to sell here….
If they say it is due to customs regulations, BLX, the only regs we have is NO TAX under £39 or about $50, other countries have a lower figure, thats it, the Brexit thing has really made little difference, I get models sent to me from the US, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and so on and so on, with no issues, NONE, so really what is the real reason they refuse to sell here.
I see most of my comments are being blocked, WHY
Mine arrived today. I was somewhat surprised to see the card was numbered again, 4134 of 20,000. Also surprised it arrived so soon. Missed out on the deuce, sold out while in the cart. But, it was 9 minutes after the start.
related question – do you think its worth spending $150 (higher prod #) at this point? I should have picked up one immediately after missing my chance.
I like the model so part of me wants to own it and the other half thinks that it might actually go up in value once they sell out
The unlimited memberships and Drag bus sale actually shook my desire to collect Hot Wheels. 20k cars in 3 minutes?! I also had the bus in the cart and it was sold out before I could complete the checkout. I was actually so upset with the situation that I intentionally sat out of the 32 ford sale.
Earlier this year, when it was announced that there was going to be a big change to the RLC membership for 2021, a lot of people posted suggestions that they thought would make the RLC experience better. There were a bunch of really great ideas! I love the idea of preordering ahead of time, or a subscription. Let me go ahead and pay in advance for one of every car! What a time saver! Or if it’s in your cart, it’s held for you for a reasonable amount of time while you complete the checkout process.
None of this happened. Instead, it actually got worse.
Why though? Why would the RLC staff do this? Why set sales events up as a lottery? I’ve only been a RLC member for a couple of years, and it has not been enjoyable. Even when I’ve been successful in getting a car through the sale, it is a stressful experience.
I have come to some conclusions as to why things are run this way. I don’t want to go into any details, but to summarize, I think it’s intentional.
There are a couple of upcoming cars that I am still interested in trying for, but I do see a point in time in the near future where I will have to either employ the use of a bot or walk away.