The Lamley Letter: Why Hot Wheels should stop numbering their RLC models.

(This is something new. I miss writing, so on a regular basis, I’ll give my thoughts on a topic or two related to our hobby, based on questions from collectors. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook to know when to submit a question. Today, why I think Hot Wheels should stop numbering RLC cars.)

The collector reaction was swift and strong. Hot Wheels, when announcing the release of the RLC Datsun 510 in Gulf livery, mentioned there would be 35,000 made. A little bit later that tidbit was removed. Then the models started showing up with no numbered sticker at all.

A lot of folks were bothered by that. On one hand, I totally get it. Mattel said one thing and then clearly changed course. Whether that means they are producing more or just forgot to add a numbered sticker, I have no idea. Maybe it was just a dumb copy-and-paste editing error from a previous article. But if Mattel says one thing and then changes it, that isn’t cool.

On the other hand, if the problem collectors have is Mattel not numbering RLC models anymore, then I disagree. It’s time to do away with the RLC individual numbering.

And I am talking SPECIFICALLY about the RLC. I still think numbering Convention models is a great idea, and there are plenty of other products in our hobby that are numbered, for good reason. I’ve even jumped in the game, with my recent Tarmac X Leen pins and Dream Custom mats all individually numbered.

But Convention models haven’t surpassed more than 6k-7k produced. Many other products stay in the 3- to 4-digit number range. Yet RLC production numbers have skyrocketed. Long gone are the days of 3000 (BRE Datsun 510) to 4000 (Candy Striper Gasser) produced. It seems like production numbers are jumping by 5 to 10k a year, with at least 30k of each model produced now. I guess I just wonder if there is a threshold that has been passed.

It seems we collectors have been lulled into putting value on numbered cars. We are just used to it. In some ways it makes no sense. A car numbered 24193/30000 is just as rare as a car numbered 00001/30000, so we put a false value on the lower numbered car. It’s obvious why we do it, but is it really that important to the RLC experience? Do we just do it because we can? And is it really a reason why we collect RLC? It’s fun to get a lower number, but did you buy one just on the off chance you’d get a unique number?

Rarity is in many ways a myth in our hobby. There are truly rare models, from variations to extremely limited runs. But most Hot Wheels are obtainable, depending on how much a person is willing to pay. It is really the perceived value that matters, and value – at least the monetary kind – isn’t always attached to rarity. In fact, it hardly ever is. The desirability of a model is attached to a myriad of factors, and they can be somewhat arbitrary.

RLC models sell out because collectors want them. That wasn’t always the case. 10 years ago, a model produced at a 3000 count and priced at around $10 wasn’t a guaranteed sellout. Now, RLC is producing 10 times that of each model and pricing them close to $30 each, and every one of them is selling out. That certainly speaks to the improvement of the RLC, making these models more desirable, but also speaks to collector’s strong sense of FOMO. If the previous model sold out, it makes it even more likely that the next model will sell out.

That demand led Mattel to eliminate the Membership window and allow for folks to join the RLC at any time. That was the right move. Why would Mattel keep folks who want to join from joining, especially considering anyone who joins knows being able to buy any specific model isn’t a guarantee? The RLC finally modernized, mirroring where niche collector markets have gone. Think Nike with the SNKRS app. Anyone can download the app and create a membership. And they all do, just for the slim chance they might snag that pair of Air Jordans they want.

“But joining Nike SNKRS is free,” you might argue, “and Mattel makes us pay $10 a year for the RLC.” That is true, but I would also argue that the chances of getting an RLC model are FAR better than getting a pair of Jordans. Most collectors I know are able to get the model they want more than they get shut out. It means that these production numbers are a reflection of Mattel keeping up.

It’s a strange thing, but Mattel will never produce enough RLC models to match the number of members. That wouldn’t be smart. We don’t like to admit it, but psychology is a major factor. These are selling out BECAUSE they sell out. Similarly, the reason we go bonkers for Super Treasure Hunts is because there is no guarantee we will find a Super Treasure Hunt. There are enough Super Treasure Hunts out there for you to keep hope that you might one day find one, but not enough for you to always find one. There are enough RLC models produced to give you a decent chance at getting one, but the fact that you might not gives you a sense of urgency. Too many produced and that urgency wanes. Too few produced and you won’t even try to get one unless you really want that specific model.

It has nothing to do with a specific number. You didn’t buy the Gulf 510 because you thought there were 35,000 produced. You logged in early, stretched your fingers, got your credit card ready, and went for it right at 9am PT that Tuesday because you thought it would sell out. Air Jordan collectors aren’t logged in early on the SNKRS app because Nike told them how many pairs they made. They did it because they know the shoes will sell out.

And in many ways, it’s not the 35,000 that makes that model exclusive. It’s the $10 you voluntarily paid to be part of the group of people allowed to pursue the model. It’s psychology again. You paid to be part of something. No matter the size of the club, you had to decide to be a part of it, and you even were willing to pay. You created the exclusivity yourself.

So the number produced doesn’t matter. If the model sells out, it isn’t rare, it’s desired. And since you have no idea what number your model will be, you didn’t factor that in when you bought it. If you got a desired number, like a low number, you just got lucky. The model is still exclusive.

Numbering cars is just something that isn’t necessary, and the collector’s reaction to the 510 shows why it can be more hassle than its worth. If Mattel decides to produce a specific number, and adds that number to a sticker, they are locked in to that number. But if memberships grow, and they need to produce more to give us all a better chance at getting one, without a number they can. What is important to them, and us, is that they sell out.

Lastly, you really don’t want to know how many are produced. What does 35,000 really mean? You know it is a lot more than used to be produced. But you don’t know what the ratio of models produced is to actual RLC members. What if it is lower than it used to be? And what if soon Hot Wheels is numbering models at 60k? 100k? 500k? What will that mean to you? You actually might see that number and perceive they aren’t as exclusive, when ratio-wise they actually might be even more. Why try and figure it out? Selling out or not is all you need.

No one knows how many Air Jordans are produced. It doesn’t matter. We want what we want. RLC models have hit that level in our world. We want them no matter what. The world is just different now. If the popularity of our hobby grows, we all benefit. That means more cool models to collect. Mattel should never lock out someone willing to participate. And because of that they will need the ability to grow with it.

We all collect for our own reasons. I won’t argue that. I also won’t argue if you like the numbered models. I actually like them too. But I don’t think we will miss them as much as we think we will. And I think eliminating them will indirectly bring more enjoyment in the long run.

21 Replies to “The Lamley Letter: Why Hot Wheels should stop numbering their RLC models.”

  1. I agree that they don’t need to number models anymore, but it seems that the higher production numbers have also brought about lower quality standards. If I’m paying $40 for a car, it needs to be FLAWLESS. I’ve been very disappointed in that aspect lately.

    1. So true. It’s just not the missing numbers It’s all the other major errors of late. Wrong dates, misleading sales, damaged cars etc.

    2. I couldn’t agree more. My ’91 BMW M3 came with lopsided taillight tampos and it just had me shaking my head. How much do I have to pay to be guaranteed a flawlessly executed model? I would say given that I’m paying $50+ including shipping here in Canada I should already be getting flawless models.

      It’s the same with the new Matchbox online collector models, but with the actual design of the models themselves. $25 before shipping and it still has a plastic base and only the level of detailing of a $7 premium model at Walmart? Not to mention they frequently borrow Hot Wheels Real Riders, which often don’t fit the casting. It begs the question again: how much do I have to pay to get a true ultra-premium Matchbox model?

    3. The sticker doesn’t reflect at what point the car came off the production line. The last car off the line could literally get a number 001 sticker.

  2. long time viewer and love your channel, but completely disagree. numbering the RLC pieces is a way to authenticate whatever exclusivity exists (and we as collectors would always prefer more exclusivity, hence lower production numbers). why “invest” in the Red Line Club or it’s model releases if we’re essentially getting a glorified, highly marked-up $6 premium hot wheel that has unknown / high production numbers?

    1. I totally agree with you. Without a certificate or authentication like you said, we won’t know how many were made. It doesn’t make it exclusive. It loses its true value as a club member and collector. RLC is supposed to get better and not crappier. But I also understand that there is profit to be made from Mattel. So the more they sell the more they make. Corporate greed.

  3. My 64 impala looks like m2 machines put the wheels on. It was my first rlc car I’m still a little disappointed about it.

  4. I’ll tell you why I don’t agree with this particular point. When I decided to join RLC, which was a few years ago, it was for the reason of trying to get access to really exclusive models with those unique paints and tires and that you could show in your collection. Today, with the arbitrary decision that RLC makes in saying that it was 35k and then eliminating the data, it is simply showing that the only thing that matters to the club member is the sales numbers and not the quality of the product, and that it has clearly They have already lost the sense of being an exclusive club. How many of us live outside the USA that the only way we have is to access online through the rlc page because we can’t go to a convention like the one you do, that’s why and for much more that it is necessary to be keep numbering the RLCs and let’s hope they regain the sense that one day it was in the minds of the creators of RLC to be an exclusive club that not only delivered pieces with LOW NUMBERS but also the feeling of being part of something really exclusive.

  5. My take on the numbered cars is that it allows for people to know the casting is the legit piece, there are so many Customizers out there that can replicate Mattel’s product that a numbered sticker helps to identify the original from the bootleg.

    1. I keep my cars carded or in the acrylic case. So to me I am on the fence. I just want one of those beauties that I really like. But Jamil has a point. Their are some great customizers out there. Take the 1st Candy Striper. There are some of those that really catch my eye and went for a few bucks before the price went sky high. Not all sellers say theirs are a custom. The number will help. Someone with the
      “”REAL McCoy”” will see his or her number on a fake one and can complain to MATTEL. 30K or 50K to me it does not matter if their is a number or not . A great point to me by Jamil.

  6. I don’t care too much one way or another about numbering the amount of cars produced. What is frustrating is when a limited car is produced and you don’t find out until years later because you just got back into collecting diecast…. That’s where I am right now with the Spark Nissan GT-R LM, Porsche 919, and Audi R18. They are impossible to find now because they were so limited.

  7. I don’t think it’s a good idea to remove the numbering of.
    1. it will reduce the fun, maybe some people like small surprises when they get a package, don’t they? If you can get the same number as your birthday this is quite interesting.
    2. stickers can identify the authenticity, there are some popular models will be custom, for some inexperienced people may be misled, stickers are an obvious way to identify.
    3. whether the increase in membership and stickers should exist, I think there is no necessary connection, the number of production is determined by demand. I have to say that the chances of buying now are already much higher than before, I remember I started collecting rlc in 2017 when the pressure to grab one was much higher than now.
    4. The sticker is just like a id, it gives an ordinary toy car independence, a sense of ritual, so to speak.
    5. stickers are also a feature and a tradition, and may still be the key to the success of hotwheels rlc, I don’t think it’s a good idea to change something, just like Coca-Cola once changed the taste was a huge failure.
    6. as a collection of properties of toys and sneakers are born from a different starting point, AJ does not start with the collection of properties, is given by the market (which is the same as some Main line), but rlc itself is the collection of properties, cancel the stickers collection of properties may disappear.

  8. Once the numbers become irrelevant (and tbh at 30K, they already are) at what point will Mattel produce a super treasure hunt version of an RLC car? When that happens (and it will) they’re welcome to number those…

  9. I think one thing that has become more apparent now more than ever is that there are people willing to spend the money to get these models only to flip them minutes later after the sale. Mattel has made that easier now that memberships are available year round. If one could spend $40 and turn that into $120 dollars – it would be foolish to not do that. Especially now that sales don’t take hours to get through a waiting room.

    You assume sales are selling out based on collectors. I don’t think that’s true. Sales are selling out based on prospectors.

  10. I agree. Numbering has no meaning for me. I open all of my cars, so the numbering is not preserved. Removing the limitation on membership was a benefit to me. More than likely, I would not be a member if the limit remained.

  11. It’s my understanding that Mattel has acknowledged that the numbered stickers were applied randomly, after the RLC cars were made. I’ve tried to find the initial statement, maybe you could shed some light on that?

    Mattel has to be aware that lower numbered cars sell for much higher prices on the secondary market, because the general public is not aware that sticker #1 does not get placed on the first car off the line.

    Is the tooling worn out after the first 100 cars, so that car #30,000 is lower quality than car #1? No. The value is in the exclusivity.

    I know that buyer demand sets market value. Reselling a low numbered car for higher than market value, based on a false pretense, just feels dishonest to me. If I want to buy an older car on an auction site, I’ll intentionally look for a higher number to keep the price down.

    And so I’m glad that the numbers are gone. I feel like it levels the playing field, and let’s the market chose the value fairly

  12. The truth is that I don’t care if they come numbered or not, the truth is that they should put at least one decal or hologram that says the number of pieces produced, they did it years ago with the pieces from the affinity collection, plus a decal it gives you a sense of authenticity and that you are buying an exclusive piece, it is reflected in the price you are paying for it.
    And I feel that it has been a good decision to open the memberships since it makes it easier for foreigners to be able to get exclusive pieces, since it is very difficult to try to get them when you do not have the opportunity to go to the conventions that they do in the US.(I`m from Mexico)

  13. Totally and Utter disagree – the entire point of collecting these models direct from Mattel is that they are “rare” ish, and not available in Walmart or Tesco, not that Tesco seems to ever have any, anymore, I buy many thousands of models a year for my collection and many more to resale, the numbered models ALWAYS go for more than non ones, why is that, well, people want exclusivity, they want to know that the model they are buying is not available to every Joe, Boris and Vladimir (not that Vladimir is gonna get any).

    I have over 1000 of the Vanguards models, in my collection, and they always came with a collector card with the number on, then they stopped and just printed “one of XXXX” however many that model was produced in, and that lost a lot of the interest, but the complaints from collectors about this meant it was brought back, and the sales shot back up again.

    If RLC is just an expensive mainline with out the exclusivity of a number, I will not bother, I had a damaged BMW arrive, and Mattel were not interested, three emails sent, not one responded too. yet the email I sent to say that I would like to change my address details, was answered, and that was to the same address, plus the frequency of these models, I was under the impression that these were not the often put out to make them more exclusive, but there seems to be a new one most weeks, and now Stickers and wheels, at exorbitant prices, Mattel are milking the RLC collector, and thats what will be it’s downfall.

  14. I am not a numbers guy. I could care less what number is on my sticker. I buy what I buy from RLC because I’m partial to the more premium lines that Mattel makes. However, to those of you saying that a sticker shows some kind of legitimacy or authenticity, I can assure you if people can fake us out with custom cars, they can certainly make a fraudulent sticker. Then if that were to happen, and let’s say you find two cars with the same number, which person’s car is then going to be considered the fake? Think about that one. I believe a lot of these cars sell out not just because of the large collector community, but you now have groups of people from the sneaker world and the Funko Pop world that came into this hobby just to turn around and make profit off of the cars they buy. They buy a car at $37 and sell it for $100. It’s really a no-brainer. Let’s face it, there’s not many people who will possess every Hot Wheel ever made, so collect what you like, collect how you want and get whatever enjoyment from the hobby that makes you happy.

Leave a Reply