|Q:Why did the 1996 First Edition VW Bus create such shockwaves and instant "lifelong" VW fans, that were all but uninterested in the hobby previously?|
Q: Why were regular, casual VW diecast-collecting hobbyists so taken aback by the new VW Bus casting for 1996?
Q:Why did its prices elevate the quickest and remain at those levels on the secondary market faster than any other regular production-run, non-variation car ever released by Hot Wheels®?
In the following self-assigned essay, I plan to answer the questions and provide aspects that refer to the VW bus from my limited "designer" knowledge, and the pure, meat-and-potatoes standpoint of the horsepower the piece alludes to. The two viewpoints will cross-over at many places, but hopefully my point will not be lost among the analyses I present. Please, read on.
A: Initial Impressions
The early 90's saw the tastes of the casual and serious collectors begin to shift away from the somewhat mundane decorations and castings that Hot Wheels® was using. The 1995 series releases started the ball rolling. The moss that gathered from 1995 jump-started the excitement the hobby lacked. New folks were jumping aboard a previously passive area of hobbyists, and something was needed to really get things in fifth gear. Along with the very limited-release Treasure Hunts, Mattel® must have seen that something else was necessary at this time. What could be better than a revival (like Volkswagen's New Beetle for 1998) of the Beach Bomb's overwhelming popularity?
The VW Bus casting was released after a long dry spell from Mattel® in which NO new, earth-shattering models were presented to us. Maybe it was the belief that the collectors weren't demanding it, or that the budget for the Hot Wheels® line did not call for research and development into something as intricately formed and feature-packed, for initially, under $1.00. Whatever the reason was, it was tossed-out in preparation for the "1996 First Editions Series".
The first thing that may hit the casual collector is the fact that this is the ONLY 1996 First Edition that has its own, unique saying at the bottom left of the card: "Pop-Open Body". Words that understate the excitement bottled-up in that plastic bubble. The detailing, body-shape and unique rear wheels announced to collectors that this was a car that everyone needed, and if they didn't have it, it would be acquired at ANY cost. Again: ANY cost.
Another cause for figurative flashing lights at this car was the weight. The heaviest car (100 grams) Hot Wheels® has EVER produced at this scale. It had become ridiculously obvious by this point that Mattel® was screaming for this thing to be noticed. Even the rear wheel was brought-out into mass-production status. For years, since the wheels were introduced in a dragster set back in 1989 (info courtesy of Lineup's Hot Wheels) they had been relegated to limited production status; but no more! Collectors young and old, of every concentration HAD to have it. It was just too different and amazing not to have one, and worship it every waking moment. At least for me anyway.
Prices for the casting shot-up to $15-20 in about 1 month. Faster than any regular-production, non-variation car had ever appreciated. Inspiration for online price guides like the former "Alleyguide.com" (which happened to be the internet's first free online price guide for diecast) was sponsored by the collectors' frenzy for this thing. It was what the hobbyists were crying for, and this was the best hanky that could have been thrown at them. Mattel® had hit a home run, and EVERYONE was taking notice.
No other car in the entire Hot Wheels line looked like it. That is, except for the S'Cool Bus. Comparisons between the two, stylistically, could not help but be made. They both have the bullet-inspired body shape, and, of course, the pop-open body. Also, look at the engine placement on the S'Cool Bus and that of the VW Bus. Intrigued? The revival of the hog-wild and let-loose designs of Mattel's beginnings had returned.
Veteran collectors picked-up on this, either consciously or subconsciously. Younger collectors, such as your author, just fell in love with it because of the same reason the original collectors liked their childhood cars. It threw caution to the wind. It showed us all that there was still enthusiasm at the design and manufacturing arenas, and that Mattel® had not forgotten how Hot Wheels® got to where it is today. Sure, the 1/64-scaled literal representations of cars on the road were interesting, but the wild ones based on these real rods were what children really wanted. The children-at-heart didn't mind, either.
This new model was the perfect blending of two of the most highly-prized releases of the original redline years, and the timing could not have been more perfect. A new precedent had been set. Rather, an old precedent had been made contemporary, and for the Hot Wheels® line to maintain its longevity, this renewed approach had to be taken.
A: The Design
The VW Bus is an ingenious combination of elements that are stylistically perfect, and make the "whole" a treat to the eyes.The front end of it has the split-window VW Bus look that is essentially untouched, except for the slight chop top. Very innocent from this angle. The rear, however, is a homage to the cubic inches that lie underneath the body. The rear has been refitted to accomodate the massive, I mean MASSIVE exhaust pipe coming out of there. Think of the scale-size this thing must be, if a person is to fit in the rollcage up front. We're talking a 2-ft. in diameter pipe! Raw horsepower indeed!
Also, at the rear-end, is a little bit of bracing to help the forces at work when the Bus would be taking-off from the "Christmas Tree" at the starting line. Rivets abound, and what seems to be sheetmetal. This sheetmetal is replacing the original body panels, that helps to either lighten the unnecessary weight, and/or strengthen the shell. Also, at the top of the former rear cargo area, is a spoiler to end all spoilers. It would have to be this size should the vehicle take-off, and not be licensed with the FAA. The supports underneath almost resemble eaves for houses, to help in containing the downward forces on that portion of the racer. Still, pure power unchained.
Also, as mentioned when comparing to the S'Cool Bus, the body shape (when looked at from both top AND side) is reminiscent of a bullet. Not by mistake, either, I would guess. If you were to draw a line around the silhouette looking down at the top, and then another looking straight at either side, the drawings would be identical. Asymmetrical and menacing. Two vital characteristics for a successful dragstrip tamer. All the body lines celebrate the act of going forward, and not caring about the other guy.
Now, take a look underneath that pop-up body. Other than a rollcage and rear slicks, what is there? Nothing but engine. Probably around 3,000 c.i. Justification for the gargantuan exhaust, leviathan rear slicks, and acres of bracing to hold the thing in one piece, if it were real. All of this just lets the imagination run wild, and can hypnotize the onlooker into daydreams and awe. What if it were real? How many of the other cars in my collection could it beat? All of them.
The VW Bus has become a precursor to Mattel's® wild one-off pieces, either inspired by real cars, or just dreamed-up by those we know and love in the design department. Phil Reichmann is a very gifted individual, who has given us the chance to appreciate his work in many ways. He has given us his initials on each piece he has designed (the "PR" between the rear wheels of the Bus), which include the Dairy Delivery®, '40 Ford, and others. Here's to you, Mattel®, for remembering your roots, and giving us collectors and VW fans that for which we have been waiting. Unfortunately, according to Larry Wood, it was created to strictly be a limited edition moneymaker for Mattel®, so there's no chance to ever-again find a light blue Mona Lisa at your local Wal-Mart beckoning you to pick it up and be amazed. As if that wasn't enough, it is now available at a scale we can all appreciate: 1/18!
I'd like to know what YOU think!