The old saw goes that the only thing that separates men from boys is the price of their toys. And so it goes with Hot Wheels, the little toy car that debuted 50 years ago priced at 59 cents, as well as the 2018 Chevrolet Camaro SS Hot Wheels Edition, starting price $39,290. Hot Wheels has always held the Chevrolet Camaro close to its heart; a blue Camaro RS was the first Hot Wheels car issued in 1968.
The toy got its start when Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler wanted a toy for boys, one as popular as Mattel’s Barbie, which was created by Elliott’s wife and co-founder, Ruth. So he hired Harry Bradley, a GM car designer to design a challenger to England’s Matchbox brand. Introduced at the New York Toy Fair in 1968, Hot Wheels went on to sell more than 800 models and 11,000 variations; eight are sold every second.
Surely Chevrolet wishes they sold that many Camaro SS Hot Wheels Editions, a $4,995 option package on the 2SS and 2LT trim level coupe or convertible. The package includes graphite stripes, a unique grill, embossed headrests, unique door sills, 50th Anniversary Hot Wheels badges on the fenders and steering wheel, black tail lamp panels with the Hot Wheels emblem, unique floor mats and _ in case you didn’t notice _ orange paint and seat belts meant to commemorate Hot Wheels’ track color.
If you think $4,995 is a lot of scratch to pay for unique looks, understand that a Brioni sport coat costs that much or more. After all, looking good comes with a price, even if it’s the toy you wanted as a kid after having ingested a tank of Miracle-Gro.
And while the Hot Wheels package is offered on the six-cylinder car, this car’s essence lies in the power produced by the 455-horsepower 6.2-liter LT1 V8, the same engine used in the Corvette and mated to a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission. Its exhaust note is music to the ears, a symphony as this car reaches its crescendo, attaining 60 miles per hour in four seconds, a trait that you will surely feel as your vital organs are being crushed against your vertebrae _ or so it seems. Yet the engine is extraordinarily well mannered, laying low when you just need to putter peacefully without attracting undue attention, which is admittedly hard to do in a car the color of a traffic cone.
And while this car’s outlandishly fun wardrobe elicits longing glances from children disguised as adults, it’s the car’s chassis that brings the greatest satisfaction. Its solid feel allows for aggressive suspension tuning that provides excellent cornering ability without a bone-jarring ride, except for the harshest road shocks. Better yet, this car clearly communicates what’s going on, making it easy to control; it inspires confidence and allows you to intensely tackle twisting roads. Power steering is quick and accurate and is nicely weighted. Magnetic Ride Control is optional, providing Touring, Sport, Track and foul weather drive modes. Unlike most competitors, this system adjusts the suspension stiffness, transmission tuning, stability-control limit, and steering effort. Consider it icing on a truly scrumptious desert.
However, any self-confidence this car inspires evaporates when you try to change lanes. It’s then that this car’s fierce exterior styling becomes a liability. Outward visibility is abysmal. Tiny side mirrors and windows that resemble mail slots make maneuvering are a guessing game. Forward visibility is not much better, compromised by two large tumorous lumps atop the instrument cluster. Who thought that was a good idea? Thankfully, Rear Park Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert with Lane Change Alert, Forward Collision Alert and a rear-view camera are standard.
The new instrument panel looks far better than that of the previous generation, feeling far more modern. Controls are easy to reach, understand and operate. Uniquely, the outer rings of the center vents control the duel front automatic climate control temperature. Chevrolet’s infotainment system is easier to operate. A head-up display is optional; customizable interior accent lighting is optional.
The center console is surprisingly wide, robbing a lot of front seat width. There’s little storage space, although the sides of the console are padded _ a thoughtful touch for taller drivers that too many automakers overlook. Then again, this car’s interior space is adequate up front, but totally useless in back for anything other than briefcases and amputees.
But this car’s appeal is not in its utility; its appeal is more primal than that. It’s the realization of a juvenile desire to have the hottest fastest car on the Hot Wheels track. These days, the car is bigger, although the race is on some pokey parkway, not an orange track.
And the Camaro SS Hot Wheels Edition’s allure is the same, even if its charm seems so much more illogical than it once did once adulthood intrudes. Nevertheless, responsibility is something we all long to escape, and this is your best option for doing just that.
It’s one set of hot wheels.