“A man’s most expensive hobby starts with $.97.” – so true.
7:50AM – I find myself sitting in my car, outside of a Target in Orange. I look around; there a few people waiting at the door, none of them look like scalpers though…I’m good.
This is what it had come to - I’ve become a Hot Wheels Treasure Hunter.
Like any kid that’s into cars, I had collected Hot Wheels since childhood. In my early 20’s, when they finally started coming out with some JDM cars, I'd started collecting again… now in my late 30’s, I’m sitting outside of Target anxiously waiting for them to open.
8:00AM – The door opens; a guy pushes in front of a lady with a walker (yes, seriously) and begins darting towards the toy aisle. Great...
The underground world of Hot Wheels has its own small-scaled economy and it’s crazy. There are collectors and scalpers. The good and evil if you will. People that actually make a living off buying hotwheels and reselling = Scalpers. People who love buying these little cars = Collectors. Although most can be had for 97 cents, rarer models can sell for more, and “Treasure Hunts” sell for the most.
This guy running toward the toy aisle? He’s a scalper. I now know enough to recognize them – he’s just looking for the good stuff (Treasure Hunts) and dropping cars off the hanger like its nobody's business…I smile as he sees me approaching.
What are you looking for?
Me? I’m just looking.
There’s nothing good here.
Ok, I’ll take your word for it.I walked away, I can tell this poor guy is intense and, having encountered both good and bad scalpers, it’s just not worth the time and effort sometimes. The stories I’ve heard... you wouldn’t believe. Scalpers that live in campers, waiting in the parking lot at Wal-Mart. An inside hookup where scalpers know the managers and get notified when inventory arrives – sometimes even sharing profits or marking of boxes to know what’s what. It’s insane! Grown men, fighting over toys…literally.
A friend of mine, who also recently became a Hot Wheels hunter, messaged me after dropping into a Wal-Mart just after shipment. "So... this guy blocks me with a cart, then grabs my arm. I said, 'If we find a Treasure Hunt, you can have it – but I get the next one.'”
Trying to reason with the crazies, you gotta love it. What’s funnier is – my friend is a Dentist, a working professional. The other guy…a scalper, obviously.
So how much are these cars worth?
Hot Wheels can be broken into 3 basic catagories:
Mainline: Standard car – readily available, normal production.
Treasure Hunt: identified by special paint and a Treasure Hunt Logo (seen below)
Super Treasure Hunt: Special Paint, Real Riders Tires (Rubber)
The current “Hot” car is the Datsun 510 Bluebird wagon. A regular mainline wagon has been particularly hard to find and goes for anywhere between $5 and $20 online… the “Treasure Hunt” version, practically impossible to find, I’ve seen selling for $150 on eBay.
Does this justify the craziness? Finding a Treasure Hunt (or a Super Treasure Hunt for that matter) is like striking gold! I couldn’t find any formal statistics, and Mattel doesn’t release formal production numbers, but during a recent K-Day (Kmart release day) someone went thru 20 cases of cars and couldn’t find one Super Treasure Hunt car. At 72 cars per case that’s 1440 cars and ZERO Treasure Hunts - it’s all luck of the draw. I ramped up my search for the purposes of this article and was only able to find 2 Treasure Hunts in 3 months time, looking 4-5 times a week at lunch and on the weekends as well. Target workers know my face, that’s a bit embarrassing.
It’s often easier just to pay extra and find the cars you want on ebay, but that ruins the hunt. I don’t make my living buying/selling these - for me (as most) it’s just a fun hobby…and much cheaper than buying real cars!