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Tiny Cars, Big Prices: 5 Really Expensive Toy Cars

For over 50 years, kids have spent their summer afternoons playing with toy cars sporting the Matchbox or Hot Wheels logos. As these kids grow up and are looking to recapture some of that childhood bliss, they wind up paying a pretty penny for cars that once went for small change. Here are five examples.

Matchbox

Started in 1953 by the British company Lesney Products, the Matchbox line of toy cars lived up to their name, as they were designed to fit inside a matchbox so kids could take them to school. Due to their longevity in the market, there are plenty of devoted fans who still collect these small-scale vehicles today. And some of these fans are willing to pay as much for a car that fits in a matchbox as they are for one that fits in a garage.

1. 1961 Magirus Deutz Crane, AKA "Matchbox No. 30"

When Matchbox released their "No. 30" car in 1961, a crane truck whose full-sized counterpart was built by German manufacturer Magirus Deutz, it came with a silver body and an orange crane. Before it was discontinued in 1965, there were as many as 27 variations of the truck, ranging from the type of rivets used to a smooth or bumpy cover on the bottom. Depending on the variation, the value can fall anywhere between $30 - $100. But unless you're a collector, you'd probably never know the difference from one car to the next.

There is one variant that just about anyone would notice, but trucks with that variant are nearly impossible to find. Instead of the standard silver body and orange crane, a handful of pre-production models were light brown and had either a red or an orange crane. Because this color scheme is extremely rare, it demands a high price from collectors. In the 1980s, collector Charlie Mack purchased a brown No. 30 at a neighbor's garage sale for $10. Three years later, he sold it at auction for $10,000. In 2004, Jim Gallegos, whose 35,000 car collection is worth over $1.4 million, purchased a brown No. 30 crane for $13,000. Considering the original price for the toy would have been less than 50 cents, that's quite a nice return on investment.

2. The Matchbox Quarry Truck

Before Lesney Products' Matchbox line really took off, the company considered manufacturing larger model cars and trucks called the "Major Scale" collection. While a normal Matchbox car is around 2" long, the Major Scale models would have been closer to 10 or 11". As a proof of concept in 1954, a handful of Major Scale prototype dump trucks were personally made by chief model maker Ken Wetton. However, right about that time is when the smaller vehicles started to become popular, so the idea for larger versions was abandoned.

Over the years, the other prototype trucks were lost, but one remained in the Lesney offices as a souvenir. That truck is believed to be the only prototype left, as well as the only surviving example of work that can be directly attributed to Ken Wetton. Because of the sentimental value to the company, it was thought the truck would never be sold, making it truly the Holy Grail of Matchbox enthusiasts. Therefore, it came as quite a surprise when, in the mid-1980s, word spread that the truck had been purchased by a relatively unknown collector out of Japan, Takuo Yoshise.

In March of 2010, Takuo Yoshise decided it was time to pass on his coveted treasure to someone else. The truck was put up for auction at a collector convention in England and wound up going for $15,000, making it the largest sum ever paid for a Matchbox car.

Hot Wheels

In 1968, toy company Mattel released a line of miniature cars that took their inspiration from the "Kustom Kar Kulture" that was popular in California. The initial line, now known as the "Sweet 16," offered muscle cars and forward-thinking concept cars, decked out in "Spectraflame" paint jobs that were far removed from the colors you'd see on the real-life showroom floor. To highlight their roots, the little vehicles sported miniature red-rimmed tires, called "Redlines", modeled after the kind that were popular on the real Kustom Kars of the time. Thanks to their novel approach to the toy line, Hot Wheels were an instant success and are still incredibly popular with collectors today.

3. The Beatnik Bandit

One of the original Sweet 16 cars was based on the 1963 show car, The Beatnik Bandit. The car, a futuristic, fiberglass two-seater with a see-through Plexiglass bubble top, was designed and built by none other than Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, one of the most famous car customizers, best-known for creating the counter-culture cartoon character Rat Fink.

The toy Bandit, like all Sweet 16 cars, was produced in a variety of bright, metallic colors. Some, like red, blue, green, and orange, were more common than others. But the rarest of all was hot pink. The hot pink was introduced to the Hot Wheels line shortly after they were first released, in an effort to get girls interested in toy cars. It didn't work, so the color was discontinued, making these cars very rare today. So rare that a "loose" (meaning it was not in its original package) hot pink Bandit sold for $7,070 in 2004. Four years later, a MIB (Mint In Box) hot pink Bandit sold on eBay for $15,250.

4. 1969 VW "Beach Bomb"

Hot Wheels fans will always remember the orange, snap-together racetracks used to create their own racecourse through the kitchen. Making sure that every car runs smoothly on the tracks has always been a concern for Mattel, even today. In 1969, Mattel had to go back to the drawing board more than once to get a newly-designed Volkswagen van called "The Beach Bomb" to fit properly on the tracks. The van, featuring two surfboards that stuck out the back window, was too narrow to run down the track without bumping off the sides, nor could it fit inside a motorized propulsion unit that was sold separately.

After 16 prototypes had been created, the engineers came up with a radical redesign that placed the surfboards on each side of the vehicle, in special stowaway compartments. Not only was this a more off-the-wall car, but it also made the vehicle wider so it would fit on the racetrack. The new design might have fixed the problem, but that has only made the too-skinny Beach Bomb prototypes all the more desirable to Hot Wheels collectors.

People go crazy whenever a new rear-loading Beach Bomb comes on the market, regardless of color or condition. Top of the line examples routinely selling for $15,000 or more. But there is one Beach Bomb out there that could be considered the holiest of Holy Grails "“ a hot pink, rear-loading Beach Bomb. Collector Chris Marshall bought the only known copy of the car from a former Mattel engineer in 1998, as part of a $9,000 purchase of 250 cars, including 25 prototypes. He turned around and sold the hot pink Bomb a year later to big-time collector Bruce Pascal for a cool $72,000. Marshall sold his little car and bought a big one "“ a brand-new Dodge Viper. Pascal took his pink prototype on the road, visiting Hot Wheels conventions and lending it to automobile museums for the world to see.

5. 40th Anniversary Hot Wheels Car

While there's always a chance another hot pink Beach Bomb prototype could appear, there is one Hot Wheels car that is guaranteed to be the one and only model ever produced. It was customized by "jeweler to the stars" Jason of Beverly Hills in 2008 to commemorate Hot Wheels' 40th Anniversary and the production of car number 4,000,000,000 (yes, four billion) in the Hot Wheels line.

The special-edition car was cast in 18-karat white gold, then covered in 1,388 blue diamonds, 988 black diamonds, 319 white diamonds, and 8 rubies, for a total of nearly 23 carats of precious gems worth $140,000. The showpiece came in a custom display case embedded with an additional 40 white diamonds "“ one for each year of the toy line's history. The diamond-studded car and display case were put up as part of a charity auction for Big Brothers Big Sisters. While the gems might have been worth $140,000, the car only sold for $60,000. Quite a bargain.
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What was your favorite Hot Wheels or Matchbox car when you were a kid? What's the highest price you've ever paid to get back a piece of your childhood? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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