It hasn't even been 10 years, but the further we get from it, the stranger it seems.
It is an era of cost control at Mattel. Plastic is replacing metal in many cases, moving parts are removed, and the 4-part rule (chassis, interior, body, windows) is adhered to in almost all cases.
It has also kept many models out of the mainline. At Matchbox, the Routemaster Bus has been relegated to premium lines because it is too expensive to produce for the mainline. And at Hot Wheels, there is a slew of models that will only be used for premium lines as well, most notably the Blown Delivery, the Convoy Custom, Drag Bus, and '55 Chevy Panel, among a host of others.
The funny thing, though, is that a couple of those heavy, all-metal, multiple-parts models actually made their debut in the mainline. The Drag Bus famously debuted in the 1996 mainline, and soon thereafter was relegated to premium duty. But that was 1996, and many, if not most, of the models still had metal chassis.
But it was a pair of models that debuted in 2006 that still seem like such an anomaly. At that time, almost all models were debuting with plastic chassis and no working or removable parts. It had become the standard, and whether collectors liked it or not, they were used to it.
The Hot Wheels dropped a surprise. As the 2006 Mainline was revealed by way of checklist posters, two new model slots remained blank. Mattel assured those that inquired that there were two models ready to fill those slots, but that collectors would have to be patient, and they would not be disappointed.
And they weren't. Towards the end of the year, in one of the final batches, Hot Wheels debuted two brand new Phil Riehlman designs, the '55 Chevy Panel and VW Karmann Ghia.
How these got approved is anyone's guess. Both had metal bases, both moving or removable parts, both were large, and both were heavy. (The Panel in particular was almost too big for the blister card and still remains one of the heaviest Hot Wheels models every done.) And collectors loved them. The models were gobbled up as quickly as Super TH's.
By now most of you know the cool little features that both models have. The Karmann Ghia has a removable spoiler, which when removed reveals an engine and a better view of the interior:
But the real star was the Panel. The rear hatch opens, and tucked inside is a full diecast metal chopper that can be pulled out. It was a see-to-believe feature:
These two were obviously slated for premium lines, and after their mainline debut that is where they have stayed. But what prompted their mainline debut? Maybe it was a treat for collectors, a demand by a designer, or just an experiment.
Whatever it was, it was quite successful, at least in collector's eyes. The Ghia and Panel came one per case, never lasted on the pegs, and were the talk of the Hot Wheels community.
So in this era of infiltrating plastic and 4-piece models, these two seem more and more of an anomaly. The chances of us seeing something like that again are slim to none, but we are glad it at least happened. We can still dream of a Blown Delivery mainline, or a Convoy Custom Super TH, but a dream is probably all they will be.
But even if we never see anything like it again, we at least have these two. And while there are fantastic premium versions of both, the must-have versions of both castings remain the mainlines. They are a permanent fixture in the Lamley collection...
(Find the Chevy Panel and Karmann Ghia mainlines on eBay...)
Hot Wheels '55 Chevy Panel & Karmann Ghia (2006 New Models):