The Hot Wheels® '57 T-bird Story
Thunderbird Collectibles homepage
  ------------ From my point of view!

 Part VII  - December 1998

by Dot Lang

 A Little Bit of History:
Time for A little bit of History before we continue:
 Hong Kong became a formal part of  China in 1997 (hope I have that history correct) and this fact meant a significant change in the model business.  Corgi, a United Kingdom company, cut their ties from Hong Kong and now just make their car models in Great Britain & other U.K countries. In the transition period, apparently Corgi sold that mold to Mattel, as in 1996, Mattel started producing the small, 1/64th scale, topless, '57 Thunderbird with the "Corgi" mold including the fat continental kit and an opening hood..

To further complicate matters,  Mattel bought Matchbox in 1997? and thus acquired their 1/64th scale model of the '57 Thunderbird which is also topless and has a continental kit.  It will be interesting in the next few years to see how Mattel uses these two very similar molds.

The old "Hong Kong" (now China) porthole Hot Wheel was brought back to life as a 35th anniversary edition for 1998 and as a part of a special set issued exclusively through FAO Schwartz for the 1998 Christmas season.

For a comparison*  of the four molds:
under reconstruction
A - HW Porthole Hardtop B - HW Non-Porthole C - Corgi Convertible D - MatchBox Convertible
Hong Kong or China or Thailand Malaysia or Hong Kong/China or Thailand  China  China
Stock '57 bumpers Stock '57 bumpers extended bumper w/fat continental kit extended bumper w/tapered continental kit
no opening parts no opening parts hood opens, engine no opening parts
1977 chassis date or no date 1977 or 1981  or 1998 chassis date  no chassis date  1988 chassis date

* comparison is only for the models produced under the Mattel name.

The Mattel Specials and the "new" molds:

Specials from Mattel

1995 Treasure Hunt
In 1995, Mattel started a special series of models - Limited to an issue of 10,000 for each model with a new model appearing for each month.  The cars in the series quickly became quite popular and thus difficult to find and prices soared.  The 57 Thunderbird was the fourth in the series, coming out in April.  It is a very dark purple metallic (almost black) with clear windows, white-line tires and recessed grey hubs with chrome outline; chrome plastic chassis, pkg. # 13352; white H.W. logo on rear window.  In the fall of 1995, J.C. Penny's issued the complete series at a price of $300.  Mattel has continued to issue a new set of models in the Treasure Hunt series each year but the Thunderbird has only been available in that first year. Update Feb. 2000 Mattel plans to issue another Treasure Hunt T-bird this year.

1996 100th Anniversary of the Automobile
Another set of models which included a frosty metallic pink "corgi" convertible, detailed engine and detailed interior with black seats trimmed in white and a red Hot Wheel logo on license plate.

1997 40th Anniversary of the '57 Thunderbird set.
40th Anniversary set in the box
This is a beautifully detailed set and worth having in everyone's collection.  Extra attention was taken to carefully highlight with silver paint the door handles, hash marks, hood scoop trim, emblems,  and "Thunderbird" script.  The "corgi" mold convertible is displayed with the hood up and the engine is well-detailed, too.

There are two cars in the set with the other being the standard Hot Wheel mold, however, this is only the second time that Mattel has had the hardtop painted a different color than the main body of the car.  The Hot Wheel mold car is a dark red metallic similar to the cranberry color used in the later 2013 models described in Article II.  The top is painted white. The trim around the windshield on both cars  is also detailed with silver paint.  Both cars have "white-line" tires and deep-dished chrome wheels.  The "Corgi" mold convertible is in dark turquoise with white seats, and dark turquoise steering wheel and dash.  The dash also boasts a detailed instrument cluster and the horn ring is detailed with silver paint.

The cars are mounted in a special plastic display box with a backdrop of small photos of the real cars and a large Thunderbird emblem (hood emblem).  The plastic box is enclosed in a special cardboard display box  with a cutout so you can view the cars from the front and top.  On the back is a very short history of the Thunderbird.  The box number is 16989.

1998 35th Hot Wheel Anniversary Thunderbird
To commemorate the 35th Anniversary of the Hot Wheel line of diecast model cars, Mattel took one new mold from each of the years it has issued cars and reissued that mold in its original packaging and color scheme and boxed in a special display package.  The 1957 Thunderbird was used to represent 1978.  This has been another hard to find Thunderbird model.
Because this car duplicated the original 1978 car, Mattel had to put the porthole back in.  Though this is supposed to be like the original, it now has a chromed  chassis.  Since the original was produced in Hong Kong and  Hong Kong is now part of China, I suspect the chassis is also labeled "China."  This may be the way to identify the cars in the future if you should find one out of its package.  Refer to Article I for a complete description of the 1978 car and picture.

Part VIIb

The "New Mold" - originally by Corgi

Gas Station Playset:
Corgi mold all-black 1957 Thunderbird

Mattel used the "corgi" mold several times in 1996 and 1997.  In its small gas station playset, an all-black thunderbird could be found.

The McDonald Playset:
Blue metallic w/ black interior
In some sets you could find the blue metallic Thunderbird with the black interior.

Goodyear Playset: This set also included the blue metallic Thunderbird with the black interior.
Ford Dealership Playset:
An added highlight for this mold.  Though it didn't have the Thunderbird in the set, the "Ford Dealership" Playset issued in 1996 was pictured with several of the corgi mold Thunderbirds - an all-black model and  a black with white interior in the main picture, and a red model with black interior in one of the small side-of-box pictures.  However, the Ford Dealership Playset issued in 1997 as a Target Christmas special included the blue metallic corgi w/black interior as part of the playset.   This second set included a second car, track and an additional service station playset.

Described in article Vb, the corgi mold was used in the limited edition FAO "gold" series III for 1996 - in black with a cream interior and gold plated wheels.  In 1997, the mold was again used in the 40th Anniversary set as detailed in Article VII.  It was also used in the Target Special "Motorin' Music" set detailed in article Vb - yellow with a cream interior.


Near the end  of 1997, the mold was finally made available in the single model blister-pak as collector package #612.  This model has been a little more difficult to find as apparently it was only boxed in so-called "half-boxes" sold to smaller stores and supermarkets.  The car is a beautiful dark turquoise (some call it 'green') with white interior and white engine and a red hot-wheel logo on the windshield and standard wheels.

the Matchbox Mold:
The year 1998 has not seen any new colors or specials offered in the Corgi mold.  Instead, the Matchbox mold seems to have taken it's place (if at all).  Sometime in 1997, Mattel acquired Matchbox.  The only convertible '57 Thunderbirds that have been found new for 1998 have been in the Matchbox Premiere Series.  Those packages now include the Mattel label - but not the Hot Wheel label - so will not be discussed further in this Hot Wheels series of articles.

The Porthole Mold - 1998:
Porthole special from FAO
In the first part of article VII, the porthole China (Hong Kong) model was described for the 35th Anniversary HW special.  In a late development this year (too late for Article V), this mold was also used in a new FAO Schwartz series - the "Cruisin' the '50's" set.  This is now the third time that Mattel has painted the hardtop a different color than the main body.  The main body is the same color as the "Corgi" dark turquoise and the top is  white.  Again, considerable attention was given to detailing this car as in the 40th Anniversary set.  The car has white-wall tires and chrome standard wheels.  The rear window has the chrome detailed in silver paint.  The chassis is chromed with "China" and "1977" molded on the bottom.

 Next Month
This ends the descriptions of the basic (1977) Hot Wheel colors/molds that everyone is familiar with.  Next month I'll start a very short series of articles of the other Hot Wheels molds that have been available over the years.  If I have missed describing a Hot Wheel color, please let me know.

To view the other articles in this series click below:

Part I -  First Tampo Phase  Part II - Cranberry Models
Part III - New Tampo Part IV - Next Tampo
Part V - Promotionals Part VI - Regular issue to present
Part VII - Mattel's Specials Part VIII - Different Molds
Article IX - Thunderbird Anniversary Years
Hot Wheel List UPDATED

I'm always looking for more information on the Thunderbird model.
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©1998-2009 Dot Lang