Nowadays pro class racing requires such horrendous amounts of
money that unless you can hitch up with a major sponsor your chances are
virtually zilch. Now it was not always thus, for instance Jim Dunn's
cars were not plastered with sponsors' graphics and he was the
championship winner of 1972, but he must have been one of the last of
the independents and the blame, if you like to call it such, can be laid
directly at the door of Tom McEwen. McEwen and Prudhomme had been
friends for some while, Prudhomme was the more sucessful racer (remember
the G-B-P rail) whilst McEwen was the better businessman. It was McEwen
who approached the Mattel Toy Corporation with the idea of what was then
the biggest drag racing sponsorship deal. Mattel would sign up both The
Mongoose and The Snake under the name of Wildlife Racing and have their
Hotwheels logo plastered all over the sides of the fuelers and funny
cars that the pair would be operating. Since Hotwheels was in its second
year, and selling rather well regardless of their new rolling adverts,
it is difficult to estimate how many extra sales Mattel got from the
deal but of one thing I am certain in that it introduced drag racing to
legions of younger fans even if they never went near a full size track.
If you think of McEwen or Mongoose
you may think either of the racer or a number of his cars, the same goes
with Prudhomme and The Snake (for whom some will automatically think of
his army sponsored series) but put
the two together Mongoose and Snake and I think most people will
picture the Hotwheels cars, whether full size, the Monogram kits or the
Hotwheels toys. Both Monogram (1/24) and Hotwheels (1/64 ish) produced
models of the front and later rear engined fuelers but it was the fuel
coupes that were the Mongoose and Snake cars. Put simply they
provided a much larger billboard for the "sponsors message"
and set in motion a trend that saw a raft of fuel dragster shoes jump
ship over to the floppers.
Back to the models, I must admit that I have a soft spot for any cars that have been sponsored by toy companies (Cox and Chaparral would be a case in point) because it guarantees that a decent model will be forthcoming. The early Hotwheels models, and indeed the Monogram kits, were good but not entirely accurate in that they used a chassis that differed only in the injector intake. The Legends models again, as per the prototypes, share a large number of common components but there are noticeable differences between the two such as the fuel tanks. As first generation flip-top funnies it was thought at the time that both front and rear suspension was required and indeed this has been incorporated in the models. Other touches that stand out are the braided fuel lines with blue/red "Aeroquip" colour fittings and wiring and control linkages. Overall these models have been manufactured to an exceptionally high level and it is also true for the accompanying 1/64 scale pieces (which simply should not be compared to the old red-line racers which are fun to own but not very well detailed - as a piece of trivia I recollect a short drag racing documentary film in which McEwen is surrounded by boys, he asks them whether they have the Hotwheels toys and then goes on to ask which one was faster, they all say the Snake which was also true for mine). If there is a fault with the models it is that they have chosen to use the later versions with the all too obvious roof spoliers, spoilers is certainly the right term as both the Duster and Barracuda bodies looked better without them and I have absolutely no idea why Mattel did not opt for the cleaner original versions.
£ 53-99 each, inclusive of postage to UK addresses, bear in mind that these were issued at $120 stateside and you might agree that they are now something of a bargain for the larger diecasts, and of course you get the smaller models as well.
(No I don't want to sell the old race set)