Let me start this off by saying Hot Wheels are my life. I’ve collected them for my entire human existence and absolutely love the brand. I collect the cars, the playsets, Red Lines, fantasy castings, tracks, posters, coloring books, old boxes, stores displays, and the lone tattoo I have is an outline of the Hot Wheels flame logo. I’ve drug my family to Wal-Marts during vacations, rented a van to buy a giant Hot Wheels store display that was eight plus hours away in Michigan, and went on my fair share of Facebook Market Place meetups and a few questionable Craigslist Hot Wheels deals — all in chase of that eternal diecast dragon. A diehard fan? I’d say so. Being a diehard fan makes any brand related speed-bumps feel like giant craters in the road, and the Red Line Club is one of the few areas of constant trauma — but after some sweeping changes were announced recently, you have to wonder: what is really going on with the RLC?
For those of you unfamiliar with the Red Line Club, aka the RLC, it’s Hot Wheels exclusive, limited diecast club for collectors. Founded in the early 2000s, the RLC was operated out of a special Hot Wheels Collectors website and was launched as a place to bring collectors together, talk about the brand via the member forums, grow and maintain interest in the brand, and sell exclusive merchandise. The site houses a user forum for news and discussion, a new releases and sneak-peek area, general merchandise shop, and special paying-members-only areas for things like exclusive casting sales. The site’s forums flourish to this day — with Hot Wheels designers and historians posting often…which is surprising as many other forums have floundered under the crushing reach of social media, so props to Hot Wheels for keeping them alive and active. Over the years the site has largely remained the same, but has grown in size and reach by leaps and bounds, adding amenities as the market required them.
A screenshot of the RLC site from 2005 — the fact it says error is very LOL worthy if you’ve been an RLC member in the last decade. (Screen shot courtesy of the Wayback Machine)
While the site itself has many perks, the REAL reason people join the RLC is to score the limited edition membership cars that are up for grabs throughout the year. RLC cars are some of the most coveted Hot Wheels cars this side of the millennium — with some cars, like the pink ’55 Chevy Gasser “Candy Striper”, selling for nearly $2,000 a piece on the reg. Wild, right? Who wouldn’t want to score a car like that for their collection? Well, nearly everyone – and therein lies one of the core issues with the new RLC changes (more on that later).
A screenshot from ebay showing the sky-high Candy Striper sale prices.
While anyone can register for the free RLC forums, you have to be a paying membership holder to have access to club-only cars like the infamous Candy Striper — and those memberships are limited. Once a year, usually around February/March, Hot Wheels opens up club memberships to the general public, prompting hoards of Hot Wheels collectors rush to the site in order to get their hands on one of those membership spots. The annual membership is $29.99 and pays off immediately as it comes with an exclusive club car for the year, Red Line era metal badge, and club patch. The first club exclusive release is usually put up for sale shortly after memberships sales end.
The RLC casting releases are all limited quantities meaning not everyone can get one — not even every RLC member, even though they’ve paid for a membership in order to score these particular cars. Limited releases are part of why the RLC cars are so sought after, so it’s a gift and a curse type scenario: they’re hot because they’re limited, but they’re limited so you may not get one.
Hot Wheels has never publicly said how many RLC memberships they allot per year, but most put the number of memberships around 25,000. For a company that sells more cars than anyone else on the planet, 25,000 is a relatively low number. While RLC cars are limited, they vary in production numbers. The Candy Striper had a production run of 4,000 cars and the newest release, the 2006 BMW E46 M3, had a 20,000 car run. Limited, but not 4,000 cars limited. Even at 20k cars, theoretically 5,000 members are missing out on one of the highest production number RLC vehicles yet. Now granted there will be members who don’t want to buy a particular casting, don’t have the funds, or can’t get to their computer during the sale, but it still shorts them the chance to get a particular RLC model when the run number is less than the membership count.
This has been a point of argument for years, that paying members aren’t able to get the exclusive cars when that is kind of the whole point of the membership…but chronic website issues have only made that problem worse, much worse.
The RLC website has been the bane of collectors existence for years. While the site has been aesthetically fine, the function of the purchase process on days when models are dropped has been historically terrible. Log-ins not working, getting stuck in the “waiting room”, cars selling out before users could even get through the entire purchase process, completed orders getting cancelled, cookie issues, and the notorious “gears of death” all still make me shudder.
Part way through 2020, the RLC purchase portal was redesigned and fixed most of those issues. There were still some problems, like one RLC release being rescheduled altogether, but overall the process has been much smoother – a definite win for the RLC and users like myself that have had the buying process hindered by site issues.
You may be wondering what any of this has to do with the 2021 RLC — well, this past week the RLC website went through a redesign and is now visually and functionally different. The site went from a “dark mode” look to all white. It’s a clean look but makes the forum posts hard to read because of a plethora of white spaces between post texts. Again, no biggie – I can live with that. Websites go through redesigns all the time, so why would RLC users care? Normally a web redesign would spawn a few naysayers regarding design and function, and then they would move on….but what worries me, and other users, is that this redesign was implemented less than a week before the 2021 memberships open. Knowing that the website has been less than reliable, it’s a little worrisome to see a large change before what is arguably the biggest RLC sale of the year.
The RLC also announced that the memberships would open on March 9th, just four days after the site redesign…and that the RLC is now being offered as a digital membership with “no limits” and the RLC membership car is now a separate $20.00 add-on being sold in “limited quantities”.
What exactly does “no limits” mean? The way the RLC site reads, it sure sounds like they are selling an unlimited amount of memberships this year:
“This year, we’re revving things up with the all-new Digital Membership. A lower-priced option than what’s been previously offered, this allows any serious Hot Wheels fan to enjoy online benefits of the club.”
If RLC memberships are now unlimited, it will be a total game-changer. In the past, it has been difficult to get most RLC releases, and that was with a limited amount of memberships sold. With unlimited memberships, it will surely be incredibly hard to secure an RLC casting on drop day. Not only will there be substantially more humans to compete with, there will inevitably be some bots mixed in. This could impact users even more than the gears of death.
Would an unlimited amount of memberships cause the model quantities to increase? Will any increase in quantities hurt the collectibility of the cars? Will these changes turn users away? All valid questions that should be answered in the coming weeks.
A new website, a new style of membership, and possibly unlimited memberships? What is going on with the RLC? They have taken an incredible amount of heat from users because of the past tech issues, so why change the site and membership style just before the 2021 ‘ship campaign launches?
As a current and past member, and hopefully a 2021 member, it worries me to see some of these changes being made. While the web changes could play a part in further tech issues, it’s the possibility of unlimited memberships that really gives me the uh-ohs. Opening up membership to everyone entirely defeats the purpose of it being an exclusive club. As a user I can tell you it’s been incredibly hard to secure some castings. The process of buying the cars has taken me anywhere from eight minutes to an hour — and that’s with limited members battling for the cars. Unlimited members? Fuhgeddaboudit. It seems like the only people that would benefit from unlimited memberships would be Hot Wheels collecting all those $9.99 membership fees without actually improving the membership benefits…unless they have some unannounced member surprises in-store for 2021, but that is obviously yet to be seen.
Myself, I’d love to see Hot Wheels come up with a subscription based diecast release system, or even a flat fee at the beginning of the year that you could pay to be sent RLC cars throughout the year — something to get RLC releases into the hands of collectors easier without the hassle of fighting web issues or unlimited members/bots.
While we’ll have to wait and see how the 2021 membership launch goes, and how smoothly the first RLC release flows, one thing is for sure: 2021 will be a defining year in the history of the RLC.
DISCUSSION: So, as a collector, what are your thoughts on the club changes and possibility of unlimited members? Will you be going for one of the 2021 memberships and/or exclusives cars? Have you had issues in the past with the RLC site? What’s your thoughts on exclusive diecast clubs in general?