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By Thomas Wheeler

It's amazing the number of licensed, let's call them "celebrity" type cars that have been turning up in the Hot Wheels line lately, and I don't mean the more distinct, specialized Hot Wheels cars, I'm talking about the basic, core, get-em-for-a-buck-in-most-stores, blue-carded Hot Wheels cars.

I've seen Angry Birds Hot Wheels. I saw the Delorean from Back to the Future. The Ghostbusters' Ecto 1-A. I've seen quite a few different Batmobiles. I scoured the Earth tracking down the Mars Curiosity Rover, and started to wonder if I was looking on the wrong planet entirely. I even saw the Flintmobile from the Flintstones, although honestly, it wasn't quite as impressive as one they did years ago for Pebbles' cereals. And then just to top it off, I came across the MYSTERY MACHINE from Scooby-Doo!

Come on, Mattel, if you're going to throw Hanna-Barbera cars our way, I dare you to do a set of all the Wacky Races vehicles.

This is not the first time there has been a Hot Wheels sized Mystery Machine. Johnny Lightning did one some years back. They also did a couple of the Wacky Races cars... There's also a much larger-scale die-cast Mystery Machine, which I believe was also made by Johnny Lightning, and is very nearly to scale with 4" action figures.

But this is the first official Hot Wheels Mystery Machine, and while I am quite particular about which Hot Wheels cars I bring in these days, I simply had to have this one. I'm old enough to remember when Scooby-Doo first came on the air, whatever multiple incarnations, series, and movies he and his human friends have had since then. Back in those days, the clothes they wore, and that van, were pretty much in style. These days, depending on who you ask, I suppose they're either iconic, retro, or maybe in the eyes of a few, a bit pathetic. But hey, give the Mystery Machine credit -- how many cheap-looking borderline hippie vans are still plugging away after over forty years!?

A brief, if at all possible, history of Scooby-Doo...

The original series, "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" debuted on September 13, 1969, and followed the adventures of Scooby-Doo, a large and rather cowardly Great Dane who was nevertheless intelligent enough to very nearly speak English, in the company of teenagers Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy, as they traveled around in their vehicle, the Mystery Machine, generally ending up investigating some sort of mystery that seemed to involve some sort of haunting or other paranormal activity, but which was usually the work of an all-too-human antagonist (generally shown briefly near the start of the episode and not referenced again until later) who had something to gain in the bargain. The show also had a distinctly catchy theme song, which if you're not familiar with it -- well, if it's not somewhere on YouTube, then the Internet isn't all it's cracked up to be.

As much as anything, the show focused on Scooby and Shaggy, reluctant participants in these investigations at best. Both individuals were usually looking to fill their stomachs and avoid trouble as much as possible, but Scooby could generally be coaxed into action with a few "Scooby Snax" -- some sort of doggie treat -- and occasionally, the same treats worked on Shaggy, who would usually go along with the plans of others as long as he knew they had his back.

In the following decades, the crew enjoyed a wide range of adventures, including animated versions of celebrity guests, everybody from the Three Stooges to Batman and Robin (taking on the Joker and Penguin, no less), to additional members of Scooby's family, including Scooby-Dee and Scooby-Dum (the latter of which tended to live up to his name), as well as Scrappy-Doo, a youngster who unlike his older and far larger relative, was not the least bit afraid to charge into battle (usually with the battle cry, "Puppy Power!"), even when discretion might well have been the more sensible part of valor.

The cowering canine has been so popular that he's seldom been off the air for long. He has guest-starred in other Hanna-Barbera series, and has had so many of his own that I'm honestly not sure how many he has had. This in addition to countless animated movies that have appeared on Cartoon Network, as well as live-action theatrical movies that featured a very effective CGI Scooby (no doubt determining that a real Great Dane would not only be incapable of the wide range of facial expressions Scooby could manage, but asking a Great Dane to quiver and shake at the sight of trouble just isn't that dignified...).

Truly, Scooby-Doo is one of Hanna-Barbera's most enduring legends, and certainly that includes his friends -- and primary mode of transportation, the iconic MYSTERY MACHINE.

So, how's the car? Very cool, but I'd also like to say a few words about the packaging. Currently, while the average Hot Wheels package card maintains its iconic blue color, and the ever-familiar Hot Wheels logo, each card is also individual in that it features an illustration of the actual car on the package. These illustrations appear to be computer generated, which definitely creates a certain amount of irony in the illustration for the Mystery Machine, because here is a rendering of the car that looks better than it did in the original animated series.

Structurally, the Mystery Machine looks something like a VW van -- although not close enough to cause any problems with Volkswagen. Such vans were certainly popular in the 1960's, among young people in particular, so it was certainly an appropriate choice for Scooby's group.

However, the Mystery Machine is far more boxy and angular than anything that was ever driven to Woodstock. It's overall proportions are like nothing that would be likely to be seen on the road. To give you an idea, the Hot Wheels' measurements give us a Mystery Machine that is 2-1/8" long, 1-1/8" wide, and nearly 1-1/4" high. Now, compare those proportions to each other. That's a heck of a width and height relative to the length. Works for a cartoon, but not as likely on the highway.

The Mystery Machine is mostly turquoise in color, with bright green panels on the sides, very irregular and curved with swirls -- again, right out of the 1960's. On the upper panels, the words "THE MYSTERY MACHINE" have been spelled out in thick, fanciful orange letters, and on the lower panels, several orange flowers appear. All of these details -- the panels, the words, and the flowers, have been outlined in thin black, just like in the cartoon.

The design is at once simplistic and complex. Surely the easiest thing to have done at the time would've been to have drawn these panels as straight lines. But this was not done. The design is more complex than that. At the same time, it's not TOO complex. One has to keep in mind the animation techniques of the time, especially the more limited animation employed by Hanna-Barbera to turn out their weekly Saturday morning offerings on a minimal budget, and believe me when I say that in the 60's and early 70's, Hanna-Barbera was certainly one of THE major players of kids' animation.

To animate the Mystery Machine, all that was really required was a side-shot of the van, a little detail to make it look as if the wheels were spinning, and to keep the background moving behind it. If someone was feeling creative, the van might hit the occasional dip in the road. That's why I said the package illustration was more sophisticated than how the van appeared in the original series. On top of everything else, it's a 3/4 shot, something you generally only saw in the original cartoon if the van was parked.

More sophisticated animation techniques these days have lent a greater sophistication to more recent Scooby-Doo animated movies, but at the time, technology was limited and so was the budget. For what they were, when they were, they were tons of fun, but still...

The Hot Wheels Mystery Machine is a more than capable likeness of its animated counterpart, but it's not perfect. One detail distinctly lacking is the covered spare tire mounted to the front of the vehicle. Technically speaking, the cover should be light green, and should have an orange flower on it. Interestingly, the package illustration did catch this detail. But on the car itself, these details are missing, and the covered spare tire is plain turquoise. It's not a massive omission, but it is noticeable.

There is some interior detail visible through the huge windshield and the open side windows. Basically this is a long seat and a dashboard, orange in color, nicely designed. No sign of a box of Scooby Snax.

One area where Mattel was very clever with this Mystery Machine was with regard to the wheels. The hubcaps of the Mystery Machine traditionally have the same orange flowers on them that decorate other parts of the vehicle. But, the Mystery Machine uses traditional Hot Wheels-type wheels. Nevertheless, Hot Wheels certainly has a wide range of hubcap styles open to it (just ask any dedicated Hot Wheels collector about hubcap variations and watch his face turn several shades of red and purple), and for the Mystery Machine, Mattel couldn't have chosen better. The hubcaps have five petal-like spokes on them, looking very much like a version of the decorative flowers, and the hubcaps have also been chromed in a chrome orange. It's both appropriate and highly effective.

So, what's my final word? I'm very impressed with this car. I was a huge fan of Scooby-Doo when I was a kid, and I'm sincerely pleased to know that it's still around, and still popular with kids (and I'm sure older fans such as myself) today. This Mystery Machine is a great way to acknowledge the series. Mattel did a great job with it, and I'm delighted to have it in my collection. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, as well.

The SCOOBY-DOO MYSTERY MACHINE from Mattel's HOT WHEELS definitely has my highest recommendation!