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By Thomas Wheeler

I know I don't often review die-cast cars in here. That's probably because I don't buy very many. But every so often, something catches my eye. Such was the case with a particular assortment of this year's HOT WHEELS cars.

They're called X-RAYCERS, and they're one of a number of assortments that are part of the 2005 First Editions. And they've also been extremely popular. It's not hard to find specimens from the other First Editions subsets. There's no great challenge in finding most of the Realistix, Drop Tops, Torpedoes, Track  Aces, or other cars. But the X-Raycers have been pretty scarce.

For one thing, they're extremely distinctive, and it's the distinctive point that makes them cars that I really wanted to have. Their bodies are molded in colored transparent plastic. I'm a sucker for this type of toy. I was delighted when G.I.Joe made the Inferno B.A.T.s a few years ago, molded in transparent red. I have a transparent Gundam that was a ToyFare exclusive. A lot of MicroMan figures are also colored transparent.

The last time Hot Wheels did a special set of transparent cars, it was in 1996, with a special series of four cars called the Phantom Racer Series.

Now, in 2005, we have the X-Raycers. There are ten vehicles in the series. Nine of them are cars. One, the scarcest of the lot, is a plane. And none of them tend to linger in the generally large displays to be found in the average toy department. That's the nice thing about Hot Wheels cars. Not only are they generally under a dollar apiece, but they don't take up a lot of space individually, so most stores with reasonable toy departments can stock a generous supply of them.

The X-RAYCERS vehicles have a wide color range. Basically every primary and secondary color of the spectrum is represented at least once in the series – There are two red cars, two blue, two yellow, two orange, one purple, and one green. The cars all have transparent colored bodies with chrome interiors, and most have chrome undersides. Many have painted markings on their bodies.

The collection includes: Ferrari 360 Modena, Phantasm, Paradigm Shift, Horseplay, Scion xB, Burl-Esque, '69 Chevelle, Stockar, Vandetta, and the airplane, called the Poison Arrow.

Most of these I found in standard stores, mostly Wal-Mart, although I have seen X-Raycers at Target, and reportedly K-Mart is also carrying them, although the only K-Mart left in this town is generally not worth the trip.

Keep in mind that a lot of stores that generally don't have much in the way of toys, will still generally have Hot Wheels cars. This includes grocery stores and pharmacies such as Fry's, CVS, Osco Drug, Walgreens, or whatever might be local to your area.

The rarest, as I said, is the Poison Arrow. I had to get it in a collector's shop, but I didn't end up paying an atrocious amount for it. I certainly paid less than it's been going for on eBay. Besides, I had the other nine, and I was a little fed up at this point. And, it's an extremely cool futuristic plane, transparent green with highly decorated silver wings, and a propellor in the back. I did later see one in a Wal-Mart, perched atop a massive bin of Hot Wheels cars that had obviously just been unloaded from a recent shipment.

An interesting side-point: Anybody doubting the global popularity of Hot Wheels should see the back of the card for this particular Poison Arrow, too. It came on the "short cards", which are generally used for the international market, but sometimes turn up in the United States. There's no less than nine languages referenced on the back. I recognized English, French, German, Spanish, and Greek. By checking the business addresses on the package, I surmise that the others are Polish, Hungarian, Portugeuse, and one other that I have no idea about. This sort of multi-lingual packaging doesn't bother me on international packaging the way it does on packaging intended specifically for United States product, which I feel should be exclusively English.

K-Mart has gotten two exclusive recolorations of the X-Raycers. One of them is the Poison Arrow, a blue version of this plane. The other is a recoloration of the Scion xB, a real car, I might add. The standard Scion xB is transparent red. The K-Mart version is transparent blue. K-Mart seems to have a thing for blue. Last year, one of the scarcer Hot Wheels cars around was a plane called the Madd Propz. The standard version was painted metallic red. K-Mart got a blue version of that, too.

Now, there's one additional Hot Wheels car this year, that while not officially part of the X-Raycers collection, could certainly qualify. Call it the 11th X-Raycers car, if you like. Each year, Hot Wheels produces a number of cars that aren't designated to any specific assortment. They're generally recolors of vehicles from previous years. Some of them can be quite cool. Occasionally they are worked into little subsets of their own, but that's not the case here. This car is the WHAT-4-2, originally released in 2004. But it's been redone with a transparent red body with a transparent yellow canopy. So in a sense, it almost beats out the X-Raycers, since it actually has two distinct transparent colors on it. In this regard, it almost fits in better with the Phantom Racers from nine years ago. But I still believe it could fit as the 11th X-Raycer. Whether there are any more transparent-colored cars in the "Miscellaneous" branch this year I don't know. I discovered the What-4-2 by accident.

In any event, I certainly recommend the HOT WHEELS X-RAYCERS. While only a die-hard Hot Wheels fanatic would strive to pick up every single new car in any given year – and I've met a few people who do just that and they make action figure collectors seem sane by comparison – there's definitely some cool stuff for the casual collector to acquire here and there, and the HOT WHEELS X-RAYCERS most assuredly fit that description!