Mr. Hot Wheels
With 3,000 toy cars and related items, Bruce Pascal of Potomac takes collecting to the extreme.
Bruce Pascal shows off his Hot Wheels collection, which includes about 3,000 toy cars, in his Potomac home. Photo by Michael Ventura
There are car collectors, and then there are toy car collectors. Jay Leno is known for his collection of, at last count, about 130 cars and 90 motorcycles, housed in a massive garage in Burbank, California. Bruce Pascal is known for his Hot Wheels collection, which consumes most of the fourth floor of his Potomac townhome.
Mr. Hot Wheels of Potomac, as he is sometimes known, has earned “extreme collector” status on YouTube. He has more than 3,680 Instagram followers. His collection, containing about 3,000 Hot Wheels and more than 2,000 related items, was last valued at $1.8 million. But, he insists, “I don’t look at value. I look at historical significance.”
Maybe so, but these tiny cars don’t come cheap, and money feeds his mania. He spent $200 per square foot—a total of $50,000—on architects (Wingate Hughes), an artist (Paco Lane) and craftsmen (DFS Construction Corp.)—to redo a room on the fourth floor. There are four wooden tracks arching up to the ceiling, one side lined with Hot Wheels cars, and a classic Hot Wheels poster filling another wall. Pascal has 10 Hot Wheels cars on display at Cushman & Wakefield, the commercial real estate firm where he serves as executive managing director, but for his collection, there’s no place like home (and a 4,000-square-foot warehouse he bought in Gaithersburg).
Pascal’s man cave is the attic, where he displays 1,100 of his cars in acrylic cases along one wall. Each car is wrapped in acid-free translucent material. His “desk” is a glass and steel display case containing collectibles that include a Hot Wheels watch, toothpaste, shampoo, temporary tattoo and coins that Shell Oil once dispensed with gas.
Hot Wheels first hit the market in 1968, the product of toy-maker Mattel, which was owned at the time by Elliot and Ruth Handler. Before her husband decided to improve on Matchbox cars with the more mobile Hot Wheels toy, Ruth had already gained fame as creator of the Barbie doll. Mattel, no longer a family business, also owns Matchbox now, and both are collectible.
So much ado about something so little (the original Hot Wheels that came out in 1968 were 1/64th the size of the real car), and to many so inconsequential, but not to Pascal.
For him, the collecting frenzy began in 1999, when his parents were decluttering his boyhood home in Bethesda’s Kenwood Park. They handed him a box of Hot Wheels he’d played with as a kid. For Pascal, 38 at the time, the flame was reignited. Within six months, he had purchased perhaps the rarest of the rare, a 1969 pink “Beach Bomb,” a prototype of the Volkswagen van, for $72,000. It is valued today at more than $150,000.
He admits he has a “serious addiction,” especially to the so-called “Redline” models of his youth, made from 1968 to 1977 with distinguishing red lines on the tires. His website is redlineprotos.com. On eBay, he is HWPascal. Within the hobby, he is known as the Indiana Jones of Hot Wheels for his dogged pursuit of the most obscure and esoteric Hot Wheels items.
In addition to his Hot Wheels cars, he has obtained original designer drawings, blueprints, and even 10 foot-long wooden models from which the miniatures were made. Early on, he attended a Mattel alumni reunion in California. He met the Handlers there, and someone gave him a 1968 employee directory. Soon he was tracking down the former employees and adding such Hot Wheels ephemera as factory badges and internal newsletters to his collection.
Pascal has yet another distinction of which he is especially proud. In 2009, he was inducted into the Diecast Hall of Fame. He shares this honor with Leno, world champion race car driver Mario Andretti, former NASCAR championship driver Richard Petty, and Michael Zarnock, who worked with Pascal on his self-published 2011 book Hot Wheels Prototypes. Pascal says only 200 copies remain from a 2,000-book print run.
One of Pascal’s most prized possessions is a photograph of Elliot Handler holding his book a few days before he died at age 95 in 2011. “I’m beyond excited to have that picture,” Pascal says.
Pascal’s wife, Amy, who has her own business selling colorful leggings, is an enthusiastic enabler of his addiction. “He’s sort of the adventure sportsman of collecting,” she says. “I’m pretty proud of him. He wants to reach the peak.”