A US Ford J-Car prototype?

An interesting Ford J-Car recently was discovered by a collector while rumaging through a box of old "beaters".  Based on a number of features, J-Car collectors believe that this car may represent a very interesting prototype that appears to bridge the gap between the HK and US castings.  Currently, there is no provenance on this piece to explain where (if at all) it fits into the design and production history of the Hot Wheels Ford J-Car.  It did not come from an ex-Mattel employee nor is there any available documentation to explain the existence of this car.  However, a survey of some of the features present on this car suggests an interesting story!

First, a little background...  A key difference between HK and US Ford J-Cars is the base.  HK cars (which were in production earlier than US cars) feature a painted base that turns up on the sides to form the "rocker panels" between the front and rear wheels.  US cars were made with a flat unpainted base; the rocker panels are part of the body rather than part of the base.

Base comparison: a US Ford J-Car (L), an early-run "hidden hinge" HK J-Car (C), a common HK J-Car (R).

As a result of this design difference, HK J-Cars often have a small gap at the mid-line where the base and body parts come together.

A side view of US (L) and HK (R) red J-Cars.

J-Car collectors have often wondered why there was such a difference in the HK and US castings.  As mentioned above and on the Ford J-Car page, the HK casting went into production earlier than the US version.  However, most later run J-Cars seem to be US cars.  Nearly all J-Cars found in 1969 "Grand Prix" series blister packs are the US casting.

So why the different designs?  The Mattel 1968 Collector's Catalog describes a "streamlined underbody" as one of the features of the Ford J-Car.  Presumably, this refers to the integrated two-part body design of the HK casting, wherein both parts were painted the same color.  Was the two-part body originally planned for US production and then abandoned for some reason, in favor of a casting that employed a flat unpainted base?  And was HK production of the J-Car phased out relatively early in favor of exclusively producing the US version?

We can only speculate.  And the recently discovered J-Car "proto" serves to add fuel to the speculation!

Viewed from the top, the car is immediately interesting because of the off-white interior (production J-Cars feature black or tan interiors) and the lack of casting details such as door and headlight lines, vents, and the roof-mounted "periscope".  The body appears to have once been painted in an off-white enamel.  The wheels are US-style small size.

However, the most interesting part of this car is the base.  The car features a base with US-style text and peg holes, but cast with HK-style integrated rocker panels!

Viewed from the side, the design is clearly in sync with the two-part HK casting.

As discussed on the main J-Car page, the HK casting was modified early in production to replace a fragile rear hatch hinge design.  Interestingly, the "proto" J-Car features the later HK hinge design, suggesting that US production of the J-Car had not yet been initiated when the hinge mechanism was revised for HK production.

The rear hatch of the "proto" does not appear to have ever been attached to the car, other than by some type of red adhesive.  The underside of the hatch lacks a stamped casting letter, suggesting that it is at least a pre-production piece.  The "TM" after "Hot Wheels" on the base of the car (rather than the copyright symbol seen on production US J-Cars) also is indicative of a very early run car.

Based on these observations, this car would seem to represent a prototype or pre-production version of the US Ford J-Car casting, circa late 1967 or early 1968.  Presumably, for one reason or another, this design was abandoned in favor of the full-body/flat base design before US production was of the J-Car begun.

Of course without valid documentation, identification of this car as a prototype is not absolute, and all of the above is wild speculation.  It is certainly possible that this piece is a forgery, although if so, it was put together by someone who really knows their J-Cars!  A lot of effort would have been required to cast the base either from parts or from scratch.  Alternatively, the car could be a prototype or pre-production CIPSA or Muky J-Car, although that possibility is unlikely given the text on the base.  Whatever it is, much about this car makes sense to the Hot Wheels Ford J-Car fan, and we will undoubtedly try to learn more about it and it's place in Hot Wheels history in the coming months.

Photos courtesy of Eric Peterson

Additional contributions by Randy Pace & Ken Niles


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