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Mattel Pixar Disney Cars: The Variant Checklist (Summer 2008 Update)

What is a variant? (and of course, specifically to toys & toys collecting)

There are really four criterias:

A variant is simply a variation that is also available that is different from the “correct” design, different from the first-release design or different from the current release and more importantly, REPLACES it.

It is a “variation” of the release without a corresponding change in its name.

It is a small difference.

It is produced in enough quantity to rise above merely production error.

And now, the accompanying detailed explanation:

A variant is simply a variation that is also available that is different from the “correct” design, different from the first-release design or different from the current release.

A variant occurs when during the production run, the company makes a design element change. Originally, in most cases, it was simply to fix a production error or unintended anomaly. But gradually, companies realized secretive or subtle changes created more marketing buzz and induced more sales from completist collectors without really hurting casual collecting (see reason c).

In fact, some companies clearly tell you what the variation will look like and worse, they will “short-pack” in cases with the regular ones. This is the general modus operandi of McFarlane Toys and their policy of creating action figures and putting together sealed cases. They will announce the following variants will be packed one to a case for the next few shipments – inserted randomly – what you get or don’t get is not possible to tell until you open the box. But they will also drop in unannounced variants to up the ante … and it’s hard to tell how many they actually made where the players socks are down – 100, 500? 1,000? Of course, it’s not really bad to buy McFarlane sports figures by the case because if you’re willing to part with the variant, you can pretty much make back the cost of the sealed case on eBay.

At least with McFarlane cases, you get one variant (or more) per case, there have been really unfriendly packing decisions from other companies where the variant is one to nine cases or something like that – for some reason the toy company thinks this is “fun,” when other than the employee at WM or TRU who gets to yells “eBay Jackpot BINGO!!” in the back room, 99.999% of collectors do NOT think this is fun. Fortunately, most companies have stopped with idiotic short-packing and try to keep it reasonably within reach.

Mattel does this with Hot Wheels. They will change out the wheels or change the color (two most common Hot Wheel design changes) of the car – just in case you’re wondering why grown men insist on looking at every Hot Wheels car with a jeweler’s loupe.

Also note, the variant does not actually have to be the subsequent release, it can be the first release of said car/action figure that becomes the variant if they are correcting an error, then the ‘error’ of course is the variant …

Which leads to another point within criteria #1 – changes do not necessarily imply a design error correction. SOMETIMES it is but other times, they choose to make a change because of a supplier or they wanted to cut a little corner to save a few bucks or now, cynically, just to boost collector value – they are manipulating the market. For instance why was Charlie’s Checker’s tail-lights changed from red to yellow? Why induce an error when there’s no real cost difference in red or yellow?

It is simply a variation of the release without a corresponding change in its name.

Because if they simply changed the name, it’s not a variation of the “old” version, is it? It then becomes a new car/action figure so the no-name change is important and also as important, no change in model, internal code or UPC though that’s of less importance.

It is a small difference.

This seems an odd thing but really, the collectibility of a variant is that it’s subtle. For instance, decreasing the size of Fred is a significant thing – he probably lost about 60% of his girth and mass and he’s obviously a production change but since it’s so large of a change, it’s generally called out as a “different” release versus a variant – and even though Mattel calls him by his same name … Fred#2 is just commonly referred to as Fred #2 or Fred Resized … strange, yes. Again, calling something a variant is subjective but these are the general rules.

It is produced in enough quantity to rise above merely production error.

Now, this one of course is subjective but easier to tell nowadays with eBay. Unlike stamps or coins where there is an inspector who inspects the inspector and another guy who then re-inspects everything, toy manufacturing is a mass market cattle-drive like process …

In other words, SING ALONG – “Move ’em on, head ’em up. Head ’em up, move ’em on. Move ’em on, head ’em up. Count ’em out, ride ’em in, Ride ’em in, count ’em out, Count ’em out, ride ’em in.”

They try to create a process so there’s very little room for individuality errors but does it happen? ALL THE TIME. These are called error CARS because they are just errors in production NOT errors in the design and production design aspects … subtle but an important distinction … so when you notice a variation in the look and design, keep in mind, it’s an error unless you can find dozens of other all over the country repeating the same thing – then it’s a variation and a ‘variant.’

So, put them all together and you have a CARS variant but what does it all mean? Sometimes absolutely nothing. For instance, Boost actually comes in two color schemes – very, very subtle but technically a variant – does anyone really care? I doubt it very much. So, for the most part, variants for CARS is for the most part subtle and really does not create much of a frenzy. Fred without the license plate might be the only solid example of something actually affecting its value and desireability.


One reason for the nonchalance towards CARS variants is that until recently, most of the CARS variant differences were simply due to change in production from Thailand to China and EVERY CAR from Thailand bore the difference (no real scarcity) and the difference is so subtle, 97% of CARS collectors did not really care but here they are anyway


It’s very, very subtle. The color scheme from the Thailand Boost’s are vaguely cooperish in color under very bright lights thus defusing the purple into a more lavender color. Imagine our horror ๐Ÿ™‚ All you have to do is look on the back of the Desert Art Movie Moments and see that Boost is washed out under the studio lights of the professional photographer. The subsequent China Boost’s are more purple in color.


This is the Thailand Boost.

Below is a Boost-China from reader SlicePie. It’s very subtle – you may or may not be able to notice that the color of Boost is consistent throughout while the Thailand Boost is cooperish-purple or lavender-ish under bright lights … again, hardly anything to cause you to strip off your clothes and run through the streets naked … of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that if you just had a particularly good cookie but as for Boost, not really worth a naked ramble and possible arrest …


If you need a Pantone measuring device to pick out the lavender purple of Boost versus the mauve purple of China boost, at least with the King’s, all you need is a tiny tape measure. The difference is literally 1MM. I measured. 1 MM. I hope that guy who created the 1MM too wide mold was severly lashed with a 1MM whip and given a 1MM bandaid to recover ๐Ÿ™‚

If you look at the wheel well area, on the correct China King’s, it is a correct half circle that is equal distance from the radius to all points outward … on the Thailand King’s – at the outer edge, it is distinctly 1MM further away and then corrects itself into a correct half circle shape. What a travesty of a half circle! What kind of civilization do we live in where we have abandoned all comprehensive of a protractor? I clutched my abacus and slide rule and wept openly when I first laid eyes on my China King versus my Thailand King … maybe I’m taking this too seriously ๐Ÿ™‚


Also note, throughout the production run of The King, the position of Dinoco’s logo shifts slightly and some have a slightly more pronounced angle (you’ll notice in this example, one is much further away from the wheel well). You can argue it but unlike the Kori CAR (below) with just one tampo decal where a changed position is noticeable, on a car with a multitude of tampo decals, the expectation is that there will always be some differences … so you could easily argue both positions convincingly for hours but I think it’s not considered worthwhile for anyone to either buy or not a King for that reason … unlike the wheel well issue as a (extra) reason to collect the 12-desert art cards.



Again, SlicePie was kind enough to take some great photos but the only true way to show them is for me to break down and open a SC Sally to photograph them side by side since we’re using different lighting setups – and of course, after 8 Cokes for some reason, my camera is really shakey on close-ups … ๐Ÿ˜‰ but this might be helpful and honestly, this is as subtle as the difference:

This is the back of the car above – from my Thailand Sally.

This is SlicePie’s China-Sally (BTW, the ding is the right way to play with toys with wheels ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Notice how there is a skoosh more ink that fills the E in Carrera … yea, that’s how subtle it is … in regards to the printing process, it is basically the difference between 300 dpi and 150 dpi … or the type is not anti-aliased correctly. Take your pick. But clearly worth the $2,000 difference … just kidding … basically if you buy the 12-back Sally, you are almost certain to get the Thailand version.

Basically every 12-back Desert card Sally is from Thailand and I believe most but not all 16-back Desert card also.

There is one clue and one factual answer. First the clue, on the card, there is a production date stamp that should read something like XXX6A1 for all 12-CAR desert art original release cards. A1 is the factory code for the Thailand factory.

For the 16-CAR desert art original cards, some have an A2 code which I believe is a factory in China. (The subsequent Sally’s are all made with the factory code EA which is definitely China and the current factory of production).

The problem is of course you cannot say 100% for A2 until you open the CAR & card to verify because the outside printed card was changed to read โ€œMade in Thailand or Chinaโ€ but the CAR itself carries its actual country of origin. That is the final indicator but of course, by then you have opened the CAR & card.

And of course, most people open and throw away the card or even if you keep the card, unless you looked as you opened, who remembers exactly? I know my Sally was one of the original 12 that was opened and it says Made in Thailand. I have others all sealed up in their plastic prisons so I cannot say 100% (I did open a Sally from the first 2-pack but gave it away before people realize it was โ€˜different.โ€™ ;)

โ€ฆ in summary, A1-Thailand. A2-probably China. EA – definitely China. So as a collector, you have to own the 12-back Desert art to be absolutely certain. If anyone is opening an A2 card, be sure and let us know China or Thailand โ€ฆ


Well, technically a variant if you count invisible lead content. It’s only higher than normal value is really because kids have been deprived of a Sarge since 8.17.07. Mattel, you cannot find any green paint without lead in all of China – WTH?

THOSE Three CARS are the last & only of the Thailand-China factory variants based on different molds and different factory production methods, settings and printing of tampo decals.


The first official variant – when Mattel realized that all they had to do was look up at the CGI on the card to see that his wheel rims were red and the FHH’s wheel rims where chrome/gray on the diecast they made … of course, you can quibble about the which part of his rims are really red and that Mattel took the lazy way so it’s still not 100% correct but at least it’s closer. So, while the chrome rimmed FHH is presumably the only retired CAR, I have yet to see anyone selling it for more than $3.



Comes in two versions – PRESS PASS straight and as pictured here, PRESS PASS angled. Might this be more of a symptom of laziness and sloppiness? Sure. But does that make it any less of a variant than Fred without a license or TJ wearing a license plate that reads TUF GUE? Both also laziness and sloppiness? Same crowded boat. Not very exciting variant but there it is.


Back license plate – two versions. One where his license plate says TUF GUE and the later corrected one reads TUF GUY. It seems TUF GUY is the later and corrected version so much fewer produced. However, it’s so subtle, no one really is profiting from this and of course, you have to have enough people care to make it a market.



The only CARS variant that seems to see some action on the secondary market. Most likely because it’s the CAR itself is in short supply to begin with and then presumably, also because it’s readily apparent between the two versions. Of course, the two versions are Fred with a license plate that reads FRED and the other says F*** … I’m just kidding! Just kidding! The variant ones have a license plate holder but no FRED license plate sticker. BTW, a re-scaled Fred AND a Fred with 3-stickers is scheduled for Fall of 2008.




As the Piston Cup Pace Car, Charlie Checker came with correct red tail-lights. Most CARS have red tail-lights and pace cars are really just regular cars with a paint scheme. During the start of a race or under yellow when a pace car comes out, the speed limit is generally between 55 and 75 – a speed most nearly every car can attain – and of course as a “regular” car, it has red tail-lights … which makes Mattel’s switch from the WM card Piston Cup Pace Car with a red tail light to a yellow tail light called Charlie Checker all the more suspicious. Okay, if you get down to actually dollars and cents, yellow is ever so slightly cheaper than red but all Charlie Checker needs are two splashes on the back AND the yellow tail light is a different yellow color than the rest of Charlie Checker so it’s not just laziness … it’s downright strange to think they would change for anything but the cynical reason to re-sell Charlie Checker to collectors … of course, casual openers are not going to care – if they missed it as a WM card car, they’ll buy it as Charlie Checker on a WOC card – who cares what the tail light is colored. And of course, they also changed the color of his tail lights on the Gift Pack to yellow … strange. Just to re-iterate, all the current Charlie Checkers (on WOC card and on the Gift 3-pack have yellow tail-lights).



Yep, the Gift Pack Bling Bling McQueen (with Gold Mia & Tia) is sporting the Bling Bling Dinoco paint package (Dinoco on the back spoiler) BUT with the eyes (& teeth) of Dinoco McQueen … subtle but several millimeters difference if you look at it in the photo below.


Mia Tia Bling Bling McQueen, Bling Bling McQueen & Dinoco McQueen

You’ll notice the Gift Pack Bling Bling McQueen’s eyes (above left) are NOT the same as solo card Bling Bling McQueen (above right). You could also argue the teeth paint motif matches the Dinoco McQueen and not the solo Bling Bling MQueen.

Of course, odd – since it’s not like 99.99% of CARS collectors aren’t going to buy the Gold Mia/Tia twinbill but this could be the beginning of the next phase of CARS where it’s either laziness and sloppiness or a calculated cynical attempt to sell and re-sell the same CARS but with slightly different eyes, tail-lights or stamping every release as NEW … humm …


CONFIRMED! Reader “SlicePie” was thoughtful enough to point this out to us and sent along some photos. SlicePie was the first to notice there is “regular” Lightning McQueen that has an added front piece … as you see from the Dinoco McQueen’s above, McQueen is essentially one contiguous mold for many of the versions but on the Tongue McQueen, obviously, 95% of Tongue McQueen is the same except for the front overhanging tongue so they created a similiar mold to regular McQueen and attached the front end “mouth, teeth & tongue” portion (as SlicePie demonstrates here with a piece of paper to show the separation …)

And below is what Lightning McQueen normally looks like this:

However, SlicePie was the first to discover there is a two-piece version.

Clearly, you can see a mold/crease line around the front quarter panel where the “normal” McQueen does not have one (where the two pieces are joined). Very interesting.

This blow-up is from a store package (sorry, not the greatest photo) but you can clearly see a “horizontal” crease that runs all the way around the front of Lightning McQueen.

The production date on this is from last November with the factory code of “DP.”

While not 100% scientific yet, I have yet to find any single or box or 3-pack LM’s that are NOT the normal one-piece mold McQueen’s.

They ALL seem to be from the Lightning Fast Speedway set.

I have now seen 10 in several stores and ALL the Lightning’s are definitely two-piece McQueen.

This is a photo of the SC version – the one in this photo is definitely a 1-piece McQ, it’s not mine but it’s in high res and I blew it up to look and it’s definitely a 1-piecer.

The WORLD OF CARS version of this looks essentially the same except there a WORLD OF CARS motif “logo.” so if you plan on adding this variant to your collection, make sure it’s the WOC version and not the SC version … though if anyone has the SC version with the 2-piecer McQ, let us know.

Now, will this be the new Lightning McQueen going forward? The evidence is difficult to say so far. The above 2-piecer in the assembled set was produced in November 2007 at the factory DP … the latest and newest regular blister card Lightning McQueen is the Lane Mates (short card) version which was produced in February 2008 (the same & “normal” single CAR factory – EA) so the evidence is inconclusive.

The two readers who report in a 2-piece McQueen from the race track set list the code on the underneath of the CAR as 2707EA & 1447 EA so it would seem the same factory that produced the single CARS also did the Fast Speedway set CAR though the set itself was assembled at Factory DP (which again could just be part of the same complex – DP is Mattel’s internal code).

I suppose it’s just as logical that Mattel told them to create a mold with a separate front end for the future – for instance, if you’re going to do a LEAVES (on face) McQUEEN or any changes in expression, instead of creating a 100% new mold, they can reuse the “body” mold again while just slapping on the “expression” front portion … speculation but presumably logical … So, will we soon see solo carded 2-piece Lightning McQueen’s? Or is the Fast Speedway an anomaly?

What’s also contradictory is that the 1-piece Lightning McQueen from the Pit Row Race Off launcher says 2987EA – the latest McQ I have opened – do you have any numbers different than the three here (look underneath your Lightning) … so all we know is that Factory EA has a 2-piece McQ mold that was used prior to November 2007 but yet in finalizing the Lane Mates LIghtning McQueen in February 2008, they blistered up 1-piece Lightning McQueen’s.

Ultimately, we have a lot of random evidence but nothing conclusive yet as to the future path of Lightning McQueen – 1 or 2-piecer?

But for now, we know that the Fast Speedway McQueen is a variant.

Any info you have to add to the mystery or resolve the mystery is appreciated.

There have also been reports of RPM’s being coated with yellow/orange overspray – all my RPM’s look fine to me and until I can see more in the stores, I will just consider that an error until I see or hear of dozens of more examples … but clearly a new mold piece should be a variant but I am curious if others report in …


This is mostly from our Motor Speedway of the South Unboxing Photo post

For reference, here is the current Dale Jr.

All smiles and a happy go lucky guy.

New Dale Jr.? The I’m passing and I’m gonna spin you out “aggro-face” Dale Jr. (ie: I’m sick and tired of hearing about LM, King & Chick!)

What is different? As far as I can tell:

It’s the No Stall/Nitroade body

He’s not smiling

Eyes different

The stylized JR logo on the back “trunk” is thicker and taller – almost touching the windshield.

There are 7-8 rivets on the “front” of the spoiler – the back of the spoiler looks the same.

Back “tail-lights” are now triangular in shape versus the rectangles before.

The red color might not be a Budweiser red (to avoid trademark issues) but another red now but that’s hard to say until I hold them side by side but that would be logical.

Anything else?

Well, here’s your one “exclusive” car – whether this becomes the new Dale Jr. on the single cards, we shall have to see.


Another “correction” variant like Doc Hudson.

The first release on Supercharged & WOC cards is on the right. For some reason, they painted his mouth white instead of painting his mouth black and his teeth white … as is the corrected version on the left. Pretty easy to tell – right, old clown-face … left, more correct. To be technical, the 3D illustration of Darrell Cartrip shows two rows of teeth but on the diecast CAR itself, we only see one row of teeth but close enough and much closer to normal. We’ll take it. There are no card chaanges or indication from the first releases on WOC cards – this is a true variant. Otherwise, exact same CAR (some differences that you see is due to the lighting for this photo, otherwise, CAR is the same)

As for packaging variants … we need to revise that post …

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One Comment

  • Gnoshi says:

    Hi, just found out while unpackings my son’s cars that the tool box for Guido AND for My name is not chuck have a variant where the 95 is on each sides instead of only in back of it. I don’t know if this is considerred a variant but i never seen it mentionned in your pages

    (MET: Accessory variants are not considered very important in CARS collecting – there is some interest …).

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