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Mattel Disney Pixar Diecast CARS: Collecting CARS on ‘Desert Art’ Cards

Last week, we discussed collecting CARS – through the years as Mattel changed motifs and designs, how the CARS were generally repeated so if you’re opening them or just collecting one of each, some aspects are relatively straightforward – in particular – if a CAR had a particularly nameplate, there were not a lot of significant changes so if you bought Luigi in 2006, he looks pretty much the same in 2010 or 2011. Sure, there minor production changes to a handful of CARS but hardly earth shattering …

But for those collecting them on card and sealed – it’s the difference between grade school and college. It only looks the same from a satellite view …

(here is a quick snapshot of the different motifs-card designs from 2006 (left to 2010 on the right).

Every year, generally in the Fall, Mattel changes the design & motif for marketing reasons. Some of the intent is of course so that fanatical collectors will buy again but really, it’s mostly to jazz up the line at retail so everything seems “new” again to the average customer & retailers. This design is generally changed on carded items first but quickly encompasses all other releases including box sets. In the case of CARS, Disney also approves this official art to be used on other CARS licensed merchandise so you will see the background art used on everything from candles to bedding to bicycles.

Also note, while in some years, the ‘theme’ seems to be named right on the card (supercharged, race o rama, etc …) technically, it’s all unofficial as it’s all just called CARS and then the specific product description.

Collectors consider the “mainline” cards to the foundation of any collection whether you collect action figures, or diecast cars. While box sets and other configurations are considered part of the collection, no one really considers collecting a lineup by only collecting the box sets (for instance, in the original Desert Art series, you could pretty much build a complete collection of all the characters by buying box sets only BUT collectors would consider these complementary – obviously if you’re an opener, no one really cares but this is a discussion on mint-on-card collecting).

2006 – “Desert Art” (April 2006 to October 2006)

There is no actual official name for the 2006 series. In fact, even though some of the other years are clearly marked, Mattel simply refers to them all as ‘mainline singles.’

Without going into great detail as we have covered this period in our book and the checklist magazine, CARS diecasts started out with fairly low expectations. Sure, it would sell fine for the life of the film and maybe the DVD and then later on, during Christmas in the subsequent years, they might bring out a few box sets but NO diecast licensed line has ever lasted very long. The closest might be the James Bond series and that is really a scattered series of multiple scales and while successful as periodical collectible items, they were never a long mainstream mass market success.

CARS was originally scheduled for release in November 2005 and Pixar was not part of Disney yet while marketing was being planned and there was a chance that Pixar films would not be distributed by Disney going forward so Disney was also thinking in the short term. (Pixar did became part of Disney in 2006 but by then, all marketing plans were locked in).

Also a factor, the film did not test very high and in general, people were leery a talking CAR movie would be very interesting with Herbie the Love Bug apparently as the CITIZEN KANE of talking car films … though technically Herbie never actually said anything – he was more like Charlie Chaplin.

So, to recap –
NEVER a long term mass market successful licensed diecast lineup.
Most licensed movie properties weak long term prospects in the mid 2000’s. (Biggest movie of 2006? PIRATES OF CARIBBEAN).
No Pixar movie has had much a mass market long term success in selling toys (even Toy Story’s …)
CARS not testing very high.
Talking CARS seemed to be a unpopular concept.
Disney was not getting along with Pixar.
Toys R Us in near death throes.

So CARS the diecast launched with 12 singles and 4 Movie Moments multipacks (featuring 9 additional CARS not on the mainline singles) amidst fairly low expectations.

Now it had one thing going for it – it was from Disney and Mattel so there was going to be at least some collector interest (just like the recent Mattel Hot Wheels Toy Story 3 diecast cars).

I think my experience in collecting these started pretty much like everyone else … “the holy crap these are nice, I will buy some in what is sure to be a very limited line – if they release more than 40 from this film, I will dance in the aisles wearing a Ryan Leaf official jersey.”

So, if you’re collecting the basic “Desert Art” starter set is 12 singles + 4 Movie Moments.

In July, they released 4 new singles in the same front card design so 12 + 9 + 4 would complete your carded collection (there are obviously other items you could buy but for singles, that would be it). That’s 25 carded CARS BTW 🙂

So while you had some HW & Disneyana collectors, most people buying them were parents buying for the kids – these would become collectibles? That’s crazy. How much interest is there in Incredible action figures or Pirates of the Caribbean?

So BUY, RIP open.

And hardly anyone – certainly not parents buying for kids saves the cardback so did the cardback feature 12 CARS or 16? Or had or did not have a promo code on the back top right? Who knew. Who cares.

And really, how many Hot Wheels are worth $.50 after a few weeks while only a select few even retain their value – let alone increase?

Who knew.

So, if nothing else, there are fewer SEALED Desert Art sets than any other for these reasons.

Because there was no information online (TakeFive was still devoted entirely to Amish entertainment centers back then 🙂 ), that also added to people just buying and opening.

What also didn’t and doesn’t help is that on eBay, most sellers cannot even figure out if the card they have is a 12-CAR back or a 16-CAR back. They just call them classic or desert art cards.

That’s why it’s impossible to say how much a “full” set of Desert Art cards is worth because which one do you have and what level of detail matching are you offering?

The 4 Movie Moments are easy as they never changed during the entire run of Desert Art card design so 4 of those is 4 of those.

Here are all the versions of the Desert Art sets starting from MUST HAVE to YOUR CALL:

12 Desert Art cards of the original Wave 1 release.
These can be identified with the photo of the 12-CARS on the cardback. This is obviously the rock solid foundation – no questions asked. MUST OWN.

16 Desert Art cards of the Wave 1.5 release.
These can be identified with the revised photo on the cardback now showing 16 CARS. Since this a card change shows a new “series-wave,” many collectors count this as a separate release and so you need all 16 CARS with this 16-cardback to be complete in wave 1.5


However, if you’re only collecting NEW releases from each wave, there is technically only 4 NEW CARS released on Desert Art Wave 1.5

4 Desert Art cards NEW of the Wave 1.5 release.

These can be identified with the revised photo on the cardback now showing 16 CARS. Dinoco Lightning McQueen, Leakless (aka: Leak Less), Green Ramone & Nitroade were the 4 NEW CARS released after the first wave – appearing on the new 16-CARS cardback.

Because 12 of the 16 CARS can be considered re-releases, some collectors only collect non-re-releases.

NOW, this is where we diverge from the main road.

As noted, because of the hodge podge of the marketing situation, it seems after Mattel finished with Sarge, Wingo and Lizzie – presumably Disney wanted them to add in a mail away offer to juice sales and boost awareness for CARS – but since these 3 were done, they were released without the promo code on the top right. Most serious completist collectors will want to add the Wingo, Sarge & Lizzie WITHOUT the Promo Code.

This is made more difficult as most secondary sellers do not show you the back of the card or WORSE, simply use a random photo …

3 Desert Art cards 12-CARS cardback – NO PROMO CODE.

So, either the seller knows this is a hard to find cardback or you get no info or worse, random incorrect info from a photo that might be from some other auction.

Along the same lines is the Filmore/Fillmore front name plate situation. Through MOST of the run of Desert Art 12-cardback series, Fillmore was spelled incorrectly on the front as FILMORE. In the tiny type below the CAR, he was also spelled incorrectly as FILMORE but his name as always spelled correctly in his large blurb (see below).

When Mattel switched the plant from Thailand to China, someone finally realized it was spelled wrong so they fixed the error in the last batch of Fillmore releases on the 12-CAR cardback.

1 Desert Art cards 12-CARS Fillmore cardback – CORRECTED ERROR.

So, the CORRECTED 12-CAR cardback of Fillmore is the more difficult to find. Note – ALL 16-cardback cards of Fillmore are CORRECT.

So, again, this one is difficult to find as ALL the 16-cardback versions are correct front and back while the 12-cardback version is ONLY RARE if the front and back are spelled CORRECTLY.

From March 2006 to @May 2006, 12-cardback Filmore is spelled incorrectly front & back but “common.”

@June 2006, Fillmore is spelled correctly on “last” 12-cardback. One shipment?

@June 2006 to October 2006 – Fillmore is spelled correctly on all 16-cardback – “common.”

So, my opinion is the Desert Art 1.0 set really comprises of 16 singles … the 12 “common” releases + 3 No promo code cards and 1 “Fillmore” corrected.

(and of course the 4 MM’s).

But wait, there’s more for those who want to go deeper.

Look closely at the Top right of the two Fillmore cards above. You’ll notice info about the mail away offer (which because of the outstanding success of the line was NEVER implemented) differs in the start & end dates – again, they pretty much presumed a minimal success and quickly realized after a few weeks it could-should be extended but then when the line continue to sell like blazes through the early part of summer, why bother actually goosing the line, it was Sun white hot …

So, there are 9 12-CAR cardbacks with the start date of April 1, 2006 (Wingo, Lizzie & Sarge blank)

There are 12 12-CAR cardbacks with the start date of April 29, 2006.

There are 13 cards of 12-CAR cardback with the start date of April 29, 2006 counting the corrected FILLMORE.

There are 4 cards of the 16-CAR cardback (the NEW releases) issued with the incorrect spelling of Fillmore as FILMORE.

There are 16 cards of the 16-CAR cardback issued with Fillmore spelled correctly.

So, what is a complete set of Desert Art cards?

12? As long as there’s one of each – good enough.

16? As long as there’s one of everything new on first issue card of Wave 1 & 1.5, good enough.

28? Wave 1.5 is a different wave so collect ’em all again.

31? Gotta have the 3 blank promo card CARS.

32? Gotta have Fillmore corrected.

36? Gotta have the 4 Wave 1.5 with the “Filmore” spelled wrong.

48?  Gotta have the April 29, 2006 12-CAR cardbacks full set on top of the rest.

Confused? Yea – that’s why our magazine might be the most help. There is handy grid to check off what you have or want and photos of every card version including all the cardbacks. This is the only series that warrants a recap of the cardbacks.

Of course, this info only covers the US market. A while back, Rippers was kind enough to send us pics of his super exclusive set of the NO NAME PLATE international cards. Again, we have to presume some info but gauging from the every early production dates on his cards, it seems likely that Mattel was hoping to save money by not doing international name plates (since there are multi-language requirements for Canada-EU retailers) presuming it might be a one-shipment and done deal but like the US, CARS diecasts proved to be popular everywhere. So, they eventually added the multi-name plates-stickers but the first releases had no names on the front.

Good luck if you’re buying or selling!

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10 January 2011 Mattel Disney Pixar CARS, Retail 48 Comments

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