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Mattel Disney Pixar CARS Diecast: Prototypes, Resins, First Shots & Production

Last week, there was an auction of several RV “prototypes,” and there was some question as to the definition of the word prototype …

Because the word “prototype” has a definite TOY PRODUCTION INSIDER-JARGON meaning and a more “average” meaning to everyone else.

For Mattel Disney Pixar diecast CARS, the process goes something like this.

Once the diecast makes the list of “approved” characters/vehicles, Pixar generates a shot of what the character/vehicle should look like. Mattel creates a handmade version with resin (plastic) version. This is technically in the toy design jargon/industry called the PROTOTYPE.

It is sent to Disney & Pixar for approval. Once, they approve, Mattel sends it along to the factory where they make a mold and create a FIRST SHOT (see below). In the case of CARS, it is a mish-mash of zinc diecast metal plus random colored plastic that is handy …


Some of these are hand painted and forwarded for the next round of approvals.

So, while those in the toy production & design would only refer to this Bubba above as a FIRST SHOT, to those on the approving list (licensors, marketers, etc, etc … aka: not in the actual production & design side of this process) MIGHT call this version in the “normal” usage of the word “prototype.”

Once approved, a small batch/production is created as the final test. Again, what an employee at Mattel might call them is entirely different than those on the receiving end of these early PRODUCTION versions to give the final, final sign off. The average person might casually refer to them as “prototypes,” since “mass-market” production cannot begin until everyone signs off … or if Mattel holds up production such as Richard Clayton Kensington for 3 years, the average person would certainly consider the first test batch, “protoypes,” since there are NO other releases … of course, once they begin production, then most people would probably retroactively “de-name” them as “prototypes” or “pre-production” ones (technically though they were produced as part of “production.”)

So, what is a prototype? It all depends on where you stand and perhaps if you are buying or selling.

First, do you actually want one made of plastic resin?

This is a real actual prototype by the letter of the definition as designated by toy industry jargon – (photographed at SDCC 2009). It weighs like it was carved from foamboard – nothing. The wheels are glued on and clearly, it is rough in many spots.

It’s not even diecast metal.

Or do you consider an unpainted FIRST SHOT a prototype?

Or do you consider/want a “prototype” only made of metal and either hand painted or the first off the production line for final approval …

Like Antonio’s cousin, Costanzo? Made of mostly metal, rolls and out months before the the actual release?

Or by toy industry definition, not a real prototype nor a first shot but the average person might call this a prototype since it’s NEVER BEEN released to the general public?

To the average person, prototype can mean anything created along the way to give people a 3-dimensional understanding of the concept … for instance in the (real) auto industry … the prototype might only vaguely look like the final production car …

For instance, for the average person, this 1962 Ford Mustang prototype is fairly difficult to envision as the iconic production release of the 1964/1965 Mustang we all know so well.

Via OKMustang.com

And along the way, as the shape and design changed, there were further prototypes …

So, are the RV’s above toy industry PROTOTYPE? Or prototypes?

But wait – it gets intriguing because the supplied PR photos do NOT match the actual item … you’ll note that the description says the three racers are from the original release (not prototypes as noted also) and as people point out, McQ with the spoiler decal was NOT available in 2006 But the REAL auction item does feature a LM with the missing decal spoiler …

AND if you look closely, Syd VanDerKamper does seem like he’s missing cross hatching on his front grill and his air vents on the roof seem much rougher …

So, were the auction RV’s handmade of resin, the industry term of a “prototype?”

Without having actually picked one up, it’s pretty impossible to say for absolute certainty and with only a rough photo, it’s hard to say with absolute certainty but it does seem there were enough “finished” RV’s to shoot one photo along with a later Lightning McQueen as the PR photo – probably because under bright studio lights, the resin “real” prototypes don’t look as great with a lot of rough details?

So, for now, I would lean towards the auction as being “real” prototypes in the industry usage of the phrase and that they got further along to have “pre-production” ones completed – molds done – all ready to go except for the final word to fire up them up …


So, like buying art – do you want the sketchbook pencil rough draft? Or the final one on canvas with all the colors?

UPDATE: Buyer says they are REAL prototypes as Mattel calls them – they are lightweight and plastic throughout.

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  • DDD says:

    Thanks for the great info, Met! When I see a “prototype” image that looks at least partly computer-generated, what is that? I’m thinking of how the Leland prototype appears kind of fakey, especially in the grille and headlights area, and I’m sure there are others. Is it the diecast designer’s concept, which will then become an actual “prototype”?

    (MET: Well, with a PR photo, it’s impossible to say as it could just be a CGI but it could also be the whole handcut and sculpted thing – if you look closely at Antonio, there are definitely rough areas …).

  • Mike Manifold says:

    Gee, I ‘m not convinced. Perhaps more pictures like the mystery yellow fan truck will convince me (hint hint, cough cough)….

  • Mariela says:

    Great info, thanks Met!

    Today we were at TRU and the Cars designer (named Terry) was there, and we asked him about they were even going to release any of the first movie cars, and didn’t give us any hope 🙁

  • Jinzo says:

    I would be just happy enough to obtain one of each for my collection. 🙁 Probably that’s not happening anything soon. To me prototype is a completed unreleased item while pre-production prototype is like the Bubba in the picture provided. If Mattel can do prototypes, why not release them to the masses? Seriously Mattel doesn’t want my money [Been about 4 months] 🙁

    • BMW says:

      Great pictures! Best ones of the prototype RV’s I have seen.

      And almost all of these were in the Meet the Cars first edition book of 100 cars.

      Why tease children and adults alike by giving them pictures of the Cars in a widely sold book and not make the characters?

  • I-am-speed says:

    Here are Lightning and Mater, cast in stone resin to look like hand-carved wood.


    You know you’ve made it big when you’re on QVC!!! 😉

  • Tom says:

    That Mustang pic is from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, I reckon.

  • Stig McQueen says:

    I was with you right up to the Mustang. Clearly that’s a concept car, not a prototype. Concept cars are purely styling exercises intended to “wow” the public at car shows; they may include styling elements that may appear on future models, but there’s generally no intention to put the entire concept car into production.

    And maybe that’s what these CARS are, too; not prototypes, not test shots, but concept CARS!

    (MET: Even in the auto industry, there are varying degrees – sometimes a designer is given 100% free rein to create a concept just as you noted – to show off – but other “concepts’ are received so well, the production one is pretty close (the revival of the Beetle) or they call it a concept but really, they pretty much mean to make it unless people hate it so much (the Camaro revival) so what design might call a concept, marketing & PR might agree or just call it a prototype. 🙂 ).

  • Jack says:

    I want them all and the finished in packaging ones. I never comisdeed a car part of the line unless it actually get released on card. Otherwise they are all just customs, back doors, prototypes whatever.
    I have no desire to be one of a few with a car never actually available. I do however collect all the Cars 1 cars officially released and want more…….Please. We need the classic line.

  • BMW says:

    Now I understand why the subject of prototypes gets confusing.
    Have seen so many “prototypes” sold on ebay. Its an easy word to use when its not clear what the person is selling.

    The yellow truck again. Nice. Always wondered about him.

  • NascarFan says:

    I wonder if a TFAD or a CTT person bought those on auction.

    • tizmanian says:

      Dude…I lolz! After we keep all of the technical squirrels at bay and the server fees in line, their ain’t much left over beyond feeding caffeine laced candy to Metro to keep the content coming(sheesh, secret!) .

  • John in Missouri says:

    Somewhere out there right now, a struggling grad student is copying and pasting this thesis into their paper!

  • cac1959 says:

    Thanks for a great informative article… I wish they would have released the RVs and the McQueen Fan truck, as well as numerous other items (team crew sets with crew chief and pittys, haulers, launchers, etc) that we either saw photos of or appeared in collector guides… is there still time? We’ll have to see…

    • bd says:

      There’s plenty of time. Star Wars action figures have been selling for over 30 years. The question is will Mattel ever figure out that there is money to make if they manufacture the product, pack the cases properly and distribute them in an orderly fashion. And sadly, at this point that is not a foreseeable belief.

      • bigdogdaddy says:

        It is frustrating to collectors. However, with Mattel being the size it is, their sales analysts are in the business of making money. I doubt the big money is the 1000 collectors who want a Nitroade car repainted with the Apple logo. It’s the 2.3 million kids who want Finn McMissile. Assuming it takes 1 year to get production ready, the forecasts are speculation at best. Hence the pegwarmers! For example, the Hot Wheels Redline Club is dedicated to collectors and low production quantities. However, I wonder if Mattel really makes much money off of the Redline Club? It is possible that the profit margin from millions of basic $1.09 diecast is higher than 5000 $15 RLC versions. It is potentially similar with the $8 oversized deluxe motorhomes. I would love them as a collector, but Mattel probably doesn’t see the profit in them.

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