I recently returned from a 5 day excursion to the Mike Strauss, West Coast Convention held in Los Angeles CA this past October. I haven’t been to a Strauss West Coast Convention since 2008 [Hot Wheels 40th Anniversary]. I was able to go to this year’s convention for 2 reasons; my economic situation has greatly improved and it was the 25th Anniversary of the Strauss West Coast Convention. That second fact intrigued me enough to want to be able to go; so was I glad I went or disappointed; mostly the former and a smidge of the latter.
Here are some of the many reasons I wanted to go before I even got there.
- I was going to be able to see and room with my good friend Mike Stevens from NH whom I hadn’t see in almost 2 years!
- Flying to sunny California and being surrounded by Hot Wheels!
- Seeing many old friends I hadn’t see in a long, long time.
- Getting back into the swing of what a Strauss Convention is all about; an explosion of cars and many people sharing your hobby.
But this where my expectations and realizations diverge because once I got there, there were some things I experienced that exceeded my expectations and a few that fell short! I knew the hotel location wasn’t great [right outside the LAX airport] but forgave it because at least the hotel itself was pretty nice with a friendly staff and a great floor design conducive to good room to rooming and large event facilities for the convention! Regarding the convention cars themselves; I loved the T1 Drag Bus and Highway Hauler, but was disappointed in the ‘32 Sedan Delivery [a very pedestrian casting in a very pedestrian design] and the ’55 Chevy Panel Charity promo [a great casting with a VERY underwhelming design]. The charity raffle offerings were a mix of boring to mildly exciting [I didn’t win anything but you have to be in it to win it!].
I always enjoy Button Bingo no matter what cars are offered as prizes but this year they were Strauss code 3 Karmann Ghias which are especially nice castings. I didn’t win any games, but I had loads of fun nonetheless. Charity Poker on the other hand is a love/hate relationship for me. I like to play to get the orange version of the Karmann Ghia, but I don’t know enough about playing poker well enough to actually go very far in the game. Still, it was a good time with a few laughs thrown in for good measure!
The charity dinner was also a mixed bag. I always enjoy the conversation at the table and this time was no exception with a combination of old friends and new acquaintances; including some newbies [always great to talk to them] all talking cars and swapping convention stories! The food was standard hotel fare meaning it was blah and inoffensive. The Mattel produced dinner car was the ubiquitous ‘67 Chevy Camaro casting done in a sharp spectraflame blue paint with flame tampos. While I know this is a favorite casting of Mike Strauss my feeling is “ENOUGH WITH THE DAMN ‘67 CAMARO ALREADY!” Out of the multitude of cool HW castings out there, why did it have to be another ’67 Camaro? It did turn out miles ahead of some past Strauss Convention Dinner Car clunkers, [Dueling Hypermites immediately comes to mind], but it would have been nice to see something new.
The Dinner Code 3 was a ’66 VW Bug done in a nice smooth silver finish, and I was finally lucky to win an alternate bright lime version [’95 T-Hunt lite looking almost]. Plus, I was happy that more variations were offered up as prizes this year. I also enjoyed the colorized Convention Coin; celebrating the convention’s 10th Anniversary that was given to all Dinner guests this year. I had previously bought the all-silver version at registration time so the colorized version was a welcome compliment to the silver one.
The Friday night auction was quite exciting this year. There was the usual assortment of temptations for just about everyone like prototypes, Hot Wheels Designer’s artwork, and many other donated goodies. There was nothing I particularly wanted but there were some hot bidding wars erupting on items I would never have dreamed would go so high. But as I have always stated; I never throw stones at what others buy in pursuit of this hobby. My friend Bryan Pope donated an OFF-THE-HOOK 1 of 1 version of his recently SOLD OUT custom: The Hell-Bound T1 Drag Bus that brought in almost $500.00! The donated bus featured a wild roof design with an extra-cool feature; a multi-lick flame design carved out of the metal! It was done by Paul Spradlin of Plano TX. I know Paul and his work well. He’s a great artist, and he and Bryan made for a fantastic pairing.
Another mixed emotion event for me was the RLC Party. The spectraflame pink Olds 442 party car is one of the best RLC Party giveaways in a long time. It could have benefited from either no stripes at all or adding stars to the hood stripes; but these are personal quibbles. While Mattel tried to entertain us by presenting their in-house employee band eponymously named “The Toys”; the band itself was loud and at times a bit shrieky. I don’t want to sound all “GET OFF MY LAWN YOU YOUNG PUNKS” old man-like but I was not in the minority on this point no matter the age of the conventioneer. The prize giveaway portions and information sessions were well done but too widely spaced in between some self indulgent band numbers. However, I have to commend Strauss MC Rick Tippe for getting up with the band to sing his very popular Hot Wheels song! Rick provided a nice voice contrast to the regular singer and produced the most fun song of the night. Alas, I did not win anything again. Friday night turned out to be a great room to room night. Rooms were open late and lots of friends to greet and talk to and many free beers given out! It was fun!
Saturday day was a highlight for me! The anticipated Snake and Mongoose transport trucks were coming! Mattel wisely put the finished retail pieces out for display for everyone to ogle and the real one were finally going to be at the convention and so were drivers Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen. I had met both of them at two previous events and didn’t need to get in line to get their signatures again so Mike and I went to eat breakfast. When we came back the trucks were in the parking lot of the hotel just sitting there all alone. We jumped at our chance to snap all the photos we want and that’s just what we did! It was a blast. After we had our fill, we went inside to see the autograph line stretching for quite a distance and knew we made the right decision. I did get a photo of DP and TM signing autographs. I was told by friends both drivers were very gracious and friendly!
The Saturday night finale was highly anticipated by all. Everyone wanted to see if predictions were correct and the finale giveaway promo was indeed the much heralded Spectraflame Pink VW Drag Bus! And to everyone’s glee it was! It is a beautiful sight to behold! It’s much better in person than in photos! I tried to buy one or two more for friends back in NJ but the secondary [meaning immediately outside the event room door] price quickly escalated past $150.00, more then my friends wanted to spend at the time! The finale itself was informative but a bit too long at the same time.
The GOOD: The opening awards ceremony moved quickly and nice raffle prizes given out.
The BAD: This is where it shows that I have been to a few too many finales.
The Mattel Q&A session: I have to say the answers this year have been better than in the past but the questions are always the same and I have heard them all before! People need to get original here! I raised my hand but never got called on but they wouldn’t have liked my question anyway. It would have been; “Why in the world do you choose the castings you do to include in some Adult/Nostalgia series themes?”
Some of the castings are just dogs and it shows by them continually hanging on the pegs! Just look at The Master of the Universe castings???? Even with the upcoming new Super Hero cars; the HWS Delivery Van for Harley Quinn? Come on!
Moving on; even though the raffle prizes that were given out were cool, the process took forever. They could have shaved at least 30 minutes off the length and everyone would have been happier! It was announced that next year’s West Coast convention was moving back to Orange County California!!! I personally really liked when it was in the O.C. [Being from NJ, am I allowed to call it that?] and am glad it’s back. The convention staff didn’t confirm whether it will be back in Irvine or Garden Grove, or even some other O.C. location, but I don’t care; I am happy nonetheless!
Saturday night was a good one for me since I was invited to a Tiki Party thrown by Amy Boylan formerly a Senior VP at Mattel. Amy is the individual responsible for creating the RLC and HWC as well as Mattel’s renewed interest in the adult collectible lines; many of which are still going strong today. Amy is currently the President and COO of West Coast Customs following her run as President of Shelby Motorcars. I have known Amy since her Mattel days and have become good friends with her. It was a great chance to just kick back and relax with friends and drink Tiki Punch! This coming February 2012 in Las Vegas; Amy will be inducted into the Diecast Hall of Fame for her many contributions to the hobby! I def will be there for that! The room to rooming was a bit quieter Saturday night; more so than I was used to; with many of the sellers either having left, beginning to pack down or only had crumbs of items left for sale. It was all becoming one big, brightly colored diecast blur!
Sunday brought the morning toy show and a chance to say goodbye to friends before I hopped on my flight home. I didn’t need anything there but I was able to secure 1 more RLC Party 442 for a friend back home at a great price!
A Strauss West Coast convention is the Mecca for any Hot Wheels collector. I was even able to find a bunch of non-HW diecast as well! I know that is heresy to some but it’s my money! I feel the West Coast convention is great for getting the scoop on the new model year cars, finding Redlines and the newest end of year cars! There are many other cars there but this is what I saw the most this year in addition to an overload of generic 2000-2011 mainlines.
The Strauss National conventions in the spring are best for finding a better variety of harder-to-find older cars since I feel more of a variety of sellers come from surrounding states. Anyone who calls themselves “Real” a Hot Wheels collector needs to make the pilgrimage at least once to either event if they haven’t already done it. It will blow your mind about what is out there!
All in all I personally had a great time at a great event! I shopped, I bought, I got to go to IN-N-OUT twice, I drank, I laughed, I saw people I hadn’t seen in a while like Connie, Don & Cindy, Joey, Amy, and Jeff, [and so many others I cant list them all], and I had so much fun. I would love to do it all again next year in Orange County! You need to go to any convention event with an open mind, a love of cars and your fellow collectors and a modicum of cash, to do everything you want. If you don’t possess any of these attributes you won’t have a good time, you’ll just be sitting in your room alone. What fun is that!
I would love to know if anyone else was there and what experiences they had! I think hearing other’s stories is what fills out the whole convention experience.
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