I have a lot of Hot Wheels cars. I mean, tons. Maybe 100 or 150, all adorned with bright colors and racing numbers designed to appeal to the Hot Wheels target market: eight-year-old boys.
I buy them when I go to Target with my girlfriend and she says something like: “Oh look! A decorative oven mitt!” Once those words are stated, I feel it’s fair game to do just about anything, including head over to the toy aisle and stand uncomfortably close to a fourth-grader so he will leave and I can browse the Hot Wheels display in peace.
So I was looking at my Hot Wheels collection the other day (and by “looking at,” what I mean is driving them back and forth in my hallway while making “vroom” noises in a continuing effort to write these columns) when I noticed something: all the cool cars came from the mid-2000s.
Now, I don’t mean that my coolest Hot Wheels cars come from the mid-2000s. In fact, as I recall, Hot Wheels in the mid-2000s was mostly making crap cars, such as a toilet on wheels and a vehicle that consisted – in its entirety – of wheels, an engine, and a seat. Stop me if this sounds like the General Motors lineup throughout most of the 1980s.
No, what I really mean is that all the coolest models came from the mid-2000s. Think about it: this was a time when Ferrari debuted the Enzo, Lamborghini released the Gallardo and the Murcielago, Porsche had the Carrera GT, Ford was selling the GT, and Dodge had the new Viper SRT-10. Aston was finally churning out cool new products after selling rebadged Jaguars for a decade. Hell, even Mercedes joined the party with that McLaren supercar whose hood doubled as a landing strip for light aircraft.
It was an automotive renaissance, really. And here’s the crazy thing: all of these cars came out within the span of two years.
As I started thinking about it, I realized something troubling: the mid-2000s might be as good as it will ever get. It’s a sad thought, but it might be a true one.
Take, for instance, the Porsche Carrera GT. It was a loud, mid-engined monster with a true stick shift and a V10 built for racing. You couldn’t ignore the thing even if you wanted, largely because – even when it was sitting still – it appeared to be bristling with chest hair and covered with prison tattoos that would scare your wife in the grocery store. You didn’t screw with the Carrera GT.
And the Carrera GT’s successor? Well, for one thing, we had to wait almost a decade for it. And once it finally turned up, it came with an automatic transmission, a ridiculous pricetag, and a hybrid engine. The chest hair here was waxed off with precision. There were no tattoos. Your wife wouldn’t be scared. In fact, she would see a 918 Spyder and say: You took me away from the decorative oven mitts to look at this?
The same can be said for the LaFerrari. Yes, it’s a V12-powered replacement for the Enzo. But it’s a hybrid, for God’s sake. A hybrid! When the Enzo came out, it made no bones about the fact that it used as much fuel as you could get in the tank before you were mobbed at the gas station by people holding Motorola RAZR flip phones with 0.9-megapixel cameras.
But at least Porsche and Ferrari followed up their supercars. Some of the best mid-2000s supercars were never even replaced. The Ford GT never got a successor. One could argue the SLS hardly followed up on the wildly exotic SLR. And we’re still waiting for a Gallardo successor, though it appears Lamborghini will never create one as long as rich people keep buying special editions named things like “Gallardo Slightly Darker Alloy Wheels Edition.”
But it wasn’t just supercars that peaked in the mid-2000s. How about more common sporty cars?
Think about it: back then, the M5 and S6 had V10s, and the E63 AMG had a bigger V8 than either of them. Mercedes felt it was necessary to stuff a twin-turbocharged V12 inside its S-Class to come out with the S65 AMG. (Admittedly, they still do this.) Audi was putting a V8 in its S4. And it wouldn’t be long before BMW did the same thing with the M3.
These days, that’s all over. We’ve gone to dual clutches and turbocharging. Exhaust notes are amplified into the cabin, sometimes using the very speakers you would’ve turned off five years ago to listen to your engine. In other words: it’s all downhill from here.
Now, I’m well aware people are constantly predicting the demise of sports cars, and V8s, and loud, mid-engine exotics. I’m not doing that. But I am saying the mid-2000s may have marked the end of an era – the era of loud, masculine, big-engined sports cars that don’t take crap from anybody. From here on out, the battles will be fought using hybrid power and new technology. The game isn’t over, but it’s different – and maybe not in a good way.
Good thing I have my Hot Wheels.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He operates PlaysWithCars.com and writes for The Truth About Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.