Car Design: Real vs. Toy Copies

I was watching “Toys That Built America” on the History Channel. They mentioned that the first Hot Wheels was a car unseen before. Turns out it was a (yet to be revealed) 1968 Corvette. You see, Mattel hired a Chevy car designer who (it was suspected) had seen the new Corvette design on the drawing board. This makes me wonder:

a) Are car designs protected by a US Design Patent?
b) How did Mattel get away with copying the cars back then?*
c) And, does Mattel now pay royalties to use real car designs for their toys?

*This question may be the hardest to answer after all this time.

Here are some answers:

I wonder how that applies to parts - i.e. aftermarket bumpers etc. making an exact copy of a cosmetic piece for a practical purpose…

Back when the original VW Beetle was a thing there was a short craze where you could buy a replacement hood (trunk) lid with the square pointed grill look of a Rolls Royce, and a matching engine cover that looked like the Rolls rear trunk with a spare tire bulge. Apparently, Rolls stomped on that concept pretty hard.

When I was young… (once upon a time) there were die-cast metal “Dinky Toys” not much bigger than a hot wheels, and I vaguely recall they were copies of actual automobiles. OTOH, it would seem to me that for some cars, having toy versions would be a positive form of advertising.

I think a car company can trademark certain design elements. Jeep was able to successfully sue Mahindra to force them to stop them from using their iconic seven slot grille on the Roxor utility vehicle. The original design looked like an exact copy of an old Jeep.

Mahindra actually started out building Jeeps in India under license, so I would have thought that that would have given them the rights to build a vehicle that looks like a Jeep. But maybe that only applies to vehicles sold in India.

In the movie Up in Smoke, Tommy Chong stole the grill from his father’s Rolls Royce and tied it to the front of his Beetle. I imagine few get the joke anymore.

There is also a likely apocryphal belief that the reason aftermarket panels for repair and restoration fit so poorly is to avoid intellectual property laws. I assume it’s actually general cheapness and disregard for customers.

I was an avid collector of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars at one point. While many of their cars (moreso for Hot Wheels) are fantasy designs, with no connection to real-life vehicles, they do create toy versions of many real-life cars and trucks, including naming the model and brand on the packaging (and stamped on the bottom of the car).

In these cases, they do, now, indeed, license use of the designs (and names) from the manufacturers; I suspect that manufacturers see it as a nice little bit of advertising.