Imagine, your car becomes a Hot Wheels toy

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Greg Salzillo and Dave Ford bought a barn-found 1957 Nash Metropolitan and turned it into a custom car that won the 2019 Hot Wheels Legends Tour, which means their car will become a real Hot Wheels toy in 2020 | Larry Edsall photos

It’s one thing to play with Hot Wheels cars, but it’s another to create your own, from an idea to a sketch to actually taking the actual toy out of its blister pack and rolling it across the floor.

Ted Wu knows that feeling. He’s the chief designer for the world’s largest car producer; Mattel makes 500 million Hot Wheels cars each year. 

Soon, well, in about a year, Greg Salzillo and Dave Ford will know how it feels to be Hot Wheels creators. They were winners of the 2019 Hot Wheels Legends Tour, a 20-city and now international tour that attracted nearly 5,000 custom-crafted and road-legal vehicles, the builder/owners of each hoping that theirs would be chosen for re-production in 1:64 scale.

Hot Wheels launched the tour in 2018 as part of its 50th Anniversary celebration, and it proved so popular that it sponsored another tour in 2019, and has said there will be another in 2020. Each year, the tour ends at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, where the winners of each previous stop are invited to a final competition that ends with one of the vehicles being selected for production.

The Nash grille was borrowed from an old stock car racer

The 2019 winner was “The Nash,” Salzillo and Ford’s customized 1957 Nash Metropolitan.

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They found the Metropolitan in a barn in Santa Rosa, California, and then spent six months contemplating its future.

“We were looking at Hot Wheels designs and wanted to do completely the opposite of what already had been done,” said Salzillo. 

Once they decided on a final design, which they did in part by having people at the local northern California car show voted on their final two sketches, they spent their evenings for four months crafting the “Nashole,” as they named the car. 

The process included crafting a custom and stretched chassis, chopping the cars top, laying back its windshield, installing a Ford front axle and a 12-bolt GM truck rear with Positraction, a 305cid GM small block engine and a Turbo 350 transmission to turn the Metropolitan into something that handles like a car-sized go-kart.

They didn’t like the spare-tire carrier that was part of the Metropolitan’s trunk, so they replaced it with an NHRA Junior Dragster parachute. They also realized they needed some sort of stand-out air cleaners for the carburetors that extend up through the hood. 

Since the car would be unveiled at a rat-rod show in Las Vegas before its Hot Wheels tour entry, they settled on a pair of big though not-fuzzy dice.

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Salzillo said he grew up playing with Hot Wheels cars and did the build and entered the tour this year hoping to inspire his 3- and 5-year-old sons.

Rear-mounted spare tire was replaced by a drag racing parachute brake

The trophy Salzillo and Ford received includes an empty but The Nash-labeled Hot Wheels blister pack. In about a year, Salzillo’s sons will be able to play with their father’s toy car.

Why does it take so long? Well, consider that it takes automakers such as Ford or Subaru several years to go from design sketches to showroom availability. Mattel does so in about 11 months, Wu said, adding that just like every Hot Wheels design, and every real car for that matter, The Nash will have to go through a full design, engineering, validation and manufacturing process.

The Nash will be photographed and measured, and the Hot Wheels team will consider “What makes this car tick?” Wu said. “What is the essence of this car.”

“You would think you just take the car and 3D scan it and reduce it 64 times,” Wu said. But doing that doesn’t produce a vehicle with the right look, the right stance, the right aggressiveness. 

“That’s where the art comes in,” he added.

Art, and science.

“We have a really high-tech facility. We go from pen-on-paper to 3D pretty quickly.”

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Rapid prototyping is done, but then there are tweaks, re-runs and re-prints, and Mattel manufacturing is consulted. There also is the validation process in which The Nash prototypes will be put to the test on various Hot Wheels tracks and in Hot Wheels play sets. They’ll have to do the stunts and loop-the-loops “and the things we do to make sure the center of gravity is right and it can do a loop or fit on the track correctly,” Wu said.

All of which means that Salzillo’s sons will have to be content with riding in the full-scale Nash until their Hot Wheels versions are ready for play.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

5 COMMENTS

  1. My son is very interested in this article. He loves Hotwheels cars and currently enjoys making his own creations out of 2 or 3 cars. He has a work bench where he disassembles the cars. He will repaint and rebuild them into creations he would like to see Hotwheels make. My son also has a growing collection of cars, including several Treasure Hunt cars. We will keep an eye out for the 2020 tour. We would love to see it up close. He is already an 11 year old gear head. I own a 1968 Mustang convertible and he likes going to car shows in it. Till then he will search the net for more info on the upcoming tour.

    • No, no- it’s not ridiculous at all. It’s the kind of car that 6-12+ year old lil boys doodle in their notebooks as teach drones on about grammar, or Venn diagrams, or Boss Tweed, the Teapot Dome scandal, or addition & subtraction of fractions.
      Talk about hitting the target demographic! I’m pushing 60 and still love Hot Wheels, though I limit my collection to those with personal connection or meaning, or I’d be bankrupted. I started in the late ’60’s, with the orange whippy, purple tab connected track, must have been 8 or so (born ’59). Mom cleaned house when I joined the Air Force in ’78, so I lost some good ‘uns. But those lil cars saw me through my folks divorce, family deaths and hardships, multiple moves where my HW cars and clothes/bedding were what I could take- oh, and my younger brother and all our friends found great pleasure in "swordfighting" with the track when not running the cars.
      There’s a reason a toy from the ’60’s still sells in the tens of millions annually; ridiculous ain’t it, sir. Ask a lil boy.

  2. The sky blue car listed as a "Nissan coupe" is in fact an Opel Manta. I’m not aware of any Nissan from that era that was as lovely. Thanks, great article!

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