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