Anybody who knows anything about Hot Wheels knows Larry Wood. He has been the chief designer of these wild, zany, and apparently addictive little vehicles almost since the day Mattel thought them up. And I’m sure a lot of you know a lot about Hot Wheels, because a whole bunch of people are into buying, selling, trading, and collecting these little buggers.
So I have to admit right here that I’m not. I don’t. In fact, I’ve never bought a Hot Wheel in my life. A couple reasons are that they weren’t invented yet when I was a kid, and I got heavily involved in building, modifying, and customizing 1/25-type plastic model kits instead–still am. Among these, however, I do have on my shelves a small collection of perhaps now rare or valuable Hot Wheels that people have given me (mainly Larry Wood), or that I acquired at Hot Wheels events I’ve attended (given my profession) over many years. I’ll also say that I’ve known Larry Wood even longer as a fellow hot rodder, a member of the Early Times car club (him, not me), and even someone who had (and still has) a very memorable car featured on the cover of Rod & Custom magazine. He’s been a pretty good friend for a long time. I even featured his creative, fun shop and one of his wilder 1:1 ’34 Ford projects in my first Lost Hot Rods book.
So that’s why, a couple weeks ago, he sent me an email that started, “Seeing that story about the Hot Little ’34 red coupe made me think that since you’re not a Hot Wheels guy, you probably don’t know all the cool cars I’ve done. So here are some snapshots of some I have in my shop.”
Of course he didn’t enumerate what each of the cars was. And as you will see, they are dusty, some have a piece or two missing, and these are quickie snapshots so not everything’s in focus. But no, I had no idea how many famous rods and customs Larry had designed and cast as Hot Wheels. For instance, in the above group I see the Vern Luce coupe in front, the Ala Kart in the rear, and what could be the Pierson Bros. or So-Cal Coupe at left front (you probably know that many Hot Wheels get their color schemes, and even names, changed to keep them fresh and in the line longer). And those of you who have been following this column a while should recognize the black and flamed Deuce roadster in the middle as “Street Rodder,” which I featured in both its real and miniature forms back in Sept. 14, 2019 as Cover Story II. Out of this group I’d choose that black ’40 convertible, which looks very accurate, highly detailed, and tasty.
So I figured this would make a good–and fairly simple for a change–column for two reasons: (1) That a lot of you are into Hot Wheels and would love seeing a bunch of them, including some backstories–straight from Larry Wood–that you might not know. And (2) if, like me, you’re not a Hot Wheels collector and addict, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised to see and learn about Hot Wheels that you won’t see hanging on a rack for a buck apiece at Ralphs or CVS.
Larry explained that these were known as “100% Hot Wheels.” They’ve been made in the standard 1/64 scale, as well as larger 1/24 and 1/18. They are sold in hobby stores or similar outlets, and cost considerably more than $1 each. As Larry said, “These were made for the serious collectors. The basic 1/64 cars had to have kids in mind. As you know we make six million a week [Yikes, I had no idea!].
As you can see on this 1/64 version of the Boyd Coddington Vern Luce coupe, it is an accurate representation of the real car, complete with chrome independent front and rear suspension, as well as further chassis details. You’ll also note it has accurate size and shape wheels and tires. Unlike regular Hot Wheels with their fast-spinning, one-size-fits-all wheels, these ones are not designed to shoot down ramps, make jumps, or loop-the-loop.
These were the first couple of photos Larry sent me. In the upper one we see the Hirohata Merc, a generic chopped Merc, Fred Warren’s yellow ’95 AMBR-winning ’37 Ford, and Billy Gibbons’ Cadzzilla. I’m pretty sure all of these are 1/64 scale (I know my Hirohata Merc, given to me by Jim McNiel, is), but some of these 100% Hot Wheels were made in more than one size, since once the patterns are made, they can be scaled up or down for molds.
At left we see the Jocko streamliner, a chopped, louvered and blown ’34 5-window, and a highly accurate yellow version of the Greer-Block-Prudhomme rail. I had to ask Larry if the Fiat-bodied Comp Coupe (missing one tire…) was patterned after a real one. He said, “Oh yeah, that’s Flamin’ Frank Pedregon’s. He would actually catch his rear tires on fire. I saw him at Lions.”
Many of these 1/64th 100% cars were sold in see-through 4-packs like this one. Of course all Hot Wheels are worth more to collectors if they’re still in their original, unopened packaging, such as the Ed Roth set seen here. This one is worth significantly more–and Larry has kept it in it’s box–because if you look closely you’ll see that he got “Big Daddy” to sign this one in silver marker.
I asked Larry to send me more pictures, and he sent plenty. At top the red Merc appears to be a color variation on the Hirohata. The accurately colored ’57 Chevy is the Coddington Chezoom, obviously missing some tail fin trim. Above, I love the tilt-body Orange Crate. The chopped ’34 looks like a variation on the Pierson Coupe. And at left you’ll readily recognize the Stone-Woods-Cook and Mazmanian Willys Gassers along with the Mooney-Sharp 554 Blown Fuel Coupe. Noting the incorrect outside headers on the latter, Larry did sometimes have to compromise a bit for corporate cost control, using an existing component rather than retooling an all-new part. And you’ll see this car in other colors and variations here, too.
Speaking of tooling, this is the sort of thing you usually don’t get to see. Larry said the large version is called an “Epoxy,” and it’s four times larger than the final piece. He said this is traced in a “pantographic” process to cut the metal molds to cast the actual cars. Up until about ten years ago, these had to be hand-carved in wood for every Hot Wheels made–even the dollar ones. Plus, he said, even though this one is “assembled,” all components had to be carved separately: bumpers, grille, windows, engine, wheels, chassis, etc. Now these Epoxies can be made on CAD-CAM computer mills.
Speaking of chassis, here’s the one for the flamed purple Merc. Note the complete front suspension, accurate driveline, and even how the headers attach to both the mufflers and to the capped side pipes.
Of course no Hot Wheels story would be complete without The Snake and The Mongoose. Larry said the recent movie of the same name was pretty accurate. It was Tom McEwen who talked the Suits and PR people at Mattel into the first, big, non-automotive-company sponsorship of their two very famous Funny Cars–a true Win-Win situation. At top are dusty versions of McEwen’s original car and his later ’57 Chevy version in 1/24 scale. Big news to me, Larry says these 1/24 ones sell for about $125 in hobby shops today. However, the Snake “diorama” above goes for about $250, and Larry gleefully explained why: “The Snake display had lots of movement. The body lifted and the engine shook. The exhaust lit up and then the tree counted down and the car did a wheelie and the rear tires spun. And all the time it had an announcer talking about the run. It’s my favorite piece.”
I think these are all 1/64. You recognize Cadzzilla, Chezoom, and Dean Jeffries’ Mantaray. The light purple sloper with twin engines is more typical of the zany creations Larry dreams up for the regular kids’ Hot Wheels line, and looks like it’s derived from the Cadzzilla tooling. My favorite of this bunch is what appears to be an orange and white Buick station wagon.
There’s something for everybody in this 1/64 group. Some, like the Indy cars, would be sold in the 4-pack sets. Others, like the really neat Prudhomme F/C on the transporter truck, came in separate clear tube packages (Larry described them as “beer cans”). You’ll recognize others. I like the Black Widow ’57 Chev.
Since you saw Mickey Thompson’s Eliminator in the prior photo, I’ve got to show this. The detail on the 4-engine 1/64 car is really amazing. But when I asked about the drawing, Larry floored me. “I drew that at Art Center in the early ’60s (in L.A.). For my senior project I chose to draw Bonneville streamliners, and this was one of them.” Wow. Note that it’s signed “L. Wood.” Among friends, Larry refers to himself as “Ellwood.”
Here are some examples of even larger 1/18-scale cars. The one you’ll recognize in front is Terry Cook’s “Scrape” purple Lincoln Zephyr lowrider that R.E. Petersen bought for the museum. Larry says these are slightly less detailed, and sell in places like Walmart for about $25. They look pretty good to me.
These are 1/24, and Cadzzilla has a working hood, engine, and full interior. The Snake car looks really detailed, too. No. 44 is the Kyle Petty car. And you’ll notice the yellow ’34 coupe is the same as the 554, less hood. It also has hinged, opening doors.
Larry actually sent more, but I’ll end with this. You might not recognize any of the cars here, and that was Larry’s intention. I knew right off that the orange ’34 sedan and sedan delivery were patterned after two of Larry’s real hot rods. At first I thought the yellow ’29 pickup with the camper was Jake’s, but Larry said, “No, that was mine!” I had forgotten he had that, way back. I had a hunch the big touring sedan might be Larry’s ’32 Nash R&C cover car, and he said, with his usual chuckle, “Well it is. But I had to put a Packard grille on it, because nobody would buy a Nash.” And I’ll end with an even better typical L. Wood quote: “I figure I’ve always had a [real] hot rod every day of my life since I was 18, so that’s 60 years of fun with cars. And I’m on my 51st year as an employee for Hot Wheels, the last 10 as a consultant. It was a perfect fit. Where else would I have been able to draw hot rods for a living?” Absolutely right, Larry. And billions of kids–of all ages–thank you for it.