Customizers Posts

Customizers Corner: Liberty Promotions

liberty promotions header

We’ve run several features about die cast customizers over the last few weeks, but this week’s entry is a bit different in several ways. Liberty Promotions might work with small models in limited runs, but nothing about their operation is small scale.

The company is best known for their exquisitely decorated Hot Wheels Drag Buses, ranging from holiday-themed models to special events to company promotions. And even though they are “limited editions,” they are a big time operation. Consider that they have produced almost 300 different variants of just the Drag Bus.

“We’ve purchased over 375,000 buses directly from Mattel,” says Lee Perlman of Liberty Promotions. “These include promotional models for All Tune & Lube, Penske, & Jiffy Lube, as well as some “mistake” models and some CD-ROM packaged ones which were liquidated to us by Mattel. Additionally, we’ve purchased overstock from other sources, leftover quantities from various runs, such as the military and VW club releases (such as the Rhode Island Hot Wheels Club GTO below) , as well as more of the CD-ROM buses.”

Hot wheels 67 gto

liberty promotions cordOne of their best non-Bus models is the Hot Wheels ’36 Cord 810. It was produced to celebrate the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival held at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. “The ’36 Cord was offered to visitors of the ACD Festival on Labor Day weekend, as well as a very limited number on our website.”

Most of the customizers we profile make their models one at a time,  a maximum of maybe 50 cars per run. Maybe fewer, Liberty Promotions is in the business of providing efficient short runs for a variety of clients.

In fact, when you visit their website, they first ask you if you want to see their previous offerings or if you’re interested in having your own custom design produced. The process is not cheap, and can take a while (just locating enough donor cars to repaint can take weeks), but consider the past alternatives: If you wanted to get, say, 500 models of a particular vehicle with your company or event logo on it, well, faced had an uphill battle. You had to go directly to the toy manufacturer and order probably a minimum of 10,000 pieces, all identical, and not cheap.

Liberty offers much shorter runs along with the ability to create “chase” vehicles. As a bonus, their Rebel Run vehicles represent anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the overall production of some models.

Some of the chases are easy to spot, such as a big difference in one of the main colors (like these 2013 Christmas buses).

liberty promotions christmas drag bus

Or in the case of the Cuban Series Drag Bus, the Rebel Run version has red trimmed surfboards and red tinted windows. Speaking of those surfboards, on this particular model, they are designed to look like cigars. Now that’s attention to detail!

liberty promotions drag bus cuban

The Civil War chase variants are really hard to spot… if you look at the back of the vehicle. the only difference is a tiny portrait of the General Grant on the Union version or General Lee on the Confederate variant (would that last one be a Rebel Run Rebel Bus?)

liberty promotions civil war drag bus

Liberty Promotions now hosts their historic archives on hobbyDB, with many of their models for sale on the site.

Customizers Corner: Jimmy “The Boxman” Chavez

jimmy boxman chavez logo

We’ve met a lot of diecast customizers at hobbyDB (and we hope you’ve been following our profiles each week so far), but Jimmy “The Boxman” Chavez does things a little differently. Living up to his “Boxman” nickname, the packaging is often the star of his projects. Standard blister packs simply won’t do for Chavez. His vehicle and card graphics are spot-on designs that look professionally produced. And then he takes things way further with innovative combinations of card shapes and blister forms that reflect the theme of the car.

Take his Evel Knievel Drag Bus for example. Cutting the corner of the card to reflect the shape of Knievel’s “Number 1” logo is a great idea. Putting the bus on a miniature jump ramp inside the blister?  That’s genius. Looking at it, you might think Hot Wheels had actually produced this in the 1970s.

Evel Knievel Mad Science Drag bus

Or how about his Mad Science bus? The overall graphic appearance ties together so well you almost don’t even notice the blister is the shape of a glass beaker, with the card following those contours on one side.

Chavez has been at this game for about 20 years, he said. “I started out turning Hot Wheels Highway Haulers into beer trucks.” He’s currently adding his official archives to hobbyDB, and we hope to have some photos of those early efforts soon.

As for his most difficult project to date, he considers his House of Kolor Paint Drag Bus to be the winner. The vehicle itself was probably no more of a challenge than his usual perfect paint jobs. But the packaging… wow! “I put it in a real paint can.” he said. “I had to hand cut the display window with an X-acto knife.”

Jimmy Boxman Chavez House of Kolor drag bus

One of his most ambitious and best-known projects didn’t even include custom vehicles. To show off his collection of 2003 Red Line Club exclusive Hot Wheels cars, he built a diorama of a miniature auto dealership. With its checkerboard showroom floor and pennants hanging over the parking lot, it’s understandable if you thought this was an actual offering from Mattel.

Jimmy Boxman Chavez 2003 Red line club hot wheels

All of this precision and creativity looks like it should take crazy amounts of time. Nope. He said his projects run “a couple days including design” in most cases. Even when the case itself might be the most ambitious part of the project.

jimmy boxman chavez fire bug transformers

Of course Boxman works on things other than the Drag Bus, such as this Transformers Dairy Delivery and Fire Bug Custom Beetle.

Customizers Corner: Tony Szuta of Brew City Customs

There’s an amazing sector of the diecast collecting world populated by customizers who take mild mannered factory produced models and turn them into something more inspired and unusual. Some customizers create individual one-of-a-kind models, never to be reproduced again, while others create limited edition runs of identical vehicles. In many cases, the mods involve mostly paint and decals; others chop, mold, combine, and perform more complicated voodoo. 

Many of these customizers are profiled on hobbyDB, so we thought we would start highlighting them in greater detail here. Look for a new entry every Wednesday morning!


brew city customs logo

You might not recognize Tony Szuta by name, but you have probably heard of his diecast studio Brew City Customs. The Milwaukee based artist says he started tinkering with diecast vehicles only recently (2009), taking it more seriously in 2014, but it sure looks like he’s been doing this forever.

He started with swapping the wheels on a Hot Wheels Bone Shaker and has quickly moved onto more ambitious projects. His repainted models usually involve adding some texture, especially rust and dirt. Patina (often taken to the dingy extreme of that term) is a favorite theme for his vehicles. Many of them include extra added details, such as the for sale sign in this rusty bus or the tool rack on the Ghostbusters van. With its large smooth sides and iconic design, the Hot Wheels Kool Kombi is a favorite model of his.

brew city customs hot wheels kool kombi

The time involved “varies greatly depending on the work,” he said. “I can knock out simple customs in a few hours. For more involved projects, many many hours.” As for his most complicated custom so far, that would be the WWI Style Kool Kombi Tank. Just look at this thing!

Tony Szuta Brew City Customs WWI Kool Kombi

brew city customs hot wheels treasure hunt bookAs for other projects, “Right now I’m focused on 1:64 scale,” he said, “but I prefer 1:24/1:25. I can’t tell you the last time I built one, though.” He works in full-size scale with his other passion project. Szuta is an accomplished photographer, shooting just about anything, but with a keen interest in cars. As with his customizing, the photography is a fairly new pursuit. “I bought my first DSLR camera in 2010. I don’t really have a focus – I just like to shoot.” You can see some of his model photos in 2015 edition of  The Hot Wheels Treasure Hunt Price Guide by Neal Giordano.

And he has a few other interests. “Old toys and local history… I’m working on projects focused on both subjects. I collect, and I’ve got a soft spot for the old tin toys. And I also have a small collection of vintage bug sprayers. Yes, bug sprayers. You read that right.”

tony szuta 1936 ford coupe

Szuta has an amazing eye for photographing real cars, too.

He might sound like a busy guy, but consider this: His custom projects just happen to equal more family tome for Szuta. “My wife and both of my sons customize diecast. She focuses on hand painting the majority of hers. My oldest son has built quite a few already and is very proficient with the airbrush. My youngest son just started learning the airbrush.”

brew city customs hot wheels kool kombi

Custom models by Tony’s wife (left) and older son.

Here Szuta’s official online archive of custom diecast models.

Customizers Corner: Chris Stangler

There’s an amazing sector of the diecast collecting world populated by customizers who take mild mannered factory produced models and turn them into something more inspired and unusual. Some customizers create individual one-of-a-kind models, never to be reproduced again, while others create limited edition runs of identical vehicles. In many cases, the mods involve mostly paint and decals; others chop, mold, combine, and perform more complicated voodoo. 

Many of these customizers are profiled on hobbyDB, so we thought we would start highlighting them in greater detail here. Look for a new entry every Wednesday morning!


Chris Stangler head shot

Chris Stangler created his first customs in the early 199s and has been modifying small scale rides ever since. He is one of the most respected diecast customizers around, known for mixing popular models with well-known themes and schemes from elsewhere in pop culture.

One of his favorite mashup series combines the familiar Snake and Mongoose drag racing colors with identical pairs of Hot Wheels vehicles. Even the most casual Hot Wheels collector should recognize the original red vs. yellow liveries, but Chris also works with the later blue and white schemes. These customs are sold in very limited edition pairs.

Chris Stangler Hi-way Hauler Snake Mongoose

Another popular base for his creations comes from Kustom City in the form of their super-stretched “Evo” vehicles inspired by Volkswagen buses and transporters. Chris has worked wonders with these models as well including his “Stangler Construction” Series.

kustom city breast cancer volkswagen bus

As for the future, he hints at big things on the horizon, but doesn’t want to spill the beans just yet. “My big news would be that I’m working on some new designs that will be coming out this summer after I finish up some orders that are taking a lot of my time.” he said. “I have big designs coming for the L.A. Hot Wheels convention, great 1-of-1 pieces that I will be doing for the Charity Auction.”

Chris recently started hosting his historic archive and his store at hobbyDB. You can read more about his work (as well as his upcoming models when he shares them) here.

chris stangler busted hot wheels

 

Introducing the Chris Stangler Customs Archive on hobbyDB

Chris Stangler head shot

One of the most respected diecast customizers around, Chris Stangler is no stranger to the world of Hot Wheels. He transforms 1/64 Scale models into magnificent works of art, which is why we are so excited to announce the launch of the official Chris Stangler Customs Archive now at hobbyDB! Travel back in time and take a look at all of the past designs that made Chris one of the most popular Hot Wheels customizers in the industry.

Chris Stangler Snake Mongoose Hot Wheels 55 Panel

His customizing history dates back to 1992. “I was really into full size cars and was inspired when I went to The World of Wheels in Minneapolis Minnesota,” he said. “There were vendors who had custom painted some 1/64 cars, so I bought a few as samples and I asked a few questions and headed home to research and started customizing a few Camaros for my collection.” Since that first IROC Camaro (he chopped the top off and repainted it), he has created over 8,000 customs.

Chris Stangler Kustom City Evo Snake Mongoose

It’s easy to find your favorites, whether it’s the Kustom City Evo, the Batmobile, or any of the other special designs that immediately caught your attention. Chis is equally excited about the opportunity. “I’m happy to be part of the HobbyDB site, as they are an up and coming database that really gives people a chance to come across my work if they haven’t had a chance to see my work elsewhere online,” he said.
Chris has also opened up his own storefront on hobbyDB and will be giving our community members exclusive access to never before seen items such as the Snake and Mongoose versions of the Drag Bus, Blown Delivery, and ‘55 Panel. In addition to mashups of classic liveries on unexpected castings, he takes inspiration from customers. “I have done many requests for people as wedding gifts, memorials, designs made to resemble a full size car,” he said. “The most difficult design that comes to mind was custom order ‘55 truck. The details and design he wanted was very complex and it took many attempts to draw it up the way he wanted it. In the end he was excited and happy with the outcome which made it worthwhile.”

Chris Stangler Snake Mongoose Hot Wheels 55 Panel

hobbyDb has also official archives for other customizers including Liberty Promotions (added in early February) and many more of your favorite diecast legends. In the past, it was easy for a customizer’s work to get lost as time flew by. Now, we can finally document and preserve the great work these customizers have given to the world of diecast in the hobbyDB catalog.

Chris Stangler Snake Mongoose 55 PAnel