Designer Posts

Hot Wheels Blister Cards Influenced Diecast Packaging Forever

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Otto Kuhni, one of the great American artists of the last half century, passed away recently. If his name isn’t familiar, you surely knew his work. He was the artist who created the overall look of the new Hot Wheels brand in 1968 and continued to work for Mattel on and off until just a few years ago. He did the art for the carrying cases, advertisements, lunchboxes, and most importantly, the packages those toys came in. The fiery orange-yellow-red blister cards instantly created an identity for the whole brand, and influenced diecast packaging ever since.

Hot Wheels Otto Kuhni lunchboxPrior to his designs, diecast packaging was generally plain and not terribly interesting (although there were terrific exceptions). Most diecast cars were sold in boxes, such as Corgi, Dinky, and of course, the company whose name comes from those boxes, Matchbox. A few cars were offered in blister cards, however. Here are some early designs as well as later cool blister cards where companies realized that toy cars are fun, and they should be packaged that way too. Much credit has to go to Otto’s ideas.

This Dinky Alfa Romeo really looks pretty amazing on its rather basic package. The layout is simple, and colors are very limited due to printing technology at the time. Even the effort required just to change the name and model number was something of a pain in those days. One odd touch is that the car is mounted so high on the card, something you don’t see today.

Husky, an early attempt at 1/64 models by Corgi, also featured simple, not terribly colorful blister cards. This fire engine is unique in that someone got a little creative and added the silhouette of the cherry picker as if it were rising from the vehicle itself. But most featured identical base art to keep costs low. Another neat thing… if you see this era of Husky card, there is often a hole punched in the circle where the price is located, like on the fire engine. Presumably, that happened when a store wanted to charge a different price.

hot wheels blister cardBut then along came Hot Wheels! Brightly colored, dynamic graphics, a custom cut shape, and even a bonus in the blister in the form of the collectors button. (Note the off-center hole punch, arranged to allow the asymmetrically weighted card to hang level.) Not only were the free wheeling cars revolutionary, but the Hot Wheels blister cards themselves created a stir with consumers – and with other toy companies.

matchbox superfast blister cardCompetitors responded quickly. Matchbox began retooling their cars as the SuperFast series, with similar speedy wheels and wilder designs on their new cars. The packaging moved to blister cards, though the art was not quite as exciting as what Mattel was offering. Hedging their bets, Matchbox still included the traditional box inside the blister as a bonus. In fact, many of their cars were still available right in the box, same as always, as if the company saw this new fangled packaging as a fad. The combination of old versus new wheels, and different packaging options has created a colossal number of variants for collectors.

johnny lightning blister cardJohnny Lightning was a new startup from Topper Toys in 1969. Thematically, they represented the closest competition to Hot Wheels, with cars ranging from crazy fantasy designs to mild customs, all built for speed. The packaging had a chaotic, exciting design to match. Curiously enough, they had to make a design modification early on… the “BEATS THEM ALL” tagline ran into a legal challenge, as it could not be proven that JL cars could indeed do that. It was modified to “BEAT THEM ALL” to imply possibility, not fact.

johnny lightning jet power blister cardA later line of JL cars, the Jet Power series, featured their own bespoke card design, with a very energetic illustration of one of the cars in action. Sadly, these new cars underperformed the promise of the packaging and were a flop. More sadly, Topper ended the entire Johnny Lightning line (and just about everything else) after only three years due to company wide financial difficulties.

corgi rockets blister cardCorgi tried to compete in the high speed 1/64 market with their Rockets series. Note the two hole configuration on the card, requiring double pegs to hang the car from. The folks who stocked the stores couldn’t have been happy about that. Cool graphics, fast cars, but no match for the Hot Wheels marketing behemoth, at least in that scale. Corgi remains a major force in diecast, but wisely decided to focus more on their main market of 1/43 and larger cars.

tomy tomica blister cardTomy (Tomica) had a lot of fun with their packaging as well. Their Pocket Cars series was printed on a card that looked like denim, complete with stitching and buttons. Such designs really stood out from the pack and looked impressive together on the pegs at the stores. Many of their later series like the Series 60 also had playful graphics.

woolworth peelers zee toys pacesettersMinor brands like the Woolworth’s /Woolco Peelers cars saw the benefit of an exciting package, even if the vehicles themselves were a notch below in quality from the big brands. Or consider what Zee Toys was doing with this Pacesetters blister, mounting the car in a position to go along with the lines of the graphics.

It’s hard to say where modern diecast packaging would be today without the influence of Otto Kuhni’s designs for Hot Wheels, but it’s safe to guess playtime would be little less exciting (also read Otto’s Diecast Hall of Fame Obituary). If you have a favorite diecast blister design, let us know about it in the comments!

Meet Collector, Scratch Builder, Fabricator Jack Reynolds

jack reynoldsWhen you see the models of Jack Reynolds, you might not know what to think at first. Is he a collector? Well, kind of. But he collects mostly his own models. Is he a model manufacturer? Yes, but he doesn’t sell his models, so not in the traditional sense of the word.

jack reynolds mc laren

Something about McLaren orange that just looks perved on a CanAm racer.

Jack is a Scratch Builder … well, that’s not even the perfect explanation of how he makes his model cars. Let’s let him explain. “I sometimes use other sources for a few parts,” he said. “That’s why I refer to the cars as ‘scratch built fabrications.’” For the last 20 years or so, Jack has built large scale cars with some amazingly intricate detail out of sheet metal, wire, resin, and anything else he can get his hands on. When we say large scale, we mean it… 1/6 to 1/8 are his favorite scales.

D Type Jaguar

D Type Jaguar

Just about every bit you see in his cars is hand built, and one of a kind. “Sometimes a part with a compound curve is just beyond my ability or I don’t have the right tool,” he said. “Early on, I used other sources for tires and wheels, but they were usually a compromise. For example, in order to make an accurate 1/8 scale Halibrand wheel with a 3 tread Firestone it is necessary to create it with resin.” Most of his cars are assembled by screws, so they can be disassembled for further work or detail.

jack reynolds maserati

The handmade sheet metal on this Maserati captures the look of a purpose built, slightly used race car.

In other words, it’s not really cheating. But just the same, he’d rather spend a lot of effort on a piece if it creates the best detail. “It”s all about complexity when it comes to time involved. Four wire wheels may take longer than a complete but simple body. Sometimes I get frustrated that I need 4 wheels,” he laughed. “Lately I’ve been building parts with no plans for a complete car. I enjoy this exercise as there is little or no duplication. Often when enough parts exist a car will materialize. Much less hurry this way.” (If he sounds like someone with time on his hands, he’s been retired since 2004.)

jack reynoldsHis first project was a 1/6 scale McLaren racer that met with a tragic end when it careened off his shelf. “To date the #33 Bowes Seal Fast Indy roadster is one of my most complex models,” he said. You can see it above as well as many more on his website.

jack reynolds wheels

Jack’s obsession with scratchbuilt detail extends to the wheels he builds for most of his cars.

Since he doesn’t sell his creations, he never makes the same model twice. “I enjoy the challenge of creating something new such as the spoke layout of different makes of wire wheels. When I was about 12 years old I carefully studied a wire wheel in Road&Track magazine and still use that as a basic layout. Making more than one model of a car is just labor.” As far as other hobbies, he has a significant collection of racing memorabilia. “I worked for a racing publication and was also a racing video photographer for 7 years during the mid sixties and early seventies,” he said. “I’ve attended the 1000 km of the Nurburgring, the Grand Prix of Monaco, the Indy 500, and numerous other motorsport events.”

 So, basically, he’s our kind of people. Check out his models on hobbyDB!

jack reynolds dino

This Ferarri 246 Dino model can be seen at the top of the article, just to give you a sense of the scale of Jack’s models.

Diving Deep Into Corvette Mako Shark Models

Over the past two years, we’ve contributed articles to Die CastX magazine for publication on their website and in their quarterly print edition. We hope you enjoy this fish story about the Corvette Mako Shark concept diecast model.


Motormax Chevrolet C2 Mako Shark

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

If you hear the name “Corvette,” what undersea creature immediately jumps to mind? Stingray, right? That name has been used on and off for over half a century on versions of the American sports car legend. The name first showed up on a 1959 race car, the “XP87 Stingray.” Like many one-off racers, it featured futuristic styling, but no one considered that was a clue to an upcoming production car.

But this is a story of another creature, the Mako Shark. In 1961, Chevrolet was considering designs to replace the original generation of Corvette. Many of the sharp, angular lines from the XP87 were carried forward for a new concept called the XP-755, a/k/a, the Mako Shark.

Motormax Chevy Corvette Mako SharkBill Mitchell, the new chief stylist at GM, had a thing for sharks, indicated by the giant stuffed Mako mounted on his office wall. Inspiration for the new car was not limited to the name… the front of the car featured a sharply pointed nose with a severe overbite. The sides had exposed exhaust pipes resembling gills. And the profile of the wraparound windshield could be interpreted as a dorsal fin. Furthering the look, dark blue body paint faded into a silvery white belly. It’s surprising there was no attempt to make tail fins to complete the effect. Equal parts ridiculous and awesome, the basic shape of the Mako Shark predicted the C2 ’Vette, produced from 1963-67.

Motormax Chevrolet Mako SharkRelatively few scale models exist of the first Shark. Motormax made an inexpensive 1/18 version in the mid ’90s. The car comes with the clear double bubble removable top, thoughtfully held in place by the visors to minimize extra tabs and slots. Through that top, you can see the spartan interior, with deepset, but readable gauges.

Motormax Corvette Mako SharkUnder the forward-flipping hood, the most notable detail is the eight exhaust pipes that travel independently out through the fender vents, connecting at the front of the rocker panels. The trunk opens too, revealing minimal detail, accurate for a running, but not entirely functional, concept car. The hood on the real concept was altered at some point to add even more gills to the design. This and most other models show the later version.

Motormax Chevrolet Mako SharkThe exterior captures the “sharkiness” of the concept with a few flaws that might drive a purist nuts. The splash panels under the nose and tail don’t fit very well, but you won’t see that very often. What does stand out is that crazy fading paint job. The original stylists spent quite a bit of time getting the blue and white tones just right. (According to some tales, Mitchell was never convinced that the hues matched his prized trophy fish, so the stylists stole it from his wall one weekend and painted it to match the car.) The transition from one color to the other should fade at an even height from front to back, but on the Motormax model, it looks like the doors were painted separately, and the fade line is significantly higher than on the surrounding door panels. You could try to repaint it, but you’d lose the emblems and other details on the rest of the car. Best solution? Display it with the doors open, and the line isn’t as obvious. Later, more expensive models, such as the one from AUTOart and UT Models do a better job with these details.

Motormax Chevrolet Corvette Mako SharkBy 1965, only three years into the C2’s production, Chevy started working on the Mako Shark II, which sent a strong, accurate signal as the design direction of the next generation of Corvette. We’ll dive into that fish tale sometime in the near future.

Motormax Chevrolet Mako Shark

Dave Chang of KustomCity Adds Official Archive to hobbyDB

kustomcity dave changThe latest Official Archive on hobbyDB is as much about a diecast model  company as it is about a designer and customizer. Dave Chang has added KustomCity as well as his extensive history to our database, and we couldn’t be more excited!

hot wheels scrape modifiedHe’s worked for Hot Wheels and Muscle Machines over the years, creating wild graphics for a wide range of models. For Hot Wheels, he is best known for the Scrape Modified, a heavily customized 1939 Lincoln coupe, and smaller scale models like the the 2003 Redline Club Drag Bus.

kustomcity evo drag busMore recently, Dave is best known as the mastermind behind the KustomCity Evo Drag Bus series. If you aren’t familiar with these models, imagine if the Hot Wheels Drag bus were crossed with a streamlined steam locomotive. These 1/64 models were designed from the ground up, a totally original take on the modest Volkswagen Bus. The long, sleek, aggressively tapered body work suggests an fiercely fast vehicle designed to do one thing: Go very fast in a straight line.

kustomcity firewagenHowever, on closer inspection, the Evo Dragster is designed for more than that. Besides, the Bus variant, there is a pickup version that has been further tricked out for all kinds of uses. There’s a tow truck model, from the “Big Tow” series. And a fire engine (the “Firewagen”). Actually, there are several versions with built in cargo, such as motorcycles or surf boards (the “Surfwagen”). But who are we kidding here… these things are anything but utilitarian.

kustomcity surfenwagenDave has created an enormous number of different paint schemes including candy chrome hues (aptly named “Over-Chrome”), drab military schemes that defy the word “drab”, and wild murals of crazy graphics. Depsite the limited production numbers, there are even rarer “chase” versions. With their large areas of relatively flat surfaces, the Evo vehicles have been popular with other customizers as well.

david chang diecast hall of fame

Dave Chang (lower left) and the rest of the original 2009 Diecast Hall of Fame class.

Dave is also a member of the inaugural class of honorees in the Diecast Hall of Fame from 2009, which should come as no surprise. In the almost decade since that honor he hasn’t slowed his roll one bit.

kustomcity evo drag bus

Slot Mods Can Build The Slot Car Track of Your Dreams

 

Slot Mods Racing

Want this Laguna Seca layout for your basement? It’s available from Slot Mods Raceways.

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

During Thanksgiving week, I wrote about slot cars, including family traditions, and the history of track design as the hobby evolved from driving simulation to racing action. And as much fun as I have with my slots, sometimes the hobby needs to be taken up a notch.

For most slot car enthusiasts, there are a couple of ways to get their cars on the track. Setting one up on the basement floor works great for temporary thrills, until dust, pets and other space requirements get in the way and you put it back in the box for awhile. Heck, maybe you even have a permanent course on a 4×8 plywood table. And as long as it’s permanent, you might add some hills and banked curves and some basic scenery if you have time.

Or you can join a slot car club. In this case you maintain your own cars and take them to meetings, usually at a hobby shop with impressive permanent track setups. (Sorry, no pinkslips!) It’s a lot of fun even if you’re stuck with their schedule.

Well, good news! The folks at Slot Mods Raceways have taken this concept to a whole new level. Their Custom Scenic Megatracks range from 6 feet by 20 feet to whopping layouts of 25 feet by 14 feet. Basically, whatever you have the space and budget for, they will build it.

Slot Mods Racing

Fully landscaped layouts feature breathtaking off-track detail.

As you can see in the photos, Slot Mods doesn’t mess around. The courses are complex, often based on real race tracks, and the scenery is exquisitely detailed. Designed for 1/32 scale cars, they are by nature huge. The budget? Let’s just say you’re easily looking at five figures for starters.

The process begins with a review of your space… in many cases you can send them photos and dimensions and they can start from there. Just to be safe, they might need to make a site visit in person. Better safe than sorry, right? Then they can start to sketch and doodle and of course, estimate costs.

Slot Mods Racing design

The design process starts with some very focused doodles.

Their layouts don’t use the modular track most of us are used to. The track forms are custom cut, with the grooves routed out and metal conductor strips inset by hand. Not only are the tracks super smooth and sturdy, but it also means you can have multiple lanes with variations between their spacing, and even lane changes. To add more realism, the slots often hug the apex of a curve meaning the outside of the turn goes largely unused, just like on a real track.

Slot Mods Racing

Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is faithfully replicated in this course.

Speaking of real track, Slot Mods can make a layout of your favorite racing venue… or at least a selectively compressed layout that captures the feel of it anyway. Their layout of Road America from Elkhart Lake, for example, has the signature number of turns, the same hills, just with shorter scale distances. Details include pit areas, grandstands and the scenery and the architecture surround that track prefectly echo the Wisconsin countryside.

Slot Mods Racing

Ther Vernola Raceway fits a ton of track on a 9×13 foot layout.

In some cases, you can even purchase a pre-owned setup that was built for a previous event, such as this recreation of the Laguna Seca track made for the Los Angeles Auto Show. There’s fun and a bit unnerving sensation about hitting “Add to Cart” for something that big.

Many of us think about how we’d fill our dream garage if we won the lottery. After seeing their tracks, it seems a giant Slot Mods track would be a good use for one or two car spaces.

Slot Mods Racing Sunoco Mark Donohue

This track replicates the Penske Sunoco Camaro Trans Am series race cars from the late 1960s.