Designer Posts

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.

Looking Back at Some Buick Boattails

Buick Riviera Y-Job

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 reading about the back story of a couple of older Buick diecast models.

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

In 1938, Harley Earl created what is widely considered the first concept car in order to apply for the job of chief stylist at GM. The Y-Job, as it was called, featured full fenders smoothly integrated into the body, and an overall rounder, sleeker shape than any car that anyone else was producing at the time. Unlike many later concepts, this was a fully functional car, which Earl used as his daily driver for several years.

Buick Riviera Y-Job

Throughout the 1940s and first half of the next decade, the basic lines of the Y-Job were apparent in almost every Buick. But by the end of the 1950s, design trends had moved on, and Earl was replaced by Bill Mitchell. Even though Mitchell pushed GM design into the modern era, he occasionally looked back to the Y-Job for inspiration.

In 1971, Buick dug deep into that past for design cues for the new third generation Riviera. The resulting boattail was a radical design, but parked next to the Y-Job, you can see the similarities. Both cars start with a raised, pointed nose section, with the body widening at the cowl. Then they taper into a sharp point at the back. Between all of this contouring are fenders that flow into the the same basic “sweepspear” shape.

Buick Riviera Y-Job

A few years ago, Anson made a highly detailed model of the Y-Job with opening hood, trunk and doors. The same model was also released by Racing Champions (shown here) with less detail, particularly in the engine bay. The car captures the flowing lines of the original, including the delicate strokes of chrome along the sides and grill. And it’s available in any color as long as it’s black.

The later Buick model comes from Road Signature. The overall effect of the model captures the basic feel of the real car, but several details are a bit off. The grill slopes at a less aggressive angle than on the real car, which throws the front proportions out of whack. Out back, there are ten rows of vents on the trunk (There should be 13) and the rear window has a raised ridge down the middle that should actually be smooth (on the real car, that center line is a seam on the inside of the glass. One other oddity… the car features the large optional center console with shifter, but also includes the column shifter too.

Buick Riviera Y-Job

Regardless of the shortcomings of these models, they represent an interesting link between two eras of brilliant design. Parked next to each other, you can see the family resemblance between these beautiful Buick Boattails.

Buick Riviera Y-Job

Join the Hot Wheels Fireside Chat with Bob Rosas and Larry Wood

If you’re going to the Hot Wheels Collectors Convention in Los Angeles in October, make sure to set aside time for a special event with long-time designers Bob Rosas and Larry Wood.

Bob Rosas Larry Wood

Bob Rosas, Eric Tscherne, Redline collector Dave Lopez and Larry Wood discuss a few Hot Wheels cars on display. Photo by the late Roy Nakamura

Bob Rosas Larry Wood

Wood (left) and Rosas work on the design for the Firebird Funny Car.

hobbyDB will host a “ Hot Wheels Fireside Chat ” with both men. Friday, October 6 at 4pm. We will be onstage interviewing Rosas and Wood, featuring questions from Hot Wheels fans around the world. If you’d like to suggest a question for either or both of them, please post it in the comments below (include your name and where you’re from, please).

Even if you’re not planning to attend the convention (tickets are sold out), you can participate by submitting questions. We’ll be featuring the interview on YouTube shortly afterwards.

There is no additional fee to attend the chat, but seats will be limited and on a first come basis. The event is scheduled to last around 90 minutes and should feature discussions of about 20 questions. The exact room location will to be announced soon.

Hot Wheels Bob Rosas

Rosas designed Hot Wheels cars from 1969 to 1988. He worked on developing many series including Mean Machines Motorcycles,  Steering Rigs, Ultra Hots, and Real Riders. One of his big contributions to the diecast hobby was working on improving the tampo process in the 1970s. The intricately designed graphics you see on model cars today wouldn’t be possible without his efforts.

Hot Wheels Larry Wood

Wood also joined Hot Wheels in 1970, and is still with the company as a consultant. His first design was the Tri-Baby in 1970. He also created the ’49 Merc, the Boyd Coddington collector set, the Ramblin’ Wrecker (which originally featured his phone number on its sides) as well as several school bus designs. Rosas and Wood are both members of the Diecast Hall of Fame.

The first part is now published, we will link to all five parts as they get published

  1. History

Designer Notes: Professional Slot Car Racing

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

NOTE: THIS IS THE FINAL INSTALLMENT IN THIS SERIES. We want to thank Mr. de Lespinay for sharing his archives with us and hope you enjoyed reading these posts! You can see an index of previous entries here.

Philippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

1970s slot car racing

Professional Slot Car Racing in the early 1970s

In 1970, I decided that it was time to leave Old Europe and go where opportunity appeared to smile to entrepreneurs. I packed my bags, took a one-way flight and landed in Maine. It was cold and damp, so I moved to California. After 6 months, I was right back racing slot cars, this time with the very heroes of the magazines…

I did OK, quickly thinking outside the envelope, designing my own stuff and eventually emerging on top by 1972, when I won the USRA Championship. By that time, my cars had become quite sophisticated and very fast, having set some world records in both speed and distance. Fortunately, I am a pack-rat so some examples survived, while I was able to find some that had gone away. Most have been now restored and are on display in an enthusiast museum in Los Angeles.

By 1972, pro-racing slot cars looked less and less like real cars and more like slot machines, strictly designed to go fast. But I always wanted my cars to look good too, as a form of respect for others as well as myself. So I had the bodies painted by expert earl Campbell, himself a world-record holder, and I painted the racing numbers and lettered them.

I am especially fond of this one, the 1972 car that won me my first of two “Western States Championships” that was restored with a replica body in 2006. The driver survived in another car and is now back in a replica of the original body painted by artist Jairus Watson in Oregon. The chassis and motor were restored, and new-old-stock parts were used throughout if missing.

1970s slot car racing

I built it in the spring of 1972 and used it in a couple of USRA warm-up races in the very competitive Southern California pro-racing scene, then apparently gave it to Team Mura’s Earl Campbell. I had already built him a sister car for the race set at “Speed & Sport” in Lynwood, California. He set fastest qualifying time and finished in second place in that race, the largest one that year in the United States. He used a very good motor built for him by Mura’s Bob Green, as well as one of the new M.A.C. Ferrari 612 bodies. With a nearly identical sister car fitted with a Team Checkpoint 24-1/2 single, I won that race and all the marbles by a mere lap. This is how I restored this grand old lady of a car, with the help of my friends Mike Steube, Bryan Warmack and Jairus Watson.

1970s slot car racing

1970s slot car racing

I had given a car to my friend Bryan Warmack in a trade, but it had the wrong bits, so I took it back from him and restored it as it originally was, the back-up car for the WS winning machine. The restored chassis is shown above. I made a nice little presentation display for Bryan from a Carrera slot car box and color copies of period documents.

Ron Granlee, then owner of the famed Speed & Sport raceway in Lynwood, CA, had used the car shown below in 1972. Ron was paralyzed and in a wheelchair, barely able to move one finger and slightly turn his head. Ron had asked me to build him a car for an important USRA race and I built two. Famed slot car artist Keiji Kanegawa painted the bodies, Bill Steube Sr. donated the motors, and I put the cars together. Ron qualified and did quite well, setting a new amateur record at 4.26″.

1970s slot car racing

Unfortunately the car was quite damaged during the attempt, so Ron raced the other car in the actual main event. I retained one of the cars, while Ron kept the other and eventually my friend Dennis Hill ended up with it. I asked another friend, Barry Obler to paint a replica of the body and he did a great job. I simply had to add some lettering and black body lines, and paint the rear view mirror and its shadow as per the Keiji original. The chassis needed a lot of repair work and was somewhat rusty but I managed to save most of it. Fortunately and thanks to the few who have donated material to our museum, we had a correct S25 Steube armature and I built a motor from a used Mura C-can, in the style of how Bill would have done it then.

1970s slot car racing

The car was then assembled, tested (it runs GREAT), and placed in a little showcase with a Photoshop compilation of a picture of the car taken in 1972, part of the very article Ron wrote for Miniature Auto Racing where he describes his qualifying, and a picture of Ron from “The Scale Competitor”, a rare one-issue newspaper published in 1973. We kept all this from Dennis Hill of course, so it was quite a surprise for him when I gave him the finished product, and he was crying like the proverbial water tap, which in fact was the intent. See, we LIKE to see Dennis being emotional because that is when he is at his best.