For almost half a century, Hot Wheels vehicles have fueled the imagination of kids with their cool, innovative, wild toy car designs. While many of them are pure fantasy creations, a lot are based on real cars. And in a few cases, they are based on regrettable, forgettable, even horrible cars. Here some examples of when the folks at Mattel turned head-scratching automotive duds into head-turning models.
Poison Pinto (Ford Pinto)
Unreliable at best, explosive at worst, the Pinto was a disaster waiting to happen, especially when tapped from behind. This miniature panel wagon hot rod at least looks like it could outrun anything trying to hit that rear bumper/trigger.
Open Fire, Greased Gremlin, Gremlin Grinder (AMC Gremlin)
In retrospect, the Gremlin wasn’t a really terrible car, it just wasn’t terribly reliable or sturdy. Heck, you could even get one with a Levi’s denim interior. Hot Wheels has tried to redeem this compact hatchback with several versions, including the six-wheeled Open Fire shown above.
Front Runnin’ Fairmont (Ford Fairmont)
Remember the Ford Fairmont? Of course not, because there was nothing noteworthy about the styling or performance. It was perfectly… adequate. They were used for stock car racing in the 1980s, so Hot Wheels created a version that could at least be painted in lots of cool liveries.
Custom V-8 Vega (Chevrolet Vega)
The Vega redefined depreciation in the 1970s by rusting while still in the showroom. But hot rodders had all kinds of fun modifying them, and the small scale model represents one of those hopped-up, tricked out cars. Also, diecast metal doesn’t rust, so that’s an improvement.
80 El Camino (1980 Chevrolet El Camino)
For a vehicle allegedly designed to haul things in style, the last generation El Camino was underpowered and not very exciting to look at. That didn’t stop the designers at Hot Wheels from lowering the suspension and raising the hood bulge to make it a little bit more desirable.
Amphicar (Amphicar 770)
What’s not to like about a floating car with a built in propeller? In theory, it’s fantastic, but in reality, it was a poor boat and an even worse car. The Hot Wheels version has a much bigger motor in the back, so it should be able to pull some skiers at least.
Chevy Lumina Van (Chevrolet Lumina APV)
The APV van was an odd spaceship-looking contraption, and when you sat in the driver’s seat, the steering wheel was actually a couple inches off center. Yuck! Hot Wheels didn’t alter the basic design much, but at least they gave it some cool paint jobs.
MetroRail (Nash Metropolitan)
The Metropolitan is a delightful little car if you don’t mind driving something that looks like Donald Duck’s jalopy. But stretch that front end to dragster proportions, and you could really burn things up the race track.
Packin’ Pacer (AMC Pacer)
American Motor’s Pacer was an oddball… significantly wider than most cars, and very glassy, it resembled a fishbowl on wheels. All that interior space was the perfect place to stuff a monster engine, however, so Hot Wheels did just that.
Chevy Citation (Chevrolet Citation)
Really, we’re not trying to pick on Chevy here, but the “First Chevy of the Eighties” was really the “Worst Chevy of …. Ever!” The miniature model doesn’t change the basic look much, but if you squint, it does sort of look like James Bond’s Lotus Esprit submarine car. Sort of.
Whatta Drag (BMW Isetta)
Sure, everyone smiles when they see one of these bubble cars on the road… until you actually drive one. “Underpowered” is an understatement. Hot Wheels turned it into a stretched three-wheeled dragster so cool that someone actually built a running real sized version of it!
Got any nominees for other Hot Wheels vehicles based on lame real cars? Let us know in the comments below!