Secrets of Hot Wheels Models with Bob Rosas & Larry Wood

Bob Rosas and Larry Wood

Have you always wondered the what the inspiration behind some of the most famous Hot Wheels designs? Discover more about your favorite diecast models in the second segment in our five part Hot Wheels Fireside Chat featuring Bob Rosas and Larry Wood.

If this is your first time checking out this Fireside Chat series, a little background. At the beginning of October, the hobbyDB team journeyed to Los Angeles, California to attend the annual Hot Wheels Collectors Convention. While at the convention, we got the privilege to interview two of Hot Wheels’ greatest designers, Larry Wood and Bob Rosas. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing parts of the live video interview as well as a blog post that includes the transcript. The videos are separated into five different segments:

  1. History 
  2. Individual Hot Wheels Cars (this one)
  3. Hot Wheels – The Series
  4. Cars in 1:1 Scale
  5. Today

As a reminder, a bit of background –

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.

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.

Please enjoy the second segment, Individual Hot Wheels Cars.

Transcript of Fireside Chat Part 2:

Christian: And now I have a lot of questions about individual cars. So, the first one comes from Sergio Goldvarg. Sergio runs a restaurant that has 10,000 cars in it, in Florida, worthwhile seeing, he’s also a guinness book record holder of the largest toy car collection. And he particularly collects Batmobiles, he has everything from 1:1 scale to 1:240 scale. He wants to know of all the many castings you guys did, which one did you have the most fun designing and which one did you like most at the end.

Bob: For me, I’ll never forget the Steering Rigs, the GMC Motorhome, you know some of the earlier cars from the early 70s, I mean the middle 70s actually, but the GMC Motorhome is quite a story. If you make it to scale, it wouldn’t fit in the packaging, you know with the 1:64. So it’s a little out of scale, plus I took 10 linear feet out of the middle, so that would make it down to three inches. I got the plans from GMC Corporation, they sent me the blueprints, and we were able to make a more accurate rendering. Because you know, it’s just a loaf of bread, there’s not that much to it, but I think Larry did a great job on the detailing and the tampo graphics.

Larry: One thing you have to remember, with Hot Wheels, the scale was the size of the package. So Volkswagen could be the same size as a cement truck. So when it came to this, we couldn’t do a little tiny thing that was real long, so we had to squash it and pull it up, so that was kind of fun.

For me, you know I got so many of them I love them all. But when the Bone Shaker, because of the guys that like the Bone Shaker, You know I learned to, the thing was just a sketch, and I think I threw it away once, and then I pulled it out of the trash, and then I looked at it again and thought, oh this might be kind of fun. So I took it from just a dumb idea into a dumb toy, and all of a sudden everybody liked it. So I’m sticking with the Bone Shaker.

Christian: And now you can drive it, they build one in 1:1 Scale, right?  

Larry: That’s it. But I’ll tell you the truth, I can’t fit into it. So they wanted to do a video.

Christian: Is that why they cut off the roof at the end?

Larry: Yeah, the problem was, the steering wheel was here, and the door was here and your break wouldn’t work. Which is ok, you don’t care about the brakes. But they wanted to make a video with it. And I said I’ll drive it but you got to put me in a place where I don’t need the brakes. So I went out on an airstrip, I went and did donuts and everything, but had to downshift it and tried to get my foot over to the brake to finally stop it. Yeah, it’s tight in that car.

Christian: Excellent, so this is a question from Chicago. Lou227 wants to know on the redline Rolls Royce and Mercedes 280SL, the hoods open the wrong way (they are hinged at the windshields) but the Custom Corvette and Maserati Mistral have their hoods hinged correctly. Was it a mistake or was it intentional?

Larry: We can answer this real easy. We weren’t there. That was Harry Bradley and I don’t know who the engineer was at the time, but yeah that was before us. That was the first year.

Christian: True, sorry Lou.

Larry: I would tend to think, because staking, you couldn’t get to the little thin cowl, it would probably warp like crazy.

Bob: Yes the big piece, rigidity in the middle.  Maybe they had to stake it.

Christian: So the next question comes from HW Collector, he’s in San Diego: Whose idea was the Hot Seat? And why?! Did anyone complain about Hot Wheels making a toilet on wheels?

Larry: Luckily I had nothing to do with that. We weren’t there. I can’t remember who did it. Have you seen the latest, was it Mark Jones? Have you seen the newest one, the toilet seat moves as it goes down the track. Like the shark, got a new one. That must have been Jones. That seems like a Jones.

Christian: Alright, fair enough. Next question comes from Jason Duncan. This is for Larry. Since you designed the ’65 Mustang Convertible, and several other Mustangs, what Mustang casting is your favorite one to design, and why?

Larry: Well I worked in Detroit and I was there at 65 so I was working on the the 67, 68 on those Mustangs. I always drew hot rods with big hood scoops on them, and finally my boss came to me one day and said, you know cars don’t have that, this was the performance era luckily, cars don’t have that, we could never do that. So I showed him how it could be done, you just drain the water out here, you scoop it, you seal it, and it shakes, so it became the shaker hood scoop. So I gotta go with the 69 Mustang, the trouble is we never did one with the shaker hood scoop, but that’s the car that should have the shaker hood scoop on it.

Christian: Maybe there’s hope.

Larry: I was going to say, maybe that will be my next car.

Christian: The next question comes from London from Mighty Maverick, and he says I am a fan of the 1970 range (those were the first he got) and always wanted to know what were the stories behind the Tri Baby, the Mantis, the Peeping Bomb and the Whip Creamer – what’s the inspiration behind these?  

Larry: Well, we were doing crazy dream cars then, so I suppose there wasn’t really a reason for each car. All I can really tell you is Tri Baby is an easy one for me, because I came out of Detroit doing door handles, tail lights and grills and everything and the first day at Mattel I sat down, and they said, do a car. And I said, I get to do a whole car? What are you going to do, you’re going to do a sports car right? And then so, I’d worked in aircraft, so that’s where I got where I got the turbine engine idea in the back. That’s how the Tri Baby came about, it’s my first real sports car that I got to design.

Christian: And who came up with the names?

Larry: We had a guy named Sid, and that was his job. Kind of a strange guy, and he came up with some strange names, so it fit them.

Christian: Were they always accepted? Or you had a negotiation with him?

Larry: I don’t think we had an input then. Later on we finally did have the input.

Bob: The two things that we did put in got through. They had a legal guy.

Larry: Up until halfway through, they controlled the names, you can finally tell when they started naming the cars the right way is when we put our two cents in. We did all that work to do a really neat car, and then they had all these crazy names.

Christian: Any ones that you hated or loved?

Larry: The Bubble Gunner. It was supposed to be a bubble gum machine. That was the name, but it was not my favorite.

Christian: The next question comes from Jean-Philippe Coté, he’s from NY and writes – I always wanted to know why sometimes a model is based on a real car, but the name of the model isn’t. For example, Hot Wheels produced a Ferrari 308 but it was named Race Bait 308.  Do you only acquire the rights to the casting but not the name of the car?

Bob: They not very often used the real names. Usually it was something gimmicky.

Larry: We’re going to blame Sid.

Bob: Yeah it had to be something.

Christian: So what happened, Sid left and then you guys were suddenly in charge.

Larry: Yeah we got in charge, to do the right names.

Christian: Sounds like cost cutting. The guy only did names?

Larry: Yeah, well legal, I should say. And, I’ll give you a story to show you where things went. We never had a problem with legal. We could do any car, we could do any graphics, we could do anything we want. I designed and worked on the car for ZZ Top, the Eliminator, the little red coupe, with the two Zs down the side of it. I won’t credit for putting the Zs on the side, but I designed the car. So Billy Gibbons, I met him because we were designing cars and everything, so I thought I’ll do Billy Gibbons’ car, he’d like that right? So I did the 34 Ford with the two Zs on the side. Well they got a lawyer and that lawyer really protected their brand, and that was the first time that we got in trouble for doing a legal thing that wasn’t legal. We had to pay him a bunch of money to keep the status ok with the company. And that was the first time. And from that point it just went crazy and you could imagine the legal hassles of doing a NASCAR, every tampo, every logo, every stitch, little tiny thing on those cars, because we are trying to do them accurate, had to be legal, had to be cleared. So legal went from not caring whatever car we went to, to every little dot on that car.

Christian: And when was that?

Larry: It progressed. But ZZ Top car was really the beginning of that.

Christian: And what year was that?

Larry: These guys would probably know the ZZ Top car better than I do. So late 70s. And then like I say, it just got bigger and bigger in fact, one of the biggest departments right now is the legal department. You have to clear the car, clear every tampo they put on the side, every name they put on it and everything, completely different.

Bob: I believe it was the 3-Window ’34.

Larry: Yep

Bob: You know there was another car that they went right down to using a dremel tool to taking name off the bottom and that was the NASCAR Stocker. I think they called it Mountain Dew Stocker, and then they said we can’t do that. So before we shipped them, they had to grind the name off. And then we called it the Racing Stocker.

Christian: Is that Sid again?

Larry: No this was us, by the time. But again this was a legal thing.

Bob: Then we couldn’t use NASCAR then by the end it was Racing Stocker.

Larry: Which everybody loves because they are hard to find, that’s half the fun!

Christian: True, true, the next question comes from Tom Kurtz, he’s from ParisI understand both of you worked on the Lickety Six which seems clearly based on the Tyrrell P34, was it changed as it was just a toy or was it difficult/expensive to get a license to model the actual car?

Larry: I think at that case, we probably didn’t want to go through all the licensing problems. We just did it on our own. I’m a little surprised we didn’t get called on that, because it’s pretty easy to figure out what car that is. I think we just sell the car on magazines, and it had six front wheels, and we said hey that’s unnatural, we should do something like that. So I think it’s just one of those things, we just did and hoped no one would call us on it.

Audience Member: I don’t think Tyrrell would have cared.

Larry: That’s just it, some people were glad that we did some, other people would just jump all over us.

Bob: There was not a lot of versions at the time. I think it’s 7 variations of it now. India, Mexico, and France.

Christian: As an engineer was this good on the track?

Bob: As good as any.

Larry: it had plenty of wheels to rub on the sides, so it actually was pretty good compared to rubbing diecast on the sides.

Christian: So the next question comes from Jonathan Johnson and he wants to know who came up with the Sizzlers concept and how did you choose a casting for the first prototype models.

Bob: What came from the Preliminary Design (Ed. an internal team call Preliminary Design or Prelim) was the major influence in engineering from George Solacus and my only involvement was towards the tail end, when they were trying the chrome version and this will have lights on it, just a little different. That was the last of them for a while then they came back again, of course, a few years ago.

Larry: I can remember when Prelim turned that thing over, it had a huge battery in it, because there was no battery that small at the time. So it had a big battery, wires and everything, and it just went around the track. And they said here it is. And I said, I can’t do a body around that thing it’s got this huge battery in it. So they went to a battery manufacturer and worked to get the battery down to the right size and I personally think that would be a great thing to come back. With technology now those batteries would probably run for a week!

Christian: Sure but this has a small battery.

Larry: And put that into a Hot Wheels, in a Sizzler, they’d go crazy you could probably even charge it on the run. So I’m actually going to propose it to Mattel.

Audience: There’s a new line of Sizzlers coming out this year, ten second charges. They are kind of like the XV Racers.

Christian: This question is from Pittsburgh it’s someone call 80’s Kid. In the 1980’s blackwall era, Hot Wheels made some for the brand unusual choices of cars like the Pontiac J2000, Omni 024, Cadillac Seville, Ford Escort, Renault LeCar, Peugeot 505 and also the Dodge Aries Wagon and Chevy Citation. These were done in realistic paint colors, without wild graphics. They’re cool models but they’re much more “ordinary” new and very different than what you had done in the past. What happened and why?

Larry: This is an easy one. We should explain that when we pick cars, some years we get to pick cars. Other years marketing gets to pick cars, it matters who has control that year. Most of these, starting with the Poison Pinto, there was a gas crisis. They came and said we were going to do gas crisis cars. And I said, these are Hot Wheels, they are going down a track, they are going fast. So they wanted a Pinto Winebago, well you know what I did with the Pinto Winebago (Ed. the Poison Pinto), but later on they said, well, we need regular cars. And that kind of extended from that point of having because of the gas crisis and continued, what we did regular dog cars for quite a while, and finally design got control back and did the stuff we wanted.

Christian: And how did that work, I mean what was the fight?

Larry: You can imagine, you pick a car, you fill a wall full of drawings and photographs end everything, and if you go in there right now it’s the same thing, there is a big wall with cars, for you know sports cars, hot rods, and you know, everybody’s idea goes up on the wall and you start coming back and picking things. Well if there’s a marketing guy between you that says no, we’re not doing that hot rod with a big engine, we’re doing the Peugeot or something. I think at that time we were trying to get into Europe as well.

Bob: We were required to do actual European cars back then.

Christian: I’m European, there are some better choices than the Peugeot 505…

Larry: But not what we were told. We were told that was the car that you should do.

Bob: But I agree, you know I used to walk into the store, and I would see the Aries K wagon, or the pegs were full with the Aries Wagon and the Packin’ Pacer, and they were the only ones that didn’t sell. For a while there, they are probably still in the back.

Christian: The next question comes from a user that calls herself, Rubber Ducky Chick and she wants to know from you Larry, when you used to put your phone numbers on the Ramblin’ Wrecker, how many phone calls you would get, and also what people would ask you?

Larry: Well the story is, I put my phone number on the Larry’s towing. I put it on there because I figured it would be kind of a good business card, right? Meet people and hand the Hot Wheels to them and you say give me a call if you want to do business together or something. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Well the first phone call came about 6:00am in the morning on Christmas Eve some kid that was calling for Larry’s towing “I just got this under the tree and I’m calling” and I say “are your parents up” “No, I’m playing with my Hot Wheels” and I said “Well put it back down, go back to bed” and you know and the phone rang a few more times, off and on for a little while. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was, I didn’t have an area code on it, so every area code in the United States started getting that phone call. So we got a call from a minister in Chicago, and for some reason, Chicago kids love that number and he said “I’m getting phone calls like crazy.” So as you can imagine, we were told to take it off.

Bob: I have something to add to that. The shield on the door, is also a Big Jim thing, we used that on the fire truck and fire eater, and this one here. A classic carryover, Big Jim.

Larry: I gotta to tell you a future story after that as a friend of mine who worked for Barbie, and he tried to sneak his phone number on Barbie’s bed. He got caught, he thought hey, you know.

Christian: Do you remember any of the calls? (to Larry’s wife)

Larry: Oh yeah, she was the one who usually got the calls.

Larry’s wife: One time a husband called, he was checking his phone bill and saw all these phone calls, and was suspicious of his wife was cheating on him. And she hadn’t done anything wrong.

Larry: He was checking up on his phone bill and somebody was calling me all the time, and so he thought his wife had a thing going. And it was the kid calling. I wasn’t in on that one.

Christian: The next question comes from Florida and he/she calls himself Lananeeneenoonoo and he wants to know Torero and Turbofire were the first original designs in the range. How did Hot Wheels decide to include original designs in the range? Was it always planned? How did this approach work out?

Larry: Again before us, I would tend to think that when they first started they did the custom stuff, took a regular car, and put a big engine in it, and everything, you know they are designers. They wanted to do something a little wilder. It was probably Ira who started doing the wild shapes because he did the twin mill and all those neat looking cars. He had a whole series of cool looking cars, and even the work horses, it was probably Ira.

Christian: The next one is one of yours. It comes from Ireland, user is call DeLorean fan Is it true that Hot Wheels was going to make a DeLorean back in the 80’s, but then had to modify the casting and released it as the Turismo? If so, what happened?

Larry: Ok the original DeLorean was a mid engine car and they had built a mock-up of it, and they were testing it and everything else, so we copied that car, so the wheelbase was a little longer, the shape is a little nicer, it was a nice car. The trouble is, by the time that we tooled it, they had gone to the rear engine car and the wheelbase had moved and the car had changed shape. So DeLorean said “no you can’t do that car, you have to do the new car.” And weren’t about to do two DeLoreans so we modified it to the ugly grill, and added a few other pieces to it, to make it error.

Bob: After it was built, the EDM details had changed, but I have a few real ones.

Christian: We’ll need some images for those later. Excellent, so I guess you waited until the company went bust and then made it?

tursimo

turismo-back

Larry send us these photos after the event

Bob: Years later.

Larry: By now it’s worth doing. Back then, it was a car that we were pretty sure that it wasn’t going to be a big deal and it wasn’t worth doing two tools on it. Now it’s worth it.

Christian: The next question comes from Ohio, from Andy Cell and he asked,  can you talk about a few cars that you were going to make and did not or about Hot Wheels concepts that could not be done and why and what happened?

Larry: I know one car we didn’t make but we made a brass and we made a prototype and a toy show model. It was a Mercury Cyclone and I think it was the first year I was there. So it never went any further than that. In fact I’ve seen about, I personally know of about, 8 or 10 prototypes that never got beyond the handmade stage. And you know some of them were pretty cool and the Mercury, I don’t have the slightest idea, it’s a beautiful looking car. I don’t know why it never went any further, but maybe a legal problem.

Bob: I’ll tell you another one was a motorcycle, a prototype that was way different scale, even bigger than the Street Eater and the first motorcycle we did (Ed. the MotoCross), the one with a yellow seat, one with a red seat, but about a little bigger than that.

Larry: Yeah it was a good size. It would fit in the package.

Bob: Of course, they built the tools for them and carried it all the way to finish. I ordered some parts to put some together, just cause you know marketing might change their mind, and they needed to have some samples, so they sent them, printed, and finished up. That’s another one I can recall.

Christian: As the ones you remember, I know Bruce Pascal has a few of these early. Which one do you think was the coolest that should have been done?

Larry: Again I could mention a couple, but you’ve never seen them. They just disappeared. There was one where the wings came out, it was really cool, but it never was made. Trying to think of some other ones that we did, but again, sometimes we would go to the handmade model and you would look at it, and someone would say, we’re not going to do it.

Audience Member: More recent than those, was the Beatnik Bandit 2. I saw a resin about the time of the Silhouette II.

Larry: Ok, that would make sense.

Christian: The next question is from David Durovy. Was there ever a design or casting that you “fought” over?  Meaning… one you both wanted to design, one you debated on the HW “interpretation of,” stuff where you weren’t seeing eye to eye?

Larry: You do it.

Bob: No you do it.

Larry: We worked fine together. No, we had a great time. The two of us, like I said back in the corner having a good time playing with cars. So you couldn’t beat it. We had a little track where we could play with, you know try the cars out. Things like that. So it was no problem.

Bob: They only made six new ones a year, and we capped them at six, so there wasn’t a lot of cars, and it did take a long time to get the car to production, plus we had to go through all the preliminary sample sheet. Yes we made the first year, we had someone hand carve it, for many years.

Larry: Yeah you had to do a hand carving. You had to do a prototype for the toy shows all decorated up and most of those had the windows painted because they were solid.

Christian: So I hear all the time about this corner. How big was this corner? And what did you do, did you race cars?

Larry: Like I said we were just over in the corner with the partitions you know, the partitions were about here, you could stand up and yell at each other and everything like that. And I remember the rest of it was all Barbie. That’s not true, there was Big Jim and HeMan and all that of course every once and a while they would go hit, you know like all the sudden HeMan was a big department. Also in the very very beginning when we first got there, there was a department that was called Freelin, which was the idea place, where Sizzlers came out. My job was to make the car look good, his job was to make it, and make it go down a track and everything, so by the time it got to us, it was pretty much filtered down, but Freelin did crazy things. You would go in there and things would be flying around tracks and everything, but that was their job. Their job was not to make it, their job was to come up with the ideas, and what’s fun is to find the prototypes that they came up with. They look ugly as sin, but they do things, like Bob’s got plenty of those, you know do the wheelie, they weren’t went to look pretty, they were just meant to work, so that was kind of fun.  

– End of Part 2 –

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