Advisory Council Posts

Meet Philippe de Lespinay, Model Car Designer, Historian

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

Just about everyone involved with hobbyDB collects or plays with or at least has a keen interest in toys and collectibles. But every now and then, we run across someone who also has work experience in the toy and game industry. We’ve met designers, marketers, even company founders, and it never fails to amaze us how much knowledge they have to share.

Philippe de Lespinay is one of those amazing folks… he started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer and 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 wrote a book titled Vintage Slot Cars and was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. He’s also on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

Heller Matra Brabham Cosworth Formula 2 car kits

Experience counts a lot in the toy business. “I had owned and assembled some of their complex early kits, some of them featuring mechanical action that was to never be seen again,” he said. “Their Mirage III and Etendard IV aircraft models had working retractable landing gear that was controlled by nylon fishing line over coils. Pulling a lever would raise the gear that was then locked in place, and a spring action released it open again. It required high precision during the assembly and was simply too much for my young fingers… but it was so neat!”

Philippe de Lespinay Heller model

After he was hired, de Lespinay worked on several 1:72 scale aircraft models (French prototypes, naturally) but soon moved to other departments. “My heart was with cars and bikes, so I pushed Leo Jahiel, the company president, to begin a series of 1/24 scale car kits representing models that were not being produced and that would prove popular. The only model of a car Heller had done until then was that of a 1/20 scale Renault R16, a very complex kit that sold rather poorly, so I had to do a lot of convincing. After lots of commitments on my part, I was given the green light.”

His handiwork can be seen on instruction sheets and product blueprints. As impressive as these are, remember, this was well before the days of CAD/CAM and 3D printing. All those precise drawings and model bucks had to be created by hand.

Every Friday, we’ll be highlighting some of the many models he worked on over the years, along with his precious insights. His archives include anecdotes about production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds when he felt like adding a little extra detail or function to what were already incredible models. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well!

Here a list of all the posts:

  1. Heller Alpine Renault A210
  2. Cox Can-Am Manta Slot Car
  3. Heller Porsche 907
  4. French Slot Car Racing in the 1960s
  5. Heller/AMT Renault r8 Gordini
  6. Heller Brabham Cosworth BT15 F3 Formule III
  7. Heller Ferarri 330P4
  8. Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2
  9. Heller Porsche 917
  10. Cox Gas Powered Airplanes
  11. Heller McLaren M7A
  12. Cox Magblaster and Interceptor
  13. Heller Olivier et Liore et Olivier 45 Bomber
  14. Unreleased Heller Matra kits
  15. Heller Brabham Ford BT26
  16. Heller Lotus 49B
  17. Heller Morane-Sauliner 406
  18. Heller Ferrari 512M
  19. Balsa Wood Cox Alfa Romeo 33 Slot Car
  20. Unreleased Heller Porsche 911R

Meet Modern Mattel Matchbox Maven John Lambert

lamley group matchboxWe have a new expert on board to help us wrangle one of the most popular diecast brands into shape in our Catalog. John Lambert will be member of hobbyDB’s Advisory Board as an expert on newer Matchbox vehicles.

matchbox ford mustang police car

Lambert started the Lamley Group as a blog with David Tilley to discuss just about any brand of diecast vehicles. (The Lamley name combines part of each of the surnames.) Their blog evolved mostly into musings about the newer Mattel era Matchbox cars.  “We started it mainly as a joke when we realized that he and I both had a knowledge of Mattel era Matchbox that matched the knowledge of some of the Regular and Superfast-era experts. Nothing came of it until I decided to start a blog to showcase my photos.”

His pictures aren’t just well-lit and focused, they are often creatively staged with scenery and props, such as this dealership diorama full of Toyota Land Cruisers.

matchbox toyota land cruiser

As for his favorite all time casting, well that’s a moving target. “I’ve tried hard to pick one favorite casting, and it’s near impossible… One day it’s the BMW 1M, but I have a feeling the upcoming ’71 Nissan Skyline will take its place.”

He displays a “small portion of my collection loose on custom wall cases”, in his Salt Lake City home. How many Matchbox models would you guess he has? “I have no idea.  I have never counted. I am probably a little afraid to know.”

In 2013, Lambert was named the 8th “Matchbox Ambassador To Collectors” at the annual Matchbox Collector’s Community Hall International Gathering Of Friends.

matchbox off road fire engine

Ten Hot Wheels Models So Cool They Inspired Real, Full-Sized Cars

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

We recently looked at some great Hot Wheels cars that were inspired by actual cars that were umm… not that great. Today, we’re turning the tables on that.

On several occasions, Hot Wheels has produced models that were so over-the-top awesome that they inspired someone to make a real-sized running version of that car. Let’s clarify that a bit… We’re talking about miniature vehicles made by Hot Wheels (which may have been inspired by an actual running production car or even a scale model kit from another company) that served as the template for someone to create a functioning full-size car based on that crazy model.

Got all that? Good. Here they are, including the most authentic reproductions as well as ones requiring a bit of squinting and maybe a little suspension of disbelief to make them work.

Twin Mill

hot wheels twin mill redline

Possibly the most quintessentially perfect Hot Wheels design ever, the original Twin Mill has been reproduced in several scales from standard 1:64 to a 16-inch-long remote control car. But the most majestic Twin Mill is the real, running, full-size version produced by Mattel in the late 1990s. The car is faithfully scaled up from the original, but also features amazing new details like the flame-treaded tires and the twin hood-mounted tachs perfectly angled for the driver.

Deora II

deora ii 2

The original Redline Deora was based on a Dodge concept pickup truck built from the cab-forward, mid engine A-100, so it doesn’t qualify for this list. But in the early 1990s, Chip Foose and company designed the Deora II, a modern take on that truck. The toy was popular enough that Mattel later commissioned a big version of this truck. While the design looks kind of dated a quarter century on, who wouldn’t find garage space for it?

Rip Rod

hot wheels rip rod

Flash forward to to the 21st century, when Hot Wheels introduced the Rip Rod, a fenderless 1930s baja coupe representing no specific brand of car… that is, until the folks at Ford decided a full size version of it would be a nice showcase for their latest EcoBoost engine technology. You’d drive the snot out of that thing, right?

Bone Shaker

hot wheels bone shaker

The Bone Shaker was another miniature design inspired by the rat rod movement, but not representing any particular prototype. Yet here we have a real version of the chopped, channeled pickup, complete with the skull-shaped grill shroud. As with the previous cars, Mattel authorized this jumbo version to trot out at trade shows.

Bump Around

hot wheels bump around

For many of us, bumper cars were the first time we got to really cut loose behind the wheel of a self-powered car, and one that was designed to crash into things at that! So, of course we love the Hot Wheels version. This street rod may or may have not been inspired by the miniature, but can we all agree it looks like it would be fun to drive into stuff?

Darth Vader car

hot wheels darth vader

In honor of the latest “Star Wars” film, the folks at Hot Wheels created a series of model cars that captured the look and feel of several characters from that galaxy far, far away. The baddest one has to be the Darth Vader ride, which looks like the result if the Twin Mill mated with Vader’s helmet. So, yeah, of course they built a real one. And it is extremely bad. You can watch a video of it with Jay Leno, because, yeah, he’s Jay Leno.

Scrape Modified

hot wheels 1939 lincoln zephyr

What, you don’t have this one in the blister? Well, the Custom ’39 Lincoln was first introduced as a 1:18 Hot Wheels model when the company dabbled in that scale. Even though it’s originally based on a production car, the real version considered here is a faithful reproduction of the model, including the slammed, bumperless body and the dazzling purple paint. The model was available in other schemes as well.

Whatta Drag

hot wheels bmw isetta whatta drag

This car made our previous list, becaue it’s a ridiculous scale model hot rod based on a puny micro car. But that ridiculous model became the inspiration for an accurately detailed, 1:1 ride by microcar collector Bruce Wiener from a spare Isetta shell that was sitting around his garage. It supposedly cranks at over 700 horsepower, which is about 695 more than the original bubble car. Whatta hoot!

Express Lane

hot wheels express lane

At some point in life (probably around age two, but for some of us, well into adulthood), we’ve all pretended that our shopping cart was a race car. So when Hot Wheels made a model of such a thing, it resonated deeply with a lot of people. Apparently deeply enough with a few grocery store chains (Schnucks, H-E-B, Save-Mart) who made their own giant show drag shopping carts, because we only live once, and we need to shop fast.

Hot Wheels Edition Camaro

hot wheels camaro 2013

Lastly, we have the latest generation of the Chevy Camaro. When Hot Wheels released a variant of this car in their proprietary shade of metallic blue, complete with flaming logos on the fenders, it was only natural that GM would copy the look for a 2013 special edition of their production car right down to the redlines and 5-spokes. As customs go, this one was pretty easy to execute. But of all the cars on the list, this is the only one you could actually buy if you weren’t Jay Leno. Now if we only had some giant orange track to run on!

Can you think of any others to add to this list? Add them to the comments below! Remember, the Hot Wheels model had to come before the real car, not the other way around.

Inside the World of Super Collector Andy Goodman

If you’ve ever wanted to see what a collection of 30,000 diecast models looks like, you can visit Andy Goodman. Andy is a super collector of all kinds and scales of diecast vehicles, specializing in Jada and Hot Wheels, cars, limiting himself primarily to cars based on real world prototypes. He’s also a member of the hobbyDB Advisory Board, a group of experts on various subjects who help steer the direction of our site and keep us on top of the latest developments in the collectible world. hobbyDB caught up with him recently at SuperToyCon this past summer in Las Vegas.

He recently opened his Mechanicsburg, PA home to the folks at Jalopnik for a tour of the garage and basement and other nooks and crannies where the diecast can be found. The sheer scale of his collection and his friendly demeanor are amazing.

Andy Goodman, Jada ahd Hot Wheels Collector

Screenshot courtesy of jalopnik.com

Andy was the founder of modelpackrat.com, but his extremely organized collection suggests anything but a hoarding rodent. And even with over 30,000 cars in his collection, he shows restraint. In the interview he describes finding a diecast model he likes at a store, but then leaving it behind because he would rather not branch into another brand or series at the moment. A man’s gotta know his limits, right? Nontheless, over 1,000 square feet of his house, including quite a bit of the garage is devoted to the collection.

Read more and watch the video on Jalopnik.

Jim Garbaczewski, Hot Wheels Collector for Life

Tomart Hot Wheels

Jim is one of the editors of the Tomart’s Price Guide to Hot Wheels and a member of the hobbyDB Advisory Board.

Jim Garbaczewski started collecting Hot Wheels cars at an early age… early in the product’s lifetime. He got his first cars in 1968, when the original Redlines came out, and was instantly hooked.

“I picked up one of everything from 1968 to about 1974,” he says.”For several years, I only bought the ones I really liked. In ’89 or so, I got back into collecting in a serious way.” Over the years he has managed to fill in that 15 year gap and has stayed on top of new models ever since.

If his name sounds familiar, you might know him as one of the editors of Tomart’s Price Guide to Hot Wheels or as the publisher and editor of the Hot Wheels Newsletter. Jim’s Hot Wheels pedigree is also put to good use as a member of the hobbyDB Advisory Board.

40,000 Hot Wheels might sound excessive, but consider the fact that Jim used to collect action figures as well. “I had to make a decision, and in the late ‘90s, I started selling the figures.” His favorite castings include the original Redline Custom El Dorado (his early favorite), the ’69 Pontiac GTO (he used to drive one), and any Volkswagen Beetles (too many different castings to even list). For those three cars, he will also collect models from other brands and in other scales.

As a kid he got a lot enjoyment racing and playing with the cars, so it’s no surprise his collection contains a large number of vehicles out of their blisters. “A lot of times, I’d rather scoot a loose car around on my desk than stare at a bunch of packages on the wall.” Some things never change.