Customizers Posts

Customizers Corner: Karl-Martin Karle Sanger of KrautCustom

Karl-Martin Karle Sanger Krautcustom

Karl-Martin Karle Sanger Krautcustom

Most diecast customizers started collecting model cars early in life, and Karl-Martin Karle Sänger is no different. Well, his story is a bit different, as he grew up in Dresden, East Germany, so it wasn’t as easy for him to get his hands on such things. “I often received as a child Matchbox and Hot Wheels from West Germany. But I’ve really only been a Hot Wheels ‘collector’ since 2003.” he said.

With the falling of the Berlin Wall, toy cars were easier to find, but he still mostly admired them from afar. “When I went shopping, I always looked at the Hot Wheels cars and was delighted with the cool designs,” he said. I’ve never bought them. But in  autumn 2003, my wife bought me the first Hot Wheels for my collection. It was the Steel Flame, No. 014, which I still own and hold in honor.”

Despite having “several thousand” Hot Wheels cars now, he limits himself to being a completist on only a few castings. One of them is the Dairy Delivery, a popular choice among customizers. You can probably see where this is going, right? “I started to collect Custom models and so had my first indirect contact with Bryan Pope, Chris Walker, The Boxman, Al Gonzales, and many others,” he said.

So he got the urge to try it himself, calling his company KMS Krautcustom. And of course, the Dairy Delivery served as the basis for some his earliest custom work. 

Karl-Martin Karle Sanger of KrautCustom

Lorrie Davis and Karl-Martin Karle Sanger

KrautCustom Datsun BluebirdHe created his first real custom model for Lorrie Davis, a collector from West Chester, Ohio, sparking a lasting friendship. “We met for the first time on the SuperToyCon 2015 in Las Vegas. In my first ever event, I won a 1st and 2nd place in the amateur field. Nevertheless, my sales were very poor.” So Lorrie has become his manager and agent, and sales have picked up. He won another first and second at the Hot Wheels Nationals in Indianapolis in 2016, and this time buyers noticed his models for sale. His custom Datsun Bluebird Wagon was a popular model at Indy. 

“I’m particularly proud of my VW Drag Bus “Star Wars Boba Fett” series.” At first glance, his Boba Fett models might look familiar. After all, Hot Wheels did produce a Boba Fett car resembling the “Star Wars” bounty hunter… but it wasn’t based on the Drag Bus or the Kool Kombi like his are. For these models, Karl-Martin cuts the front of the bus to look like the Boba’s helmet. Designs range from impeccably new to severely battered. The result is unmistakeable.

Boba Fett Hot Wheels

Although a lot of his models look beaten and weathered, he can also create crisp, pristine looking modes. as well. Many KrautCustom models feature hand-painted designs that are almost too perfect to believe. for example, the flowers on this Drag Bus are all done that way.

KrautCustom Hot Wheels Drag Bus

Meanwhile, he has produced several very limited runs of custom models, anywhere from a single unique build 5o maybe 5 or so copies. He plans to be at the 2016 Super Toy Con, but no longer as an amateur. “I am very proud to be a Pro Customizer within 3 years,” he said.

Custom Dairy Delivery zombie

Customizers Corner: Hadi Rochmansyah of Madworx Kustom

Hadi Rochmansyah madworx

Hadi Rochmansyah cartoons magazine

If you’re a certain age, you may have grown up reading CARtoons magazine (sort of like Mad, but strictly about cars). It disappeared in the early 90s, but over the last couple of years it’s been making a comeback online. Hadi Rochmansyah is lucky enough to be one of the cartoonists in the revived venture, and he’s also an amazing diecast customizer.

Hadi, who lives in Indonesia, got his start in third grade customizing inexpensive pullback cars. He also developed an early knack for cartooning and was able to turn that into a job as an illustrator for an automotive tabloid.

“I sold my first custom in 2005 (a 1:32 pullback VW bus),” he said. “In 2006 I did my first Hot Wheels a ’69 Chevy truck with an opening hood. I start using ‘Madworks Kustom’ for my Garage’s name and then changed into ‘Madworx Kustom‘ in 2011. In 2014 I asked my brother to be a work partner and since then we’ve worked as a team.”

Hadi Rochmansyah madworx

His workbench looks like a miniature version of the kind of shop that turns out chopped, channeled custom hot rods. There are piles of parts and scraps that might come in handy someday and just enough clear space to do the work. His cars can take several weeks to complete depending on the complexity, but he has several in the works at any given time.

Hadi Rochmansyah madworx

The Hot Wheels Boneshaker shows up in several of his customs, such as the Boneshaker V16 above, though you might have to look hard to find it in some cases, as he mixes in a lot of elements from other cars as well as scratchbuilt pieces. Many of his cars are finished with a rusty, weathered rat-rod patina complete with hand painted but realistic graphics.

Hadi’s attention to little details is amazing. He often fills the cargo area of his pickup trucks with tiny cardboard boxes with labels and sealed with tape.

Hadi Rochmansyah madworx

He’s also capable of creating immaculately finished models that make you look twice to be sure they aren’t straight from the factory. It’s hard to tell where the production model stops and the custom work begins.One of the newest castings from Hot Wheels, the Corvair Greenbrier van, served as the basis for a flip up body pickup dragster.

Hadi Rochmansyah madworx

Many of his cars are single shot one-of-a-kind models, such as the Dixie Danger below, so you have to follow him closely on Facebook to see the works in progress. And of course, we’re working on archiving many of his earlier efforts on hobbyDB.

Hadi Rochmansyah madworx

Customizers Corner: Liberty Promotions

liberty promotions header

We’ve run several features about die cast customizers over the last few weeks, but this week’s entry is a bit different in several ways. Liberty Promotions might work with small models in limited runs, but nothing about their operation is small scale.

The company is best known for their exquisitely decorated Hot Wheels Drag Buses, ranging from holiday-themed models to special events to company promotions. And even though they are “limited editions,” they are a big time operation. Consider that they have produced almost 300 different variants of just the Drag Bus.

“We’ve purchased over 375,000 buses directly from Mattel,” says Lee Perlman of Liberty Promotions. “These include promotional models for All Tune & Lube, Penske, & Jiffy Lube, as well as some “mistake” models and some CD-ROM packaged ones which were liquidated to us by Mattel. Additionally, we’ve purchased overstock from other sources, leftover quantities from various runs, such as the military and VW club releases (such as the Rhode Island Hot Wheels Club GTO below) , as well as more of the CD-ROM buses.”

Hot wheels 67 gto

liberty promotions cordOne of their best non-Bus models is the Hot Wheels ’36 Cord 810. It was produced to celebrate the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival held at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. “The ’36 Cord was offered to visitors of the ACD Festival on Labor Day weekend, as well as a very limited number on our website.”

Most of the customizers we profile make their models one at a time,  a maximum of maybe 50 cars per run. Maybe fewer, Liberty Promotions is in the business of providing efficient short runs for a variety of clients.

In fact, when you visit their website, they first ask you if you want to see their previous offerings or if you’re interested in having your own custom design produced. The process is not cheap, and can take a while (just locating enough donor cars to repaint can take weeks), but consider the past alternatives: If you wanted to get, say, 500 models of a particular vehicle with your company or event logo on it, well, faced had an uphill battle. You had to go directly to the toy manufacturer and order probably a minimum of 10,000 pieces, all identical, and not cheap.

Liberty offers much shorter runs along with the ability to create “chase” vehicles. As a bonus, their Rebel Run vehicles represent anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the overall production of some models.

Some of the chases are easy to spot, such as a big difference in one of the main colors (like these 2013 Christmas buses).

liberty promotions christmas drag bus

Or in the case of the Cuban Series Drag Bus, the Rebel Run version has red trimmed surfboards and red tinted windows. Speaking of those surfboards, on this particular model, they are designed to look like cigars. Now that’s attention to detail!

liberty promotions drag bus cuban

The Civil War chase variants are really hard to spot… if you look at the back of the vehicle. the only difference is a tiny portrait of the General Grant on the Union version or General Lee on the Confederate variant (would that last one be a Rebel Run Rebel Bus?)

liberty promotions civil war drag bus

Liberty Promotions now hosts their historic archives on hobbyDB, with many of their models for sale on the site.

Customizers Corner: Jimmy “The Boxman” Chavez

jimmy boxman chavez logo

We’ve met a lot of diecast customizers at hobbyDB (and we hope you’ve been following our profiles each week so far), but Jimmy “The Boxman” Chavez does things a little differently. Living up to his “Boxman” nickname, the packaging is often the star of his projects. Standard blister packs simply won’t do for Chavez. His vehicle and card graphics are spot-on designs that look professionally produced. And then he takes things way further with innovative combinations of card shapes and blister forms that reflect the theme of the car.

Take his Evel Knievel Drag Bus for example. Cutting the corner of the card to reflect the shape of Knievel’s “Number 1” logo is a great idea. Putting the bus on a miniature jump ramp inside the blister?  That’s genius. Looking at it, you might think Hot Wheels had actually produced this in the 1970s.

Evel Knievel Mad Science Drag bus

Or how about his Mad Science bus? The overall graphic appearance ties together so well you almost don’t even notice the blister is the shape of a glass beaker, with the card following those contours on one side.

Chavez has been at this game for about 20 years, he said. “I started out turning Hot Wheels Highway Haulers into beer trucks.” He’s currently adding his official archives to hobbyDB, and we hope to have some photos of those early efforts soon.

As for his most difficult project to date, he considers his House of Kolor Paint Drag Bus to be the winner. The vehicle itself was probably no more of a challenge than his usual perfect paint jobs. But the packaging… wow! “I put it in a real paint can.” he said. “I had to hand cut the display window with an X-acto knife.”

Jimmy Boxman Chavez House of Kolor drag bus

One of his most ambitious and best-known projects didn’t even include custom vehicles. To show off his collection of 2003 Red Line Club exclusive Hot Wheels cars, he built a diorama of a miniature auto dealership. With its checkerboard showroom floor and pennants hanging over the parking lot, it’s understandable if you thought this was an actual offering from Mattel.

Jimmy Boxman Chavez 2003 Red line club hot wheels

All of this precision and creativity looks like it should take crazy amounts of time. Nope. He said his projects run “a couple days including design” in most cases. Even when the case itself might be the most ambitious part of the project.

jimmy boxman chavez fire bug transformers

Of course Boxman works on things other than the Drag Bus, such as this Transformers Dairy Delivery and Fire Bug Custom Beetle.

Customizers Corner: Tony Szuta of Brew City Customs

There’s an amazing sector of the diecast collecting world populated by customizers who take mild mannered factory produced models and turn them into something more inspired and unusual. Some customizers create individual one-of-a-kind models, never to be reproduced again, while others create limited edition runs of identical vehicles. In many cases, the mods involve mostly paint and decals; others chop, mold, combine, and perform more complicated voodoo. 

Many of these customizers are profiled on hobbyDB, so we thought we would start highlighting them in greater detail here. Look for a new entry every Wednesday morning!


brew city customs logo

You might not recognize Tony Szuta by name, but you have probably heard of his diecast studio Brew City Customs. The Milwaukee based artist says he started tinkering with diecast vehicles only recently (2009), taking it more seriously in 2014, but it sure looks like he’s been doing this forever.

He started with swapping the wheels on a Hot Wheels Bone Shaker and has quickly moved onto more ambitious projects. His repainted models usually involve adding some texture, especially rust and dirt. Patina (often taken to the dingy extreme of that term) is a favorite theme for his vehicles. Many of them include extra added details, such as the for sale sign in this rusty bus or the tool rack on the Ghostbusters van. With its large smooth sides and iconic design, the Hot Wheels Kool Kombi is a favorite model of his.

brew city customs hot wheels kool kombi

The time involved “varies greatly depending on the work,” he said. “I can knock out simple customs in a few hours. For more involved projects, many many hours.” As for his most complicated custom so far, that would be the WWI Style Kool Kombi Tank. Just look at this thing!

Tony Szuta Brew City Customs WWI Kool Kombi

brew city customs hot wheels treasure hunt bookAs for other projects, “Right now I’m focused on 1:64 scale,” he said, “but I prefer 1:24/1:25. I can’t tell you the last time I built one, though.” He works in full-size scale with his other passion project. Szuta is an accomplished photographer, shooting just about anything, but with a keen interest in cars. As with his customizing, the photography is a fairly new pursuit. “I bought my first DSLR camera in 2010. I don’t really have a focus – I just like to shoot.” You can see some of his model photos in 2015 edition of  The Hot Wheels Treasure Hunt Price Guide by Neal Giordano.

And he has a few other interests. “Old toys and local history… I’m working on projects focused on both subjects. I collect, and I’ve got a soft spot for the old tin toys. And I also have a small collection of vintage bug sprayers. Yes, bug sprayers. You read that right.”

tony szuta 1936 ford coupe

Szuta has an amazing eye for photographing real cars, too.

He might sound like a busy guy, but consider this: His custom projects just happen to equal more family tome for Szuta. “My wife and both of my sons customize diecast. She focuses on hand painting the majority of hers. My oldest son has built quite a few already and is very proficient with the airbrush. My youngest son just started learning the airbrush.”

brew city customs hot wheels kool kombi

Custom models by Tony’s wife (left) and older son.

Here Szuta’s official online archive of custom diecast models.