Mattel celebrates 50 years of Hot Wheels, gives fans a chance of a lifetime to immortalize their builds. Winner Luis Rodriguez and  his “2JETZ” crowned the first Hot Wheels Legend at SEMA.

Story by Glenn Oyoung. Photos courtesy of Hot Wheels.

Like many car enthusiasts, my love for everything automotive began with Hot Wheels. They are the perfect toy to turn kids into car lovers. They range from ultra-realistic to super loud and creative (my favorite one of late is the “Time Attaxi”), they foster the imagination — especially when combined with outlandish Hot Wheels play sets (more barrel roll please!).  Best of all, they can be had at your local  grocery store for a buck. At five years old I could not be separated from my “Hot Wheels City” stow-and-go playset. My mom thankfully saved it, and now my daughters play in “Hot Wheels City” as well. Worldwide, this story of falling in love with cars thanks to these cool little die-cast cars are what make Hot Wheels the #1 selling toy  in the world.

For the 50th Anniversary of Hot Wheels, the team at Mattel decided to do something special and include their passionate fans. The Hot Wheels Legends Tour stopped in 15 cities across the nation in search of a custom car to crown as the first-ever Hot Wheels Legend. A winner from each city  was selected by judges to head to Las Vegas,  and the winner was fittingly declared at the SEMA Show. The winner of the New York/New Jersey stop, Luis Rodriguez, came home with the win in fierce competition. His “2JETZ” build will be transformed into an actual Hot Wheels die-cast car, an incredible prize for any Hot Wheels fan.

Luis Rodriguez, winner of the Hot Wheels Legends Tour

According to Hot Wheels, Rodriguez drew inspiration for this new-aged hot rod from a fighter plane in honor of American veterans. With more than 600 horsepower and a driver’s seat in the middle of the vehicle, the car is crafted with a focus on high-performance and high-end design.

The first-ever Hot Wheels Legend, 2JETZ, will be made into a die-cast

I had the chance to chat with Ted Wu, the head of design for Hot Wheels, at SEMA after Rodriguez was crowned. He leads an incredibly talented team of fifty designers who have backgrounds in transportation  design, graphic design, industrial design, and toy design. Wu’s team is responsible for not only the 1,000 die-cast car designs that Hot Wheels churns out annually, but also the Hot Wheels track sets, playsets, video games and everything else in the Hot Wheels universe.

Interview with Ted Wu, Vice President, Design for Hot Wheels

LACAR: What was the thinking behind the Hot Wheels Legend Tour? 

Wu: Hot Wheels is usually the first automotive brand that any kid gets into. So this was a way  for  us to continue to connect with the automotive community, and also have a way  for our fans to give back and help us design the next  Hot Wheels car.

 

LACAR:  This is a once-in-a-lifetime  kind of event I would imagine for your contestants. What’s been the feedback? 

Wu: Every single one of the builders has been super passionate, great, and friendly.  We’ve gone to all  these cities and you can just see the passion that everyone has for Hot Wheels. Its been nothing but  camaraderie and friendship and positive energy throughout. It was hard to choose a winner,  but at the same time everyone is  a winner from their city. Believe it or not,  I’ve heard a lot of them are gearing up for next year.

LACAR:  I attended the second Legends Tour stop in Los Angeles, and I was blown away by how packed it was. Over 7,000 people showed up! How was attendance throughout the country?

Wu: There have been over 42,000 attendees over the course of the  year. Every stop got  more and more crowded as we gained traction and  steam. I expect it to grow next year.

One thing unique about the HW Legends tour is that if  you go to a cars and coffee event usually its one type of car – here’s some mustangs, here’s some hot rods, here’s some JDM cars. This is everything.

LACAR:  You could say it’s a Las Vegas buffet…

Wu: That’s right and a really good value.  (Editor: Yes, $.99 at Walmart!)

LACAR: Tell us about judging, this had to be tough. What criteria were you considering? 

Wu: We were looking for three things. First was originality. We  have designed over 25,000 hot wheels over the course of 50 years so it has to be original,  it has to be  unique.  Second was authenticity. Do you look at it  and does it just look like it could be a Hot Wheels car? Are you going to believe this is a Hot Wheels car? Third, garage spirit. Is this a car that was built not bought? We like the  fact that  there are guys wrenching on their  car, built from scratch. Certainly the winner exemplified all of these elements today.