From Parking Lots to Pegs: The Journey of a Hot Wheels Legends Winner

Classic Car Club Manhattan hosted a quasi pop-up Hot Wheels Legends Tour stop as a means to announce a future collaboration between Mattel and the midtown motor junkies. The chosen model, a 992-series GT3, is destined for an unannounced series in the undetermined future. It was shown on screen with Black Real Rider 6 Spoke Mags, leading one to assume it will be in some sort of premium release, but an image of a single black silhouette doesn’t reveal much. And that is all I have to say about that because I wasn’t in attendance at the private event.

The journey over was wet, windy and full of anxious anticipation.

I was, however, privy to the second portion of the Hot Wheels Dream Team’s journey east. On a rainy Wednesday morning, I caught the ferry out of Weehawken and landed at New York Waterway’s W 39th Street Terminal. From there it was a five minute walk to Pier 76. Thankfully, I took my wife’s advice and brought my rain coat.

I’ve never been to CCC Manhattan, but from the exterior it blended perfectly with the adjacent buildings in that it was unassuming from the outside, but held a wondrous magical world within. As my usual car show routine, I arrived earlier than the time on the invite even though I missed the first ferry. I’m always fashionably late to everything else in my life, so that says a lot about my priorities. Anyway, the front door to the facility lead through a small lobby and spills into a bar/lounge where a handful of folks wearing Hot Wheels branded t-shirts under very fancy jackets were sipping freshly made espressos. A quick look at my 5.11s and knock-off Under Armour shirt tipped me off that I was not only underdressed for the occasion, but also crashing the staff’s coffee hour. I made it look like I belonged and began assembling my camera. Brendon Vetuskey, lead designer for the Red Line Club, was further down the bar sipping what appeared to be tea. Act cool. Don’t let the geek out too early.

With one barista cranking out cappuccinos as fast as the milk could froth, I decided against the caffeinated wait and instead wandered into the main hall. It didn’t take much to turn this warehouse into a highly desirable space – wide open and lots of natural light. The waterfront portion certainly is a draw for CCCM, but it was an indoor affair today. The layout saw a few CCCM vehicles parked three abreast, including a McLaren GT, a hot rod long-hood 911 and a dark blue Cobra with knock-off style wheels. A bright orange first-gen Bronco bookended the south side of the room. 

On the opposite side was the 1968 Corvette created by Gas Monkey Garage, just casually parked in a corner.

Down the middle was the more appropriate eye candy. The full-size Deora II was parked next to the equally 1:1 (and just as radical) Twin Mill. As a nod to one of the Legends Tour sponsors, the car was re-deco’d in Mobil 1 livery.

Lastly, the OG Legends Tour winner was on site. The 2 Jet Z, built and owned by Luis Rodriguez, is a local celebrity. As a testament to its usability, Luis drives the 2JZ-powered fuselage everywhere. Ain’t no trailer queen here.

Lining the perimeter of the interior were different stations displaying various themes related to the Hot Wheels brand. A guided ‘tour’ was scheduled, but until it kicked off I was left to my own devices. Like an unattended child in Toys R Us, or rather a 37-year-old man without any familial obligations for the day, I stood in one spot and swiveled my head a bit, hoping not to appear like a lost puppy as I figured out where I wanted to go. While logic should have lead me to the beginning, I instead headed to the mobile design center to see the reason for my appearance in New York – the 2021 Legends winner 1969 Volvo P1800 Gasser – in every stage of the process. 

While over there I excitedly began speaking to whoever was in ear shot. In this instance I met another Bryan with a ‘y’, which would have been enough for me, but the gentleman whose ear I had was Bryan Benedict, Design Director for Hot Wheels and Matchbox Die-cast Vehicles. Funny enough, being awestruck the only thing I recall talking about was the common spelling of our names, but I’m sure there was more substance than that. Hopefully.

Bryan Benedict was certainly happy to be in New York City.

After our conversation ended, I made my way to the RLC area and found a familiar face from previous Lamley IG Live interviews, Brendon Vetuskey. I’m a huge admirer of his work for Red Line Club, but I made sure to cage the fanboi and keep it professional and reserved. Again, hopefully. As we briefly chatted about general diecast topics, since my brain couldn’t articulate anything more intelligent, he asked what I liked collecting. I thought for a moment, trying my best to not turn into Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he met Santa at the mall, before mentioning the realistic and not necessarily mainstream offerings over the last few years. One in particular was Mark Jones’ Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale – how a car as unique as that became a Hot Wheels confounds me in the most pleasant of ways.

I commended him on home run after home run from RLC and mentioned my plight of missing the E30 by not having a strong internet connection at a job site. (Anyone have an extra they’re willing to let go for a nominal profit?) Not that he needs my approval, but from there we briefly talked about creating castings that are trendsetters, not followers. Standing next to Brandon as we spoke was Ted Wu, Head of Design for Mattel Vehicles. No big deal, right?

If anyone has an extra one of these for a reasonable trade, or a nominal profit, please get in touch.

The point is, these are all car enthusiasts. Passionate folks who put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you or me. They just happen to have some of the coolest careers that affect an enormous portion of the world’s formative youth in the most intimate ways. From their minds to collectors’ hands is a unique path for every casting, every release. 

The Legends Tour has been an incredible success since its inception in 2018. The amount of builders, customizers and enthusiasts that put forth their best foot and their best work, or just show up to support every one else, is beyond the comprehension of those who planned this for Hot Wheels’ 50th anniversary. The fact it’s going stronger than ever in its fifth year is a testament to that. I still remember when the Tour came to my area. Like every automotive event I attend, I tried to arrive early. It didn’t matter. The parking lot was full long before the official kickoff. Every genre of car was present, from low riders to mud boggers, Euro queens to Corvettes with scissor door kits. Hot Wheels had the Twin Mill and the silly looking SEMA 2005 Mustang. Magnus Walker was signing autographs and gladly inked his on a carded ’71 911 ‘277’ I brought with me. Parked up front next to the Bone Shaker in almost a foreshadowing way was the 2 Jet Z. 

As I made my way back around the room before things got going, I found myself back at the RLC display, ogling the upcoming Chevy Silverado 454 SS and getting a sneak peek at some previous preorders – the red 1993 Mustang Cobra R and Brendon’s own Triassic Five ’55 Gasser. I was introduced to Bruce Pascal, a name that rang a bell but took a moment for my mental Rolodex to locate. The Pink Beach Bomb owner, right, the most valuable Hot Wheels in the world. There is much more to Bruce and his collection than a single Volkswagen though, and it’s worth looking up to see his boundless appreciation for Mattel’s toy car. He was an absolute gentleman.

It was now tour time. Ted Wu took the helm and began the journey by briefly going through the history of the brand, courtesy of a detailed storyboard for all to see. There was a display of the original Sweet 16 models, in all their Red Line tire and Spectraflame glory. He touched upon Hot Wheels going digital with NFTs, and how they’re making limited cars if you pull a certain card in your NFT pack. He then candidly acknowledged they’re still figuring those out after a reporter mentioned the irony of getting a fungible item from an NFT. 

The Gucci and IWC partnerships were mentioned, with some of the fruits of those relationships on display in all its Cadillac Seville glory. Little known fact, unless it was in the press release and I just missed it, was that Gucci approached Hot Wheels for the collaboration. Premium R/C cars got a nod before the floor was turned over to Brendon at his RLC case.

This is the point where it became obvious the majority of reporters there were clearly not Hot Wheels collectors, however they certainly asked some good questions. Brendon explained his role as the lead designer for RLC and what sets the exclusive cars apart from your standard premium releases. Journalists were furiously scribbling notes as he talked about the hand-polished paint and multi-piece assembly. He mentioned the difference between a preorder and a limited amount, stating the 35,000 units of the E30 M3 sold out in 12 (maybe?) minutes and the upcoming Cobra R was built to order. It’s either coming out this spring, or summertime.

All the while I couldn’t help but think about the SS 454 that was sitting silently in the case, yet screaming out for attention. 

Next stop was a brief mention of an electric motorbike and some riding gear before we ventured across the floor to the design center. It was now Bryan and Manson Cheung’s time to shine. What started as a concept sketch in one station eventually made its way to a cast prototype in the final one. Bryan leafed through many of the artists’ renditions for numerous Hot Wheels Originals and Manson explained how he uses Geomagic Freeform Plus with a Touch X haptic device to digitally sculpt his castings. He gave a few of us laypersons an opportunity to literally try our hand at poking a clay ball on screen. He made manipulating it look so easy.

“Why don’t you just 3D scan every car?” asked a persistent attendee. Manson explained that sometimes, such as in the case of this year’s winner, the car is continents away and is not easily accessible. “Why don’t you hire a company on site to scan it?” he continued. Ok bro, do you work for the 3D scanning industry? As a sculptor and designer, Manson was responsible for each of the previous Legends winners in addition to the Volvo. I’m also told he has a thing for DeLoreans.

From here, Bryan took the baton and ran through the 3D printing stage, fielding technical questions about different methods that sounded like Greek to all but the individual asking. Or maybe I’m just a simpleton when it comes to that stuff. Regardless, Bryan laid out the entire process in an easy to understand manner, ending with the EP and FEP examples on display for all to see. 

Seeing the Volvo in every stage of the design process was a great chance to see a Hot Wheels journey from conception to realization.

To the right of the design studio was a great wall of color representing the rainbow of choices that can be applied to Hot Wheels mainline vehicles. One of the bodies that caught my eye was the Saturn Ion Quad Coupe, painted what they called MB Aluminum Blue. The casting debuted in 2003 as a Saturn promo and was used sparingly before its 2007 retirement.

After the design demo, Bryan took the helm at the Track Table to demonstrate the primary use of many Hot Wheels – ripping around the orange track! With a Forward Force used as the test car, Bryan detailed the numerous characteristics a Hot Wheels must possess to be a successful track tackler. First, there is a plastic block denoting the dimensions each casting needs to be within to be considered trackable. The wheelbase should allow for loop clearance, and the front corners of the design should be canted as such to allow the car to turn on track without rubbing the sides. Additionally, there should be flat strike surfaces on the sides and rear of the casting to provide a contact area for power boosters and curve kickers. He looked genuinely excited to run the Forward Force through all the tests, which it passed with literal flying colors.

The tour portion ended with a gravity race on the 8-lane orange track setup next to a full-size Bone Shaker. I chose The Nash, 2020’s Legends winner. It went up against other castings such as the 1967 GTO and the 2 Jet Z. the gate dropped, the cars left and, much to my surprise, it was The Nash that made it to the bottom first. It was a small, uncelebrated victory – by this point people were breaking off into their own little conversation circles or making their way to the final table for the big Legends reveal.

Lee Johnstone and his daughter Tori flew over from the UK to be present at the reveal of Lee’s ‘Ain’t No Saint’ Volvo P1800 Gasser as a Hot Wheels. A black cloth hid the distinct silhouette of a blister card. With Ted Wu serving as the honorary cover lifter, the crowd was wowed by the green gasser in a mocked up Hot Wheels pack.

In true journalist fashion, personal space was invaded as they jockeyed to get the same picture as everyone else. When the dust settled, Lee apologized for not jumping up and down with glee, although there was no mistaking the genuine delight in the 71-year-old’s voice and facial expression as he retold the story of how the Volvo came to be.

This adventure is the first time the Johnstones have visited America, let alone New York City. They said they were extending their holiday a few days to be able to see the sights beyond the inside of Classic Car Club Manhattan. They were lovely to chat with and I hope they had the best time playing the part of tourists in the Big Apple, walking proudly amongst strangers knowing their Gasser back home will soon be in the hands of millions.

As I gave a final once over to make sure I didn’t miss anything, my wife always knows to add at least an hour to the time I originally say I’m going to leave by, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky we are as collectors. I’m really happy to be a part of a hobby that’s guided by people who are as impassioned about the final product as we are to collect them. Sure, spend enough time on the boards and you may become jaded from the perpetually negative basement dwellers. But overall, the community is filled with well-minded individuals who are in it for the right reasons. It was an honor to be amongst the Hot Wheels crew and get a first-hand feel of the heart and soul they put into their life’s work. It might have even inspired me to attend a Convention or Gathering at some point in the near future.

(l. to r. ) Ted Wu, Bryan Benedict, Manson Cheung, Brendon Vetuskey

The security guard had to practically usher me out as they were getting set up for the second session. Yes, they were going to do it all over again, and again, but I made sure I wasn’t going to miss anything by leaving when told to. 

I was nearly out the door before I was asked if I got a box by the smiling lad at the exit. My apologies, as I forgot his name, but he reached over the counter and grabbed an enormous shoe box marked “Where Legends Are Made.” He quickly went through the contents – Hot Wheels hat, hardcover coffee table book, Legends 6-car gift box, NFT coupon, and the purple Legends Tour R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R. And then he handed me a tissue paper covered acrylic case. “I think this is the Volvo,” he said. Wow. As if the morning couldn’t get any better, the rain had stopped and I was able to walk back to the ferry without the worry of getting wet. No one mugged me for my Hot Wheels swag, so that was a plus, too.

I waited until I got home to unwrap the departing gift. Filmed it even and you can watch my amateur unboxing skills HERE. I was expecting a finished piece mounted to the plastic plinth. So imagine my surprise being the fortunate recipient of a 3D printed model of the Volvo, one of only 40, apparently.

It will be a prized possession in my collection for years to come. That said, in my nearly 27 years collecting, this was easily one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. Instead of being more verbose than needed, I’m going to wrap it up here and let the pictures do the talking.

And how about some former Legends winners for good measure?

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One Reply to “From Parking Lots to Pegs: The Journey of a Hot Wheels Legends Winner”

  1. What a great experience and report. One of the highlights of my collecting was being able to go to the Matchbox Line Preview at the old NJ Offices. While not a huge gasser fan, the 3D print is a really nice addition to any collection. I would happily added it to my collection as a great reminder of the event.

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