Customizer Greg Salzillo and his friend Dave Ford took the unlikeliest of candidates — a 1957 Nash Metropolitan — and turned it first into a custom car. That alone was a little bit exceptional. But then they saw their custom creation transformed by the team at Mattel into a 1/64th-scale Hot Wheels in the ultimate honor to their very cool design.
When you think of hot rods and custom cars you think of Mustangs, Camaros and ’32 Ford roadsters. You don’t necessarily think of the diminutive Nash Metropolitan, a little two-seater post-war microcar so cute it looks like a poodle would be on the options list from the factory. In this car’s original teal green it’s more like an ice cream flavor than a muscle car. Yet it was exactly that dichotomy that drew customizer Salzillo to the task.
“It was in a barn in California where a bunch of guys who did Lemons racing had their projects,” Salzillo said. “It just spoke to us. It just screams that it needed some, you know, like, breathe put into it and some muscle.”
The original plan was to build it into a rat rod, and you can see a lot of miniaturized rat rod aesthetic in it, as if Mickey had been a rat instead of a mouse and had done time in prison. It won “Best Fabrication” at the first rat rod show it entered. Then they heard about the Legends Tour and entered it there.
“It’s quite creative and unique,” Salzillo said when the car was at SEMA last year. “We knew we wanted to build something completely different, that no one else had ever built.”
They sure did.
The car sits on a custom 2×3 boxed chassis and rides on coilovers all around. It has a small block Chevy 305 mated to a Turbo 350 transmission routed to a GM 12-bolt rear end. Salzillo estimates power went from “30 or 40 hp” stock to “300 or so” now. The top was chopped about four inches and they laid the windshield back, then created a custom Plexiglas wraparound rear window. Aluminum bomber seats and Speedhut Custom Gauges are the biggest differences from stock on the inside. There’s even a Junior Dragster parachute packed into place where the rear-mounted spare tire used to be.
But the wheels are what really stand out.
“I wanted to go extreme and really cartoony and just have fun with this one. So that was the reason we brought these wheels out, we wanted to showcase and show off.”
Salzillo decided to take it on the Hot Wheels Legends Tour, a cross country parade of customs, one of which is chosen to become a real Hot Wheels 1/64th die-cast model. But how does Hot Wheels pick a winner?
“We look at three things,” said Ted Wu, design team leader at Hot Wheels. “Creativity, we’ve made over 25,000 cars over our 52 years so we’re looking for something that really is new and unique. The second thing is authenticity. We want the car to look like a Hot Wheels car. We really want someone to say, that is a Hot Wheels. And finally, garage spirit. We want something that’s built and not bought. We love the fact that the people who come to these shows are really working on their cars. They’re builders, there’s really a story behind each vehicle.”
Next comes the task of transforming a full-sized car — or in this case, a small full-sized car — into something 1/64th-scale that can be reproduced in the thousands.
“Once I got the word that the Nash was the winner, I immediately went to look for some pictures,” said Hot Wheels sculptor Manson Cheung. “The first thing that I had to do was get images of a regular Nash Metropolitan and see what was altered in their customization of the car. Once I found that, I started modeling it.”
Cheung “sculpts” digitally, on a computer.
“I use a 3D digital sculpting device to help me sculpt out these cars,” said Cheung. “It’s virtual clay. I can actually feel the clay on the screen, virtually. I can feel the shape sort of as a real car sculptor would feel the clay. It was an easy transition from analog sculpting to digital sculpting.”
Then he had to break it down.
“As you know, Hot Wheels come in four parts: you’ve got the body, the window, the interior and the chassis. The fun part was trying to figure out what parts go where and the color breaks, because of the unique pattern of the car, the color break was important to bring out the color of the car. The break of the white and the teal of the Nash.”
He did it, taking the winner of the 2019 Hot Wheels Legends Tour.
“It’s been a wild ride with this little car,” Salzillo said. “You never know where it’s going or what it’s kind of doing but it’s got its own little life. And now we’re so thrilled to now have an actual Hot Wheels to share with the rest of the world.”
Tonight you can watch the official reveal of the new 2020 Legends winner. Just click here.
“We want to show kids that it’s okay to be creative, to be unique,” said Salzillo. “Go build something!”
The Hot Wheels Legends Tour is now on its third year, and it’s gone virtual for 2020. The Road & Track “stop,” hosted by motorsports ambassador Jarod DeAnda, will feature professional drifter Vaughn Gittin Jr., R&T editors Dan Pund and A.J. Baime, and Hot Wheels designers Steve Vandervate and Mark Jones. There’s also going to be special appearances from professional driver Pat Long, DJ Skee, and actor Paxton Booth. If your car is selected, it’ll make an appearance on the live stream happening on September 10 at 8 p.m. eastern.
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