HotBirds

          Original Hot Birds

 

HWC Light My Firebird

        HWC Light My Firebird

 

Sizzlers Firebird Trans Am

        Sizzlers Firebird Trans Am

 

Sizzlers Fire Works

        Sizzlers Fire Works

 

Lost Cars of China Hot Bird

        Lost Cars of China Hot Bird

 

HWC Custom Firebird

        HWC Custom Firebird

 

HWC Hot Bird

        HWC Hot Bird

 

'77 Pontiac Firebird

        ’77 Pontiac Firebird

 

67 Pontiac Firebird 400

        ’67 Pontiac Firebird 400

 

'73 Pontiac Firebirds

        ’73 Pontiac Firebirds

Only three cars can claim to have begun simultaneously as both a life-sized version and an inaugural Hot Wheels version: the Mercury Cougar, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird. Of the three, only one of them is still being produced (the Camaro); Sadly, Pontiac ceased production in 2002.

But years of Firebirds live on in Hot Wheels form! Let’s start this Firebird-palooza with a little basic Firebird background. It begins with the Pontiac Banshee, a line of concept cars that started in the mid-’60s and which John De Lorean originally had a hand in developing. When the Camaro was emerging in 1967, Pontiac wanted to produce the two-seater Banshee, but GM felt it would compete with their Corvette. Instead, GM handed over the F-Body platform (small rear-wheel drive automobile platform) being used on the new Camaro.

About six months after the Camaro’s debut, the Firebird arrived late to market in low production numbers. It shared a few similar design elements with the Camaro, but came with pure Pontiac engine options under the hood. It would become a mainstay of the Pontiac line.

Meanwhile, the inaugural fleet of 16 Hot Wheels editions was set to debut, and the convertible version of the new pony car was honored with a release as one of them. The Custom Firebird would catch fire at 1:64 as well.

Within a couple of years, Hot Wheels would release the “spoilers” Light My Firebird, as well as a Firebird Trans Am version for the Sizzlers series. But when 1970 came along, Pontiac moved the Firebird to its 2nd Generation.

Firebird 2nd Generation

Despite stumbling a bit out of the gate, the 2nd Generation Firebird would become a dominant force throughout the ’70s. After almost being discontinued in 1972, the Firebird would emerge with the now-iconic “screaming chicken” logo on the hood. Also in 1973, Hot Wheels would add the “Fire Works” Pontiac Firebird Trans Am to the Sizzlers line.

After that, things would gradually heat up for the Firebird. By 1976, the T-top would be introduced, as well as the special edition black-and-gold Trans Am. Firebird sales would top 100,000 for the first time.

But 1977 would change the game forever. The 1977 special edition black-and-gold Trans Am starred alongside Burt Reynolds in the film Smokey and The Bandit, and the Firebird would skyrocket in popularity.

Hot Wheels designer and Firebird expert Brendon Vetuskey points out that the Firebird also appeared on other screens, large and small. “There was a movie with John Wayne in the early ’70s – he had like a ’73 Trans Am. And also that movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” And Firebirds would show up on television. “Ponch had one on CHiPs – a gold Trans Am. The Rockford Files had the Firebird Formula. He had multiple Firebirds over the years.”

Striking while the iron was hot, Hot Wheels would release the Larry Wood-designed Hot Bird in 1978. This became one of the most iconic Hot Wheels castings of all time.

The Hot Bird received such prominence that it became a flagship car of the Hot Wheels brand. According to Brendon, the Hot Bird was used in coloring books and McDonald’s Happy Meals and such. “They used it a lot of times to represent Hot Wheels.”

For Pontiac, Brendon says the Firebird reached critical mass in 1979. “It was outselling the Camaro; it was outselling everything else… the peak production was in ’79 for the Trans Am.”

Firebird 3rd Generation, Beyond and Backward

By 1982, Pontiac would introduce the 3rd Generation Firebird. Once again, the car would get a little boost from Hollywood. This time, the small screen was the main generator of interest when the TV show Knight Rider used the Firebird as K.I.T.T. – a talking computerized car. While Hot Wheels wouldn’t release an edition of K.I.T.T. until 2012, it did continue to knock out the ’80s Firebird in 1983.

Pontiac moved on to the 4th Generation of the Firebird in 1993. During this time, the Firebird would come its closest to resembling one of Pontiac’s Banshee concept cars – the Banshee IV they had produced in 1988 (also a Hot Wheels casting). Sadly, this would be the last generation of Firebirds as Pontiac ceased to be a producing line in 2002.

Hot Wheels would produce the IROC Pontiac Firebird in 1998, and look backward with the ’68 Custom Firebird Convertible for the 100% line. Another 100% line release, the 1970 Firebird T/A would show up in 2000.

Several Hot Wheels releases of earlier Pontiac Firebirds were still to come, all gaining popularity with Hot Wheels enthusiasts. Notably, the 1969 Pontiac Firebird T/A came in 2005, the one-time-only Custom Pontiac Firebird was released by HWC in 2007, and the ’67 Pontiac Firebird 400 arrived in 2010. The most recent Hot Wheels editions are the ’73 Pontiac Firebird and K.I.T.T., both from 2012, and the K.I.T.T. Super Pursuit Mode of 2014.

Brendon Vetuskey has designed several of the Firebirds for Hot Wheels. The ’67 Pontiac Firebird 400, the ’73 Pontiac Firebird, and “Every version of the Knight Rider car we’ve done but one.” Knight Rider‘s K.I.T.T. was based on the 1982 Trans Am. “Even though that show went from ’82 to ’86,” Brendon says, “they still kept all the Trans Am details ’82-specific.”

If he could, Brendon says he would love to do a 4th Generation Trans Am for Hot Wheels, such as the LS1 Ram Air. “The only 4th gens that have been done have all been LT1 based. I’m talking ’93 through ’97. We had that IROC Firebird and two different Firebird Funny Cars, but they’re all the older styles; they’re not LS1 based. We haven’t done any LS1 based Camaros or Firebirds yet.”

Will Brendon get his wish? Here’s hoping we see more Firebirds in the Hot Wheels line, even though production of the real car is long over.

1:64 Hot Wheels Firebirds

  • Custom Firebird (1968 O16 – convertible)
  • Light My Firebird (1970 – Spoilers)
  • Firebird Trans Am (1970 – Sizzlers)
  • Fire Works (Pontiac Firebird Trans Am) (1973 – Sizzlers)
  • Hot Bird (1978)
  • Firebird Funny Car (1978 – Human Torch in ’79)
  • ’80s Firebird (1983)
  • Firebird Funny Car (1997)
  • IROC Pontiac Firebird (1998)
  • ’68 Custom Firebird Convertible (100%) (1998)
  • Pro Stock Firebird (2000)
  • 1970 Firebird T/A (100%) (2000)
  • Pontiac Funny Car (100%) (2000)
  • 1969 Pontiac Firebird T/A (2005)
  • ’70 Pontiac Firebird (2007)
  • Custom Pontiac Firebird (HWC) (2007)
  • ’69 Pontiac Firebird (2007 – Sizzlers)
  • ’77 Pontiac Firebird (2008)
  • ’67 Pontiac Firebird 400 (2010)
  • ’73 Pontiac Firebird (2012)
  • K.I.T.T. (2012)
  • K.I.T.T. Super Pursuit Mode (2014)
Date posted: April 28, 2015 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Entertainment/Pop Culture Hot Wheels History

Partially hidden beneath a tarp lies a dark, menacing car. Sparks fly out of the dashboard area as a power sander rips metal into shape. The “helmet” is tipped back and the grille grimaces at me like the Dark Lord of the Sith himself. The Force is strong with this one – the 1:1 Darth Vader car.

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I’ve been granted entry into the “top secret” Hot Wheels Test Facility and, despite all the Hot Wheels cars and bikes present, it’s the Darth Vader car that grabs my attention like a Sith stranglehold. John Williams’ Imperial March trails off in my head when the mastermind behind this project – Hot Wheels designer Bryan Benedict – strides into the warehouse like Darth Vader boarding a hapless Rebel ship.

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The 1:64 Scale Piece

Being the guy with the character car (cars based on specific characters) vision, Bryan took the design lead on the Star Wars 1:64 vehicles. He designed several himself, including the Darth Vader car. He shows me the 1:64 prototype and a handful of drawings.

“A lot of thought went into the vehicle type and how it was executed,” he remembers. “There’s such a following around the world for this property that we really felt like we had to be on top of our game with this. I really wanted to do it right.”

Bryan Benedict

With a team assigned to him for the project, Bryan says there were a lot of different opinions on where to go with it. “Some would have liked to see it more literal to Darth. I think that was definitely not the way to go.” He shows me several drawings that didn’t make the cut – some wild variations, all of them cool concepts in their own right.

One challenge was how to handle the helmet – we didn’t want it to become too prominent, or “bulby.” “So we squished that down to really make it look sinister and foreboding and ominous. I think it works ’cause it’s not just about the visual cues – it’s also about the personality.” Bryan’s philosophy is that a character car is just as much about the personality of that character and who they are and what they’re about and where they’re from as it is about the visual cues of that character. He points out that Darth Vader is scary, too. “A car like this that’s really sinister looking and slammed down to the ground is much more menacing and scary looking.”

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Having eliminated a lot of what he didn’t want, Bryan focuses on what he did want. “I wanted to really play up on our heritage,” he notes. “In the way I’ve handled the proportions and the surface treatment, I’ve tried to echo some of our heritage from our very beginning – cars like the Twin Mill.”

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The final look is both familiar and old school, while simultaneously being futuristic and fresh and modern. “Darth Vader himself almost has this presence that is both ancient and futuristic. The Star Wars property as a whole has that vibe. The very introduction of Star WarsA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… We think of it as the future ’cause it’s in space, but it’s the past. So I wanted to embody that even in the design of the car.”

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In the end, it had to appeal to adults but still be recognizable to kids. “Take the fact that it’s Darth Vader out of the equation, and it’s still a cool car. And that’s the objective. They have to be a Hot Wheels cool, authentic car – not just a regular cool, authentic car. But they also have to instantly read as the character. And I think we’ve been pretty successful in doing that.”

Bryan notes that the final design is almost identical to the initial sketch he did… in church! Divine inspiration? For a Darth Vader car?!?

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As a fan of Star Wars since it came out in 1977, I just have to ask about the rest of the series for a minute. Like, please tell me there’s a Boba Fett car. “There is a Boba Fett car,” Bryan assures me, “and I’m pretty sure you’re gonna like it. Boba Fett is my personal favorite of all the cars I’ve done. We’re doing a lot of cars. There’s something like 24 or 26 different cars total. There will also be characters from the new movie coming out.” At the time he tells me this, characters from the new movies are not even public knowledge yet. (Keep a lookout at HWC for updates on the rest of the line. – Ed.)

The 1:1 Scale Piece

The choice to use Darth Vader as a 1:1 version of the Hot Wheels Star Wars cars was a logical one. An iconic character, with presence, who won’t take any bull from anyone. A maverick, in a more positive light – that says Hot Wheels. Plus, according to Bryan, “That particular car design lent itself to making a 1:1 version a reality.”

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“So we decided that we would not only do a 1:64 scale version that we would sell at San Diego Comic-Con, but also create a full-size car based on that 1:64 piece.” Bryan gets an almost evil grin. “Not only that, but take it one step further. Not only is it a full-size build – it’s a running car. It will be an actual driving vehicle, not just a rolling prototype. But not only that, it’s gonna be a high-performance car. So it will actually be able to do drifting, do stunts, and do all kinds of really cool stuff. And it’ll be street legal as well.”

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They’re going to turn this thing loose on the streets? May the Force be with us all.

Enter Billy Hammon and PCW Brands Inc., aka the Hot Wheels Test Facility. Billy, a stuntman and car builder, is responsible for the Hot Wheels 1:1 Bone Shaker and about a dozen others, like the Bad To The Blade used by Team Hot Wheels.

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Speaking of Billy, as I stand gawking at the 1:1 build in progress, he walks up to Bryan and me with a small box. From the small box, he removes a steering wheel shaped about like Darth Vader’s personal TIE. fighter. Both Bryan and I nod in approval.

We watch as Billy and Bryan take the new steering wheel and attempt to position it in the car. They discuss possible modifications and an alternate steering wheel for drifting. Billy also shows Bryan how the exhaust pipes and fittings will work on the sides of the car with red lighting to look like lightsabers.

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Billy tells me that, when building a car like this, he makes sure there are reasons for the details so they serve a purpose as well as looking cool. “But we don’t want to sacrifice the design,” Billy adds.

Between Billy and Bryan, they have come up with some amazing functionality. The mask tips and nose piece will be headlights. The iconic chest plate, positioned as sort of a shaker hood, will feature functional buttons that control sound effects, lighting, fog, and opening the roof. Bryan points out that the roof rises, tips back, and then the windshield tips forward – all meant to mimic the setup in The Empire Strikes Back where Darth’s mask is put on by automated function. “The interior is designed to reflect the inside of his helmet,” Bryan notes. “When he takes his helmet off, there’s all this stuff – the breathing apparatus, the wires, etc.”

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The body of the car sits there suspended without wheels, looking as if it could hover away like a Landspeeder. The suspension is actually F1 A-Arm style, and it will ride on MHT/US Mag custom wheels with custom red line tires. There is a high performance LS3 engine with 526 horsepower to the rear wheels under the hood.

Billy and his team are known for being able to do fast builds. They built the Bone Shaker in 5-1/2 weeks. But with only two weeks left to have this car ready for San Diego, Billy can’t chat anymore – he has to get back to this build. At the moment, there is concern about whether or not Darth Vader can fit in the cockpit if the Dark Lord of the Sith should happen to drive it.

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Bryan is happy with how his design is turning out at 1:1 scale. “When you translate to full scale, some things have to change,” he explains. “Some of the radiuses are a little too tight, or too loose and you need to tighten them up, etc. So we made a few adjustments.” Overall, he feels they have been able to stay true to the 1:64 piece.

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“I want to make sure that when people see this real car sitting there they’re gonna be blown away,” he says. “And Hot Wheels fans and collectors are gonna be excited and feel that it’s Hot Wheels, and Star Wars fans are gonna see it and feel that it’s Star Wars, and even people who don’t know anything about Star Wars or Hot Wheels will think it’s an amazing car. That’s really the objective all along – appealing to all those crowds of people.”

I’ve seen plenty of slick, sinister cars, but this one has galactic appeal. This is the car you’re looking for.

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Just unveiled at San Diego Comic-Con: our 1:1 scale Hot Wheels Darth Vader car! Stop by the Mattel booth and check it out – if you’re not too far, far away.

HWC Darth Car

This slick, sinister machine features a high-performance engine, 526 horsepower, F1 A-arm style suspension, 6-speed manual transmission, mag wheels, and more. Everything needed to crush a rebellion!

Hot Wheels Darth Car

From the floor at SDCC

 
 
 

Check out our Darth Vader car video to see more.

Follow the conversation all weekend long with #DarthCar. Also, make sure you check back here for more updates!

Ah. The summer sun is peeking through the last of the late spring clouds. The kids are merrily out of school. The lawn is neatly mowed. Now what to do? Road Trip!!!

We asked you to send us a few shots of a road trip you took, and tell us a little story. We got a lot of great submissions, but here are the four winners this time:

 

Connie Basham

I started doing the “Route 66″ trip on my way to the Indianapolis Nationals last year. I plan on driving the entire route, but I’m not in a hurry to complete it. So far… I’ve covered Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, part of New Mexico and I just completed Illinois after attending the Oak Brook Nationals in April. When you’re driving through Illinois, plan on spending one or even two days in Pontiac. There is a lot to see in that town, and the clerk at the Route 66 Museum is extremely helpful!

Connie Basham_Trip #1 Connie Basham_Trip #2 Connie Basham_Trip #3
Somewhere in Illinois: my 2009 Dodge Ram 1500. I get compliments on that truck almost daily. It’s the color! Pontiac, IL Route 66 Museum Inside the Pontiac Museum you will see the 1972 VW that belonged to Bob Waldmire. His van served as the model for “Fillmore” in the Pixar movie “Cars.” Bob passed away in 2009.

 

Richard Poulter

My work keeps me on the road. I do telecom work – mainly high capacity fiber optic networks. In 2010, I did a route from Vancouver to Edmonton through the Fraser River Canyon to Kamloops, then north up the Yellowhead Highway through Jasper on to Edmonton. The scenery was amazing – from the prairies to Jasper, through the Yellowhead Pass in the Rocky Mountains, down the North Thompson River to Kamloops, dodging tumbleweeds on the way to Cache Creek, then through the Fraser Canyon with its tunnels to Hope and onto Vancouver. I got to drive the Coquihalla Highway – it’s known as the Highway to Hell on its TV show. Yes, it’s steep and, at one time, the north half was closed due to an accident.

Richard Poulter_001 Richard Poulter_002

 

Nathan Lill

Ever since I first saw the concept car, I have been a fan of the Chrysler Crossfire. A lot of hard work and a bit of luck, I was finally able to purchase a brand new 2008 black coupe at the end of that year.

Previous road trips I took in the Crossfire were always solo and I never put much thought into traveling with other Crossfire owners before. I got a message from the Crossfire forum I am part of about a get together in early October. The plan was to meet up in Long Beach, WA and travel to Newport, OR over the weekend… something I just could not pass up.

We made our way down the coast and crossed the Astoria–Megler Bridge. I remember going over this bridge on a family trip long ago and it is still an impressive structure rising over the Columbia River. The Tillamook Air Museum is the stop I was most looking forward to visiting. I have always enjoyed the old WWII aircraft and have the upmost respect to those who flew and maintained them during the war. One of the very few flyable P-38 Lightning airframes was there so I even got to see my favorite plane up close.

I thought… how fun it was to drive in a group. I am looking forward to the next big road trip to Rifle, CO in July for the Crossfires Across America #5 meet where there may be up to fifty cars.

Crossfire1 Crossfire2 Crossfire3

 

Kevin Marsh

My wife and I went on a road trip on Maui, Hawaii in November 2013. We rented this white Ford Mustang convertible for the week. First full day on the island, we drove the 56-mile “Road to Hana” It takes 2.5 hours to drive to Hana. The road has a lot of curves, one lane bridges and beautiful scenery. On a different day, we drove up the 10,000 foot Haleakala Mountain. Before you get to the top, the vegetation stops growing and the ground becomes desert like. When we left our seaside hotel it was 80 degrees. At the top of the mountain it was 38 and windy.

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Date posted: June 4, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Collecting Conventions/Events Hot Wheels History Retail Series

Right from the beginning, Hot Wheels and Ford Mustang have gone together like speed and power. Like chrome and rubber. Like… well, cool and cars. To celebrate 50 years of Mustang, we asked you to show us your ponies!

One of the most recognizable and in-demand automobiles of all time, the Ford Mustang was introduced to the public 50 years ago at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, 1964. The flagship car of its class, it launched the term “pony car” which later came to be applied to any car in that class.

When the inaugural Hot Wheels series launched in 1968, the Custom Mustang was prominent. Mustangs have remained a mainstay of the Hot Wheels mainline ever since. And collectors love Mustangs! So here are a few shots that caught our eye. Enjoy!

Redline era Custom Mustang w/Spectraflame antifreeze finish and collector button. 1998 GT Convertible on the Dearborn assembly line Dec. 22 1997
Redline era Custom Mustang w/Spectraflame antifreeze finish and collector button. – Jeanpaul Ferro “I followed my wife’s 1998 GT Convertible on the Dearborn assembly line Dec. 22 1997.” – Stew Jones
 A rainbow of Mustangs, circled up  Two bosses
A rainbow of Mustangs, circled up. – Ralph Cady Two bosses. – Ed Lansford
 Blue flames  A herd of ’92 Mustangs
Blue flames. – Chris Matson A herd of ’92 Mustangs. – Richard Trujillo
 A blockade on a block  Too cute!
A blockade on a block. – Ryan Cunningham Now that just isn’t fair. Too cute! – James Dean Adams III
 a bitchin’ Larry Wood drawing  Pony in flight
How could we pass up a bitchin’ Larry Wood drawing? – Ralph Cady Pony in flight. – Robert Wasilchak
 And here’s to another 50!
And here’s to another 50! – Ian Weber
Date posted: April 17, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Collecting Hot Wheels History Retail Series