Having a Firebird enthusiast on the Hot Wheels design staff has led to some great things. But Brendon Vetuskey is more than a devoted fan – he’s an owner. Let’s peek in his garage at his latest personal 1:1 project.

First, a little bit about Brendon himself. Born and raised in upstate New York, he worked at another toy company for a number of years prior to joining Mattel. “I was there for almost 8 years,” he recalls. “I worked on their die-cast line, so we had some 1:43 and 1:64 cars that I worked on as well as some other lines there, so I did have some experience to draw on.”

At Mattel, Brendon was hired for the Track and Playsets design team. “But I would go (to car design) and share anything that I could and express interest in helping out,” he says. “After a couple of years, I must have worn them down enough to allow me to work on a car. I was thrown a bone – I got to work on the ’67 Firebird. I also worked on the ’67 Chevelle that year.”

He currently manages all the track and playsets for licensed product: Monster Jam, Marvel, Star Wars, and more. He still likes to design castings when the opportunity comes up, and his designs have been big hits with collectors. “I strive to get as much detail as I can and be as accurate as I can. I’m sure I drive the guys overseas batty with all my revisions and changes.”

Real Cars

Brendon says he’s always been a Firebird fan and has owned quite a few. “At the moment, I own one. Total, I have owned three ’84 Trans Ams, one ’95, and I’ve had one ’67, a ’69 and three ’68 Firebirds.” He notes that he hasn’t actually had all of these cars as drivers, however. “A lot of them were parts cars or I had them for a short time, but that is technically the amount I’ve owned.”

He had one ’84 Trans Am for 19 years… and a few states. “I had that car in New York, and then I brought it down to New Jersey when I was living there,” he remembers. “Ironically, the car was originally sold in New Jersey. I ended up living like 5 or 10 miles from where it was originally sold. I basically brought it home.” He says he brought the car with him to when he later moved to California and eventually sold it to a guy in Seattle. That one has really gotten around!

Current Project

In Brendon’s garage at the moment is a ’67 Pontiac Firebird in progress. He acquired it in 2009 and started tearing it apart in January of 2010, and has been working on it for the last five years.

“I expect to drive it this year,” he estimates. “It only needs a handful of parts until it’s running and driving, It needs wheels and tires, it needs a driveshaft, it needs a battery… I need windshield glass… ”

We can’t wait to see the finished product! In the meantime, here are some shots of the project. (If you want to see more details, or follow more of Brendon’s Firebird or other projects, check out his website.)

Firebird as bought

“This is what the car looked like when I bought it. The pic is from summer of 2009. (Note the Belvedere in the background.) I drove it like this for half a year.”

Firebird Tear

“This pic is of me tearing the car apart during the beginning of the build, circa early 2010.”

Cutting

“Cutting the rusty sheet metal away. In this case, from the rear panel and trunk floor. Note the bracing added to support the quarter panels to keep them in place.”

Rear Axle

“With a cherry picker, I’m installing the rear axle and brackets that I welded to the chassis. Working like this allowed me to check for alignment without crawling on my back.”

Mounts

“Cutting out the floor to add a brace to tie together the two upper four-link mounts. Will also serve as a driveshaft safety loop mount.”

Trimming

“Trimming away metal for my replacement quarter panels.”

DriverSide

“Welding up my driver side quarter panel. Note the additional width/gap from the tail panel. This is how much I widened the back of the car (it now fits a ’69 Trans Am spoiler). I also recessed the tail panel.”

Completed

“Completed rear.”

Bumper

“Showing the fit of the front bumper. Note no gaps from the sheet metal (compare to a stock car — they use a thick rubber gasket to hide the gap from the bumper/sheet metal).”

Vents

“Creating my quarter panel vents. This will be to capture air for rear brake cooling.”

Progress

“Overall progress shot.”

Engine

“Engine as rebuilt by superior performance. I painted the block ‘Pontiac blue’ to give it a Pontiac feel.”

Firebird Tear

“Overall update pic 1. The rims aren’t sitting right yet. I had yet to have the axle trimmed for the wheels.”

Progress

“Overall update pic 2.”

Collage

Some of Brendon’s past rides.

Date posted: May 12, 2015 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Red Line Club RLC Hottest News

If you love bikes, less is more when you’re talking wheels. And Hot Wheels motorcycles have been capturing hearts and imaginations almost right from the start. Let’s take a ride.

The Early Years

If you’re of the Redline-era age, you cannot possibly have forgotten the Rrrumblers series – pretty much where the bike business for Hot Wheels all started. Almost as soon as they perfected the four-wheel cars, Mattel started in on these fewer-wheeled vehicles in 1971. Outrageous designs and clever names were the hallmarks for the series, but the most notable features were the riders, who added a new dimension to play and a sort of living personality to the toys.

HWMotorcyclesFeature_002_600px HWMotorcyclesFeature_003_300px HWMotorcyclesFeature_004_300px
Rrrumblers, 2 Wheels  Rrrumblers, 3 Wheels  Chopcycles

The following year, the Chopcycles series was added to join the ranks of the popular Sizzlers series of cars that you could “juice up” and they would run on their own power. Like the Rrrumblers, the Chopcycles featured wild designs, witty names and riders. But by 1973, the new Hot Wheels line was struggling, and both motorcycle lines came to an end.

Only two years later, a couple of new motorcycles would appear in the mainline – but sadly, without riders. The Motocross I and the Street Eater, each issued only once, are considered hard to find now. Larry Wood is credited for designing both. Then in 1977, Mattel would issue the 1:50 scale Mean Machines series of bikes, still with no riders.

 

Bikes Return, Blast Lane

After 1977, it would be 20 years before Hot Wheels issued any more motorcycles in 1:64 scale (although some larger scale motorcycles would appear once or twice during that period). The Scorchin’ Scooter would subtly appear in the mainline in 1997, but it would be very well received.

Hot Wheels designer Mark Jones recalls that by 2000 “We were really trying to do variety and differentiation of silhouettes.” Mark’s Blast Lane would join the Hot Wheels mainline and herald a new era for Hot Wheels two-wheeled wonders. How did it happen?

Blast Lane Sketch - Mark Jones Blast Lane, Exploded View Blast Lane Editions
Blast Lane Sketch – Mark Jones Blast Lane, Exploded View Blast Lane Editions

Prior to joining the Hot Wheels brand, Mark had worked in the Motorcycle Design department of Honda. At the time, Mark recalls, “They wanted us to do more chopper-style, American-influenced stuff.” He even remembers helping motorcycle customizer Arlen Ness assemble a piece that Honda had commissioned him to build. Mark Jones became a bike enthusiast.

Mark joined Mattel in 1984. Working with Larry Wood, who was also a motorcycle enthusiast, both designers would occasionally ride their bikes to work. “One morning,” Mark recalls, “I came in and I tilted the thing over like the racer I thought I was… and slammed into the ground. When I tried to get up, I realized there was grease on the ground from one of the trucks. I limped in, sat down, and was talking to Larry. He asked ‘Did you feel that (grease) in the driveway? I almost fell down this morning when I came in.’ On his motorcycle. He made it without falling down, but I didn’t.”

When he designed the Blast Lane, Mark says there was a lot of creative stuff happening with custom bikes. “When you’re a car designer, you try to think of body work and start covering stuff up. From a motorcycle point of view, a lot of people want to see the mechanical things… the engine and all the details. With the Blast Lane, I was trying to minimize the body work and pull it right down over the engine. I went for the classic v-twin engine, ’cause most custom bikes would probably be based on that.”

Mark Jones Designs Scorchin' Scooter Editions W-Oozie Editions
Mark Jones Designs Scorchin’ Scooter Editions W-Oozie Editions

“On the original design, on the exhaust side of the bike, there was a carburetor tube sticking out, but that didn’t make it through production. On the non-exhaust side, I tried to indicate that there is a belt-driven overhead cam, as opposed to the push-rod typical of Harleys. I wanted the motor to look like a sophisticated European motor.”

 

Cranking Out Bikes

The same year (2000), over in the 100% Collectible line, Hot Wheels issued a four-piece Harley-Davidson set. The set includes the 1920 Racer, Buell, Fatboy and Panhead. Hot Wheels motorcycles were really revving up.

In 2001, two more bikes would join the mainline. The Fright Bike was one. The other was the Mark Jones-designed Outsider, which finally featured tiny riders. “We started adding a bike every year to the line,” Mark notes. “We found out that people really like ’em.”

HWC Motorcycle Editions Early Thundercycles Later Thundercycles
HWC Motorcycle Editions Early Thundercycles Later Thundercycles

Over the next 10 years or so, Hot Wheels had added about a dozen motorcycles to their 1:64 scale lines, including the W-Oozie, the Pit Cruiser (which had debuted as a promotional piece) and the Bad Bagger (which had debuted in the Hot Wheels Classics series). The bikes were really cranking… but where were the riders?

 

Riders Return

In 2012, it finally started to happen. Several of the existing 1:64 scale motorcycles were released in a series of their own — with riders! The Motorcycles series continues, adding not only new riders, but also new motorcycles, including the 3-Squealer – named after one of the original Rrrumblers pieces.

HWMotorcyclesFeature_0014_600px Blastous Editions Tri & Stop Me Editions
Various HW Motorcycles w/Riders Blastous Editions Tri & Stop Me Editions

One of the more recent motorcycles to debut in the series is the Skullface, which features a pirate rider and is most reminiscent of the rare and popular Bone Shaker from the original Rrrumblers. The Skullface was designed by none other than Mark Jones.

Mark continues to contribute great designs to the Hot Wheels line, with both four wheels and two. He has just finished the Kawasaki GPZ 900R, a new bike for Hot Wheels that will debut in the Entertainment series this year. “I did a new Real Riders wheel for that which is kind of cool,” he tells us. “I tried to make it look like the Kawasaki wheel of that era. It’s a two-part wheel.”

Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Editions Fly-By Editions Skullface, 3-Squealer
Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Editions Fly-By Editions Skullface, 3-Squealer

Two wheels. Two parts. Hot Wheels Motorcycles are still on a roll, and it looks like easy riding from here.

— HWC Gary

Date posted: March 4, 2015 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: Collecting Red Line Club RLC Hottest News

Hot Wheels graphic design guru HWC Van has slipped us another snapshot of upcoming releases. It’s kind of like having a golden ticket to the Mattel Design Center!

Not only is there an HWC release front and center in this assortment of FEPs, but there are also editions from a variety of Hot Wheels retail series:

  • Hot Wheels mainline
  • Hot Wheels Entertainment
  • Hot Wheels Pop Culture
  • Hot Wheels Moto
  • Truckin’ Transporters

We know you can’t wait to sink your teeth into these sweet editions!

Go Behind the Scenes with HWC Van in our RLC Designer Desktop

 

 

Date posted: December 15, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: HWC Offers Red Line Club Retail Series RLC Hottest News

Here’s a rare chance to look behind the scenes! We’re pulling back the curtain and giving you a sweet snapshot into the Mattel Design Center. Graphic designer Steve “HWC Van” Vandervate lays out some future plans – Hot Wheels releases – on his desktop.

You’ll find FEPs of a few HWC offers, plus some pieces from 2015 Entertainment line. There are several items from the 2015 Pop Culture series, and a look at one more piece from the highly anticipated Heritage series. Take a look, and plan accordingly!

VandervateDesktop_600px

Date posted: September 29, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: HWC Offers Red Line Club Retail Series RLC Hottest News

You know you can count on graphic designer Steve “HWC Van” Vandervate when you want a look inside the Mattel Design Center. Upcoming releases? Behind the Hot Wheels scenes? See ’em here first!

Check out these FEPs of some awesome HWC Series 13 vehicles, plus a few other HWC Special Editions. Also on the desk are a couple of 2015 items from the Entertainment series and the Heritage series. Lotsa trucks! Big pieces, big plans. Better be ready!

Vandervate

Date posted: July 21, 2014 | Author: | No Comments »

Categories: HWC Offers Red Line Club Retail Series RLC Hottest News