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.”
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!
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.)
Whether you get Hot Wheels for your dad, or you’re the dad who gets the Hot Wheels, this series is for you! Four 1:64 vehicles will help you celebrate the day that honors dads who drive at any scale.
’63 Mustang ll Concept
Custom ’11 Camaro
Items and dates subject to change.
It’s the movie event of the season! We’re sure you won’t miss Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, and you sure don’t want to miss this set of eight special Hot Wheels editions with epic Avengers deco.
16 Angels (Black Widow)
Buzz Bomb (Thor)
Muscle Tone (Vision)
Power Rage (Captain America)
Sting Rod (Hulkbuster-Iron Man)
Ultra Rage (Nick Fury)
© 2015 MARVEL
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)
It’s the most anticipated new Hot Wheels collector line of the year! Our Heritage series honors the true spirit of the brand with two segments: Real Riders and Redlines. Featuring the coolest castings in all die-cast releases, these editions will take the front seat in your collection.
|Please note the casting changes to Mixes 1, 3 and 5.
Mix 1 (Real Riders):
Items and dates subject to change.