Mustangs, Camaros, and ’32 Ford roadsters come to mind when you think of hot rods and custom cars. You don’t usually think of the diminutive Nash Metropolitan, a two-seater postwar microcar so cute it looks like a poodle would be on the factory options list. In its original teal green color, this car looks more like an ice cream flavor than a muscle car. However, it was precisely this dichotomy that drew customizer Salzillo to the job.
Customizer Greg Salzillo and his friend Dave Ford took an unlikely candidate and turned it into a custom car first. That in and of itself was noteworthy. But then they saw Mattel’s team transform their custom creation into a 1/64th-scale Hot Wheels in the ultimate tribute to their very cool design. “It was in a barn in California where a bunch of guys who raced Lemons had their projects,” Salzillo explained. “It simply spoke to us. It just screams for some, you know, like, breathe and muscle to be put into it.”
The original plan was to make 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 served time in prison. It won “Best Fabrication” at its first rat rod show. Then they heard about the Legends Tour and signed up for it. “It’s quite creative and unique,” Salzillo said last year when the car was on display at SEMA. “We knew we wanted to build something completely unique, something no one had ever done before.”
The car is built on a custom 2×3 boxed chassis with coil overs all around. It is powered by a small block Chevy 305 mated to a Turbo 350 transmission and a GM 12-bolt rear end. According to Salzillo, power has increased from “30 or 40 hp” stock to “300 or so” now. They chopped the top about four inches, laid back the windshield, and then made a custom Plexiglas wraparound rear window. On the inside, the biggest differences from stock are aluminum bomber seats and custom gauges. There’s even a junior dragster parachute stuffed where the rear-mounted spare tire used to be.
But it’s the wheels that really stand out. “I wanted to go extreme and really cartoony with this one and just have fun with it.” So that’s why we brought these wheels out; we wanted to show them off.”
Salzillo decided to take it on the Hot Wheels Legends Tour, a cross-country parade of customs, with one of them being chosen to become a real Hot Wheels 1/64th die-cast model. But how does Hot Wheels decide who wins? “We look at three things,” Ted Wu, design team leader at Hot Wheels, explained. “We’ve made over 25,000 cars in our 52 years, so we’re looking for something truly new and unique.” The second factor is genuineness. We want the car to resemble a Hot Wheels vehicle. We really want someone to say, “Wait a minute, that’s a Hot Wheels.” Finally, there’s the garage spirit. We want something that is built rather than purchased. We appreciate the fact that the people who attend these shows are genuinely interested in their automobiles. They’re builders, and each vehicle has a unique story.”
The task of converting a full-sized car – or, in this case, a small full-sized car – into a 1/64th-scale replica that can be replicated in the thousands follows. “As soon as I heard that the Nash had won, I went looking for some pictures,” said Hot Wheels sculptor Manson Cheung. “The first thing I had to do was get images of a standard Nash Metropolitan and see what they had changed in their customization of the car.” “Once I discovered that I began modeling it.”
Cheung “sculpts” using a computer. “I use a 3D digital sculpting device to help me sculpt these cars,” Cheung explained. “It’s made of virtual clay.” Virtually, I can feel the clay on the screen. I can feel the shape in the same way that a true car sculptor would feel the clay. It was a simple transition from analog to digital sculpting.” Then he had to disassemble it.
“As you may know, Hot Wheels are made up of four parts: the body, the window, the interior, and the chassis. The most enjoyable part was figuring out which parts go where and where the color breaks should be. Because of the car’s unique pattern, the color breaks were necessary to bring out the color of the car. The white break and the teal of the Nash.” “This little car has taken me on a wild ride,” Salzillo said. “You never know where it’ll go or what it’ll do, but it has its own little life.” And now we’re overjoyed to be able to share an actual Hot Wheels with the rest of the world.”
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