5 Minutes with Hot Wheels Designer Larry Wood
Larry Wood has arguably every car-loving kid’s dream job. Known as “Mr. Hot Wheels,” the Connecticut native has been designing Hot Wheels cars for Mattel since 1969 and continues to design and build hot rods today. “I have had a hot rod in my life, every day, for 60 years,” Wood says. “I started at 16 years old and here I am, still messing with cars.”
Wood also has an impressive collection of Hot Wheels cars on display at his home, some of which even match full-size cars that Wood has built in his garage. “Every time I built a car, I would do a Hot Wheels of it,” he says. “I have about 12-15 full-size cars that I’ve built, with the matching Hot Wheels to go with it.”
We talked to Wood about what goes into designing a Hot Wheels, as well as his favorite (and least favorite!) Hot Wheels, and how a few parties changed the course of his life.
Goodguys Gazette: How did you manage to snag this amazing job?
Larry Wood: My life has been a lot of pure luck! I was living in California and was designing airplane interiors. I went to a party one night and the kids there were playing with Hot Wheels cars. The guy who lived there was a Hot Wheels designer but didn’t like his job. I told him to put my name in for the job and when he quit, they called me. That was in 1969.
When I talk to kids, I always say, ‘Go to parties! You never know what will happen or who you’ll talk to.’ I met my wife at a party, so a few parties have changed my life!
GG: If you weren’t designing Hot Wheels, what kind of career do you think you’d have?
Wood: That’s easy – I would be stealing hubcaps! Honestly, though, if it hadn’t of been for cars, I don’t have the slightest idea of what I would have done with my life. I remember drawing cars for my buddies in high school. My goal was to drive hot rods and live in California…and here I am! Drawing cars was something I never thought I’d get do for a living. I saw an ad in Motor Trend for the ArtCenter College of Design, where they taught you to draw cars. I gave it a shot and went.
GG: What was your favorite toy growing up? Was it a toy car?
Wood: What’s funny is I never had a toy car when I was a kid! I was always into cowboys and Indians. I lived out in the woods so that’s what we played. I didn’t get into cars until I was 14 or so. I would sit on the side of the road and watch the cars going to the beach. They always had the best cars – convertibles, good colors, chrome – so that’s what hooked me.
GG: How do you feel about your nickname, “Mr. Hot Wheels?”
Wood: I think it’s pretty cool! I had been working there for about 10 years when it really exploded and people started collecting them. In the beginning, they were just kids’ cars and no one cared. But then those kids grew up and had kids, and they bought one for their kid and one for themselves. That’s when it went crazy. That nickname came from a guy who had a Hot Wheels newsletter. He put my name out there and that’s how the collectors found out about me.
GG: Of all the Hot Wheels you’ve done, do you have a personal favorite?
Wood: My favorite was the Bone Shaker. It’s on the Hot Wheels Legends Tour right now. They go around the United States, and I go to some of the shows and am a judge.
GG: Is there any Hot Wheels design that you wish you could remove from Hot Wheels history?
Wood: The collectors always give me a hard time about the Bubble Gunner. I based it on the bubble gum machines. I think that one was a bit much. It wasn’t my favorite, but after all these years, there are some that were really neat to me but not to other people. There are other ones that I didn’t think would amount to much but ended up being really popular. You never really know how people will respond.
GG: Did you work on any other toy designs for Mattel?
Wood: I did a Corvette and Porsche for Barbie. That was fun, but Barbie’s feet ended up in front of the front axle, so I had to work to get the proportions right!
GG: How has the Hot Wheels design process evolved over the years you’ve been doing it?
Wood: At the beginning, I was there by myself and things were very different. Then as more people came on, everyone would put their sketches on the wall at the beginning of the year and they’d distribute them out for design.
As a designer you had to do a side, top and rear view with all the detailing. Now, everything is done on computer. I still do pencil drawings and then turn those into the digital people. I’m not a computer guy. I like the feel of a certain pen or pencil, and how the grain of a certain paper feels. I’m just old school.