• Wed. Nov 29th, 2023

Automotive Designer

We'll Leave The Automotive Designer On For You

How Larry ‘Mr. Hot Wheels’ Wood found his love for cars in CT


Feb 27, 2023 #Cars, #Hot, #Larry, #love, #wheels, #wood

In the 1950s, Larry Wood’s father brought home a contraband magazine from one of his Wesleyan students. The publication, Hot Rod Magazine, would go on to inspire Wood to become the designer for one of the best-selling toys of all time.

“When I opened up that magazine, it was the beginning of a new life. I realized that you could take cars and modify them and put your personal touch on them,” Wood said. “That was the beginning for me. Boy, I went into the garage and I started working on cars right then and there and have been working on them ever since.”

Larry R. Wood, known colloquially as “Mr. Hot Wheels,” is revered for his over 50 years as the lead designer for toy company Mattel’s Hot Wheels, where he created some of the brand’s most notable cars. Now, his life’s work with Hot Wheels has earned him a spot in this year’s Automobile Hall of Fame, among other greats in the industry.

However, before his many years as a designer in Southern California and his Hall of Fame induction, there were 18 years of childhood in Connecticut that helped him find his love for both cars and design.

Larry Wood and his some of his Hot Wheels designs.

Larry Wood and his some of his Hot Wheels designs.

Courtesy of Larry Wood

Wood was born in Middletown and lived there until he was eight years old when his father moved the family to Haddam, where he lived until the age of 18. Wood worked at Pratt and Whitney in East Hartford at the start of his career, but realized he wanted to be a car designer. One day, he went home and told his mother he wanted to go to college, specifically Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles because of an ad for the school that caught Wood’s eye that promised to teach students how to draw cars. Because his mom was an artist, she helped him put together a portfolio, and he started at ArtCenter in 1963.

“ArtCenter was tough. I started with 50 students and six graduated. But boy, I tell you that that was the beginning of my life,” Wood said. “I don’t remember high school at all, but I remember every day at ArtCenter.”

After graduating from Art Center, Wood did a stint in Detroit at Ford, where he said the cold weather got to him. To get back out to California, he took a job working on aircraft interiors. It was here that he found himself at a fateful party.

“I went to a party and I met a guy that worked at Mattel. He showed me Hot Wheels and I said, ‘Wow, those are great’ and he said they had a job opening there,” Wood said. “So I went in and knocked on the door and said ‘I’m your man,’ and it worked out just right.”

From there, Wood said everything changed. He said back at Ford, you could find yourself working on a door hand or a headlight for weeks on end. But, on his first day at Mattel, they sat him down and said “Ok, you have a car to do in a week.” Wood said he loved that the cars were solely his responsibility, as it was just him designing the Hot Wheels for the first 20 years. He took a lot of pride in his work, and said it was not uncommon to find him on his hands and knees working on designs and shooting the cars down the track to make sure they worked.

Larry Wood designing a Hot Wheels car in 1982.

Larry Wood designing a Hot Wheels car in 1982.

Courtesy of Larry Wood

However, when he first began with Hot Wheels in the late ’60s, Barbie was queen at Mattel, and the cars were nowhere near the doll’s popularity. Wood said Hot Wheels began to take off in the ‘70s and ‘80s when parents started buying the cars for not only their kids, but also for themselves. Soon enough, Hot Wheels was the No. 1 best-selling toy in volume and still holds the top spot to date, beating out highly popular toys like the Rubik’s Cube and Legos.

In his over 50 years as head designer for Hot Wheels, Wood made a plethora of cars, but said his favorites are the Purple Passion and the Boneshaker. The Purple Passion was a 49 Mercury that was one of the most popular Hot Wheels for a while in the ‘80s. The Boneshaker is a hot rod with a skull in the front and metal bone-like hands holding onto the headlights that Mattel liked so much, it even made a full-sized version of the car. 

Larry Wood's "Boneshaker" sketch. 

Larry Wood’s “Boneshaker” sketch. 

Courtesy of Larry Wood

Larry Wood's "Purple Passion" sketch.

Larry Wood’s “Purple Passion” sketch.

Courtesy of Larry Wood

Courtesy of Larry Wood

Wood remembers drawing inspiration from the Boneshaker from the rise of motorcycle culture and seeing a lot of skull paraphernalia in that world. He laughs recalling that he initially threw away the original Boneshaker sketch, but came to pull it out of of the trash, put a skull on the front of the car and then watched the design go crazy with Hot Wheels fans.

As time has gone on, “Mr. Hot Wheels” has become a celebrity among collectors and his designs have become rare and valuable items. He said that in the early days of Hot Wheels, kids played with the cars and then would throw them away. People then began recognizing that the cars were only made in limited quantities and that they were actually something to hold onto. Wood said that the cars are worth a lot as rare collectors items now, with one Hot Wheel selling for $75,000.

Now, Wood is retired from his designer position at Hot Wheels and is anticipating his induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame on July 23 in Detroit. He said the recognition is something that a kid cruising the Berlin Turnpike and hanging out at the Connecticut Dragway could have never imagined.

“That’s probably the biggest honor that I’ve had so far,” Wood said. “I’ve been in the Hot Wheels Hall of Fame and I’ve been in the Die-Cast Hall of Fame and those are great steps. But boy, the Automotive Hall of fame, that’s going to be the ultimate. I never thought they’d ever give me a call and tell me that.”

In his over five decades with Mattel and Hot Wheels, Wood said the people he met along the way as well as the fans who “get a little crazy over these little cars” have made the experience what it has been. Looking forward, he hopes that he inspired young kids to become interested in cars and maybe become “car nuts” like him too.


By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *