A Decade Of Design: Jun Imai’s Hot Wheels Favorites
Daily Design, In 1/64

You know things have gone well when the term, ‘Time flies when you’re having fun’ applies to your job. For the designers here at Hot Wheels, that saying holds true. How do I know? May 2014 marks my 10-year anniversary of design for the Hot Wheels brand, and the past decade absolutely flew by.

I’m always asked what it’s like to work here. For most, there’s this vision of a Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory-like environment. In many cases, that’s true. We are a toy company after all, and our objective is to create the most fun and compelling toys for kids of all ages. So it’s no surprise when there’s some sort of rocket flying through the air over your marketing meeting, or cheers erupt from one of the creative areas as we’ve just made our die-cast cars do unthinkable stunts on the latest track set.

During the past decade, I’ve spent the bulk of my time designing for the die-cast division of Hot Wheels. This is a special place where the love of cars, design, and toys come together. Virtually everyone on the team comes backed with education and experience in automotive design. Every Hot Wheels car design, regardless if it’s a Hot Wheels original, a stock licensed vehicle, or a heavily modified one, has been designed and followed through by one of our designers to make sure they look and perform their best. You get a lot of cars done in 10 years; I’ve designed several hundred, but I’ll openly admit that I’ve lost track of them all. While each one has been fun to design, I do have my favorites and thought it would be fun to share these with you. Here we go…


I’m starting this off with one of the very first cars I did, the AE86. This is one of the cars that started the mega rollout of classic J-tin at Hot Wheels. I especially like the more recent graphic versions we’ve released, like the panda pictured above; it’s the quintessential Hachiroku. Hard parked next to the AE86 is the Daruma Celica which came out recently. If I were to build a Celica, I’d do it just like this – big flares, snowplow chin spoiler, and headlight covers. Regarding those covers, note that it’s the same part as the windshield. Another trick we do when we design these cars is we make the most out of the four parts we get: body, window, interior and chassis. Clever breakup gets us a free detail or two!


Another car I’ve pushed for since 2004 was the Datsun 510. Five years later, the persistence paid off and it was finally approved to become part of our lineup. We’ve done several graphic versions since its initial release, but it’s the limited BRE cars you see above that melted down the internets on both occasions. I had the privilege of having John Morton sign both of these for me, and he even raced the one on the right down our in-house downhill track at Mattel HQ.


As great as the 510 release was, minds were blown when the Hakosuka and Kenmeri Skylines emerged in Hot Wheels form. Not only that, but we released them both in the same year! The Hako’ is just the way I like them – racing style with headlight covers, bumper delete, oil cooler and big chin spoiler. I decided to keep the Kenmeri a bit simpler with subtle flares and spoiler. One day, I’ll have one of these in 1:1 form in my stable, although right now my wife is shaking her head in disagreement…


The drive to add the RX-7 to our lineup started with hallway conversations with my colleague and good friend Brandon Ozaki, a self declared hoarder of all things rotary. The fun fact is the development of the Hot Wheels version inspired two full size builds- Brandon’s own RX-7 you can see here, and the JDM Legends RX-7! See what happens when you put people’s names on cars?


Who would have thought that you could walk into your favorite big-box retailer and pick up a kaido racer off the pegs? You couldn’t, until Mad Manga™ was created. Making this possible is the fact that it’s a Hot Wheels original design, giving us unlimited creative freedom. Adding the oversized ovafen, deppa, and takeyari pipes would likely have been a challenge on a licensed vehicle. To this day, there are still people trying to figure this thing out. If they only checked Speedhunters once in a while…


The Toyota 2000GT also took fans by surprise, because it was never announced; it just showed up. The reason is the casting was designed for a series that got canceled during production, but I wanted to make sure this one saw the light it deserved. It found its way into our basic product line, and suddenly showed up on the pegs. I’m especially happy with the details, like the fender mirrors and the light lenses. If you look at the interior closely, you’ll notice it’s a proper racing version with a single bucket seat and partial roll cage, hinting at what should have been in that defunct line.


We worked hard on the ’76 Greenwood Corvette to capture the menacing stance and details at our scale. Greenwood was very enthusiastic about the project, and we worked closely with them to make sure our details were accurate. This version appeared in our 2012 Hot Wheels Racing line, and we outdid ourselves on this one. Easily one of my favorites!


From the same series as the Greenwood Corvette came the ’65 Ford Galaxie. For me, this car represents the epitome of vintage stock car racing, with its slab panels and monstrous grille. We did several variations of this one, including Junior Johnson’s #26 car, but my personal favorite is the fictitious ‘Imai Motors’ deco in orange and off-yellow. There’s a ’66 for sale not too far from me, and I have those thoughts every time I drive by it… nope, it will not physically fit in my driveway. But wouldn’t it be fun to build a big bodied bruiser like this to whip around track day?


When I think of Chevelles, I usually picture them tubbed out, pro street style; but what if you built one up for circuit racing? That’s what I did for my take on this ’70 Chevy Chevelle SS. The body details should look familiar if you’ve picked up some of the classic JDM offerings from our line. The chin spoiler, bolt on flares and wing are inspired by them. Look close at the back and you’ll notice an under spoiler, something you’re more likely to see on an 80’s zokusha on its way to Daikoku. They wouldn’t be typical on a Chevelle, but it all comes together here.

Many Cars, Many Styles

I admit, I have a love for large, slab sided vehicles and vans are no different. I’ve recently become a van owner myself, and can attest to their versatility now that I’m a parent of two. These two Dodge vans are among my favorites in both Hot Wheels and 1:1 form. I love the cab-over proportions of the A100, and they always look great slammed with some rake. The ’77 Dodge Van next to it has modernized body panels and racy details. The panoramic roof is so fitting on a ’70s van, and lets you peek inside to see something you normally wouldn’t find – four bucket seats with racing harnesses.


I have great admiration for German automobiles, and for me, classic BMW’s and Porsches are hard to beat. I dream of them constantly, and until I can add these in my garage, a few Hot Wheels versions will have to do. Both the 2002 and E30 M3 are high on my list of wanted cars, so it was natural for me to bring them to the Hot Wheels paddock.


We took the E30 M3 a step further by using DTM-style mirrors, and a semi-stripped interior with roll cage. I would have preferred a flatter faced wheel on this version, but we pull what we can from our massive wheel bank, and these ’80s style five-spokes fit the theme well!


Then there’s the Porsches. If there is one car I’ve been wanting more than anything, it’s an aircooled Porsche. The 993 has been one of my dream cars since it came out in the ’90s and I’m still after one, despite their skyrocketing prices (although that goes for most old 911 nowadays). For Hot Wheels, we created the GT2 version of the 993, because if you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big right?


Few things in life are as beautiful and exciting as the Porsche 935/78, and I was really happy to be able to work on the Hot Wheels version. This was one that posed quite a challenge due to its proportions and shapes, and making it all work with our existing wheel sizes and axle spans. I’d love to see this one in as many different liveries as possible.


About half of our newly designed vehicles each year are Hot Wheels originals, and they vary from realistic race vehicles to sharks with blown V8s on them, and everything in between. Anything goes with Hot Wheels originals, and for these we aim to make them fun and exciting for kids. That’s why you’ll see features like transparent bodies, glow-in-the-dark interiors, maybe a big grind rail over the top of the car to crash through a road block. Nothing performs better on our track and play sets than these cars, as they’re designed and tuned to maximize play with our sets. And the designers run wild with these cars and let ideas and concepts fly.


The two vehicles above, Circle Tracker™ and Circle Trucker™, are original designs I came up with as next-gen stock car racers. They’re low slung and sleek for that modern oval racer look, and the interiors are designed for race duty – complete with the window netting, safety equipment and full roll cage. But what’s not immediately obvious is they are designed to outperform on our track sets. The body shape, dimensions, weight, and clearances are all designed for high speed track play. They’ll run the oval all day long, but they’ll also negotiate loops, corkscrews and jumps just fine.


As long as we’re talking ovals, I also had the opportunity to design vehicles with two of the fastest racers around – Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Armed with a stack of paper, markers, my drawing arm, their ideas, and a hundred video cameras surrounding the table, we created the two Hot Wheels cars you see above. Danica wanted a six-wheeler with wheels of all different sizes, and a wedge-shaped body to suggest power and speed. She even helped design the graphics, and on the final design, wanted blank spaces on the body so kids can write in their own racing number. You can see on my sample above, she’s signed it and drawn in her number 7, and #10 on the other side.

For Dale Jr.’s design session, I visited Hendrick Motorsports and spent an afternoon with him to create what became the Hammerhead™. An exaggerated modern muscle car body, twin turbo V8, transparent hood and realistic flames were his must haves.


As for the image above, I wasn’t responsible for the die-cast portion of the Camaro, but I’m excited for the brand that’s emblazoned all over the car. A few email exchanges with the Speedhunters staff, followed by meetings at SEMA and run-ins at various car events, has become a fun partnership between the two companies. Although I am quite familiar with Speedhunters on a personal level, it was great to have them come together with Hot Wheels to collaborate on projects like you see above. This is just the start!


And last but not least, the Datsun 510 Wagon ranks as my all-time favorite. The design mimics my 1:1 510 down to the fender mirrors, bumper delete, oil cooler and JDM grille. Even the color, though not exact, is close! And the red centered five-spokes are a hat tip to my custom painted SSR MKII’s. If you check out the 2012 JCCS coverage here, you’ll see the resemblance. Since then, I’ve removed the decals again and went for the clean look, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have you covered here at Hot Wheels.

What’s coming next? The big feature image at the top of the page should give you a hint… I think the internets are about to melt down again!

Thanks for allowing me to share my favorite Hot Wheels cars with you. Now, what are yours?

Jun Imai



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Great stuff! I have a few of the cars you posted, but I want them all! Thank you for keeping Hot Wheels relevant and cool...I've been collecting and playing with them for 20+ years and I don't have any intention of stopping.


I love Hot Wheels, and the ones you showed here are among the top of my favorites. I didn't know about the race version of the Greenwood up until recently, I just have the '70s yellow/orange/brown one. But I've been collecting Hot Wheels for years, like everyone, and I don't think I'll ever stop.


Great post! I have everyone of your designs and I love seeing more J-tins popping up. Keeping my Fingers crossed for a AW11 MR2. Here is just a fraction of my collection.


You are my hero. Thank you so much for making these great cars more mainstream.


This is great to see on a car site. Many car guys started out as a little kid with a bunch of Hot Wheels.


I can has all of them?


Jun, all i must say is THANK YOU!! I started getting into Hot Wheels with the introduction of the Ae86 cars of the decade edition. Since then i've really got into collecting Hot Wheels. If it wasn't for the plethora of Japanese Hot Wheels out there i wouldn't be into it. Maybe one day I'll have the honor of meeting you and get you to sign my TH Toyota 2000 Gt!


A question for Jun directly.. Some kaido fans wonder regarding the dedign of the mad manga, or st least i have. It is designed after a yonmeri skyline with rear door deleted riiiiight??? If u can confirm that would be great...


Really been looking for the 510's and that 2000gt Toyota is stunning


Thank you for bringing all of these amazing cars to the world of Hot Wheels. I own some of the cars that you've designed and I am still trying to hunt down the 510 Wagon and a couple of others up here in Vancouver. It's been awesome collecting all of the cars that I have loved since young and the cars that I'd love to have in a MASSIVE dream garage someday. 
Keep it rolling fresh!


Jun,your designs are awesome, and I think it's no coincidence that about half of the cars in my little collection happen to be designed by you! Thanks for having such great taste!


Thanks for all your hard work, very much appreciated, i really hope to see more J-tins, we love them!!! It would be really cool to see a new casting for the miata!


oh my.......you're living my dream job...........

designing & collecting at the same time...........so awesome..........


Finally a proper Hot WHeels article! I love them, specially the JDM ones, they have come really nice... every time I go for some fruit and vegetables to the supermarket I get lost in the Hot Wheels displays, searching the ones that blow my gearhead mind.

Yesterday I was able to find the Speedhunters Camaro! A must have nowadays...


Possibly my most favorite in my collection has to be the 2000 Chicago Auto show Corvette.  And then there are many more good ones. But my most recent addition was the Veneno and the Speedhunters ZL1


Fantastic. Thank you for the great article, Jun! You are, without a doubt, my favorite HW designer. The panda 86 got me started collecting as an adult. I have one sitting in front of every computer in the shop.


Omg I have that exact bmw 2002 and I made it onforza 4 and horizon!


ouve kept my son and i entertained for hours! Thank you.


TheRobotCow Thanks for the kind words!  If you ever see me around don't hesitate to say hi, and I'd be happy to sign your TH!


Seanskee Mad Manga wasn't based on any specific car...it's just my idea of what a kaido racer would look like in Hot Wheels form.  There might be a body line or detail that may be interpreted as a particular car, but it quickly changes as you transition to the next surface. To me that's really exciting, and reminiscent of when those guys build something like a Yon with Laurel headlights and Celica tail panel, or some other crazy combo!


Yea it's very hard to pin point an exact car it would have been designed after. It always looked like a yonmeri to me haha very unique design one of my favorites. My collection consists mainly of designs. Very few that are not.. Can't wait to see what new designs come next. Also thanks for the direct reply man, much appreciated


When I started to collect HWs a decade ago I thought i will have only hot rods and good old american muscle cars in my garage. Then the hobby got me and I widened my range of interest soon. And it happened that many of my "out of scope" pieces were designed by you... :)
Then came these Japaneese models I was unaware (well,rx-7 and the miata had always a special place in my heart :D), and now I want them all in my collection.
So thank you very much for the great work! And a new miata ($TH) would be indeed cool ;).


Forgot the red and teal ef hatch. Have all but datsun wagon and bmw sedan on gold?


Jun Imai Seanskee Jun you guys have done awesome, i own the stock blue preserved 510 thats been to jccs and on the west coast.  Nice tos ee your passion come through on this. Thank you so much.  Now i just need me another wagon ;)


ahh so i have you to thank for my consistent stroll through the hot wheels section. i always thought in my head "man this guy knows whats up!"  and you do! i have a few of the ones above, i gotta keep an eye out for more!


Rad dude.  For X-Mas my sister bought me the 510 wagon and 240z since she's in Oregon and I can't find them here in Hawaii.  Along with those she also grabbed another 510 goon and Z, drilled out the rivets, painted them something similar to that Mexican Orange that my 510 is stuck key rings on them.  Best gift I've ever gotten.  

I'm still searching for the hatch trim if you ever find another set!  LOL!


I have the hakosuka, kenmeri, and JDM Legends FC on my desk at work!


enjoyed that and so did my 4 year old! he's got a huge hot wheels collection but we've never seen the classic skylines or 510s for sale. the moby dick looks great too.


i love hotwheels and got over 50 jdm cars and still collecting and lovin the new falken supra and classic skylines


@kyushakai LOL Lance, next time I head over to the islands, I'll bring the hatch trim with me so you can look at it.  Maybe we can tape it onto your car for a few minutes even, bruddah!


132000 Happy to hear!


i bought that red 993 yesterday. its like an RWB porsche. i love it!!


Fantastic work Sir. I've been wondering who did all these unbelievably cool cars! I know many people that flipped out completely when you released that Honda Civic with the Mugen kit....I dream of the day you include the Prelude 4WS in the lineup!!!


pretty sweet i have over 500 hotwheels myself :)


o ya, i dream the day you make the suzuki... i love suzuki.


Jun, thank you for bringing back classics such as the Kenmeri, Hakosuka, 2000gt, 70 Celica and Datsun 510/pickup, just to name a few, into the well known Hot Wheels line up!  These cars would have never been realized and discovered by collectors and children alike worldwide!  I make sure I buy several of your JDM cars for myself as well as my nephews to carry on the Hot Wheels tradition I had as a child!
I also love the speedhunters, JNC and personal tampos you put into the mix of your cars, very nice touch!
Any chance we will see the 300zx, MR2 and other older molds come back with new tampos and colours?  Also any change there will be collaborations with Rockey Bunny, RWB (that 993 reminds me of them!) or Ben Sopra at all in the future?  It would be jaw dropping to see a Ben Sopra GTR in the mainline series!  Finally it would be amazing to see cars such as the 1g/2g Eclipse, 3g Rx7, Evo 8/9 and GTR R33 get the proper Hot Wheels treatment!  The R33 in particular is an empty spot in my GTR hot wheels collection :(

Thank you for bringing back my childhood Jun!


Jun, I just recently became aware of you, but I've been a fan of your designs for the last few years. Most of the cars in this article have become my favorites. The 510, Skyline, and the A100 especially. I can't wait to see more, and maybe one day there will be a Phoenix Yellow Acura Integra Type R like the one I use to have. US or JDM front end would be fine with me. It's been done once or twice, but it definitely needs the Hot Wheels treatment. Thanks again for all your hard work, and brilliant designs!


I have to say that your nostalgic japanese designs are a big part of what has gotten me back into buying hot wheels. I've accumulated a large number in the past few years. It would be pretty hard to pick favourites but if I had to, they might go like this. 
EF Civic Si, Studebaker Champ pickup, Kenmeri Skyline, Hakosuka Skyline, 997 GT3 RS, 59 Chevy Delivery, 65 Impala, La Troca, 993 GT2 and the Celica,


@Lee_ITR862 I'd go broke if they did an ITR, that would open up way too many ideas in my head for small alterations.




@Rebound Thank you for the kind words!  You have some great suggestions for future vehicles- let's just say we've only scratched the surface :)


Omedetougozaimasu Imai-san :D hope you create more designs for Hot Wheels....hopefully Itasha Anime themed-cars


I'm only 28 but have been collecting Hot Wheels since '95 and when I found out who you were and what you were doing with Hot Wheels my mind literally exploded, lol. My first two cars were Datsun 510's and, although they are going for ridiculous prices online, I have been lucky enough to find most all of them including the BRE Vintage Racing Series one in the wild. Seriously, keep on keeping on, you are doing awesome things that just keep reigniting my love for this hobby, (except making it harder to collect your designs :)). (My wife and two year old daughter love these things, too!)


i know Tamika made a nismo IDX... any chance hotwheels will as well or is it more of a license issue? matchbox did the 1M coupe so i got my fix that way... im waiting for an R35 release for me and my son.. hes been BUGGING ME ABOUT IT!


All these are my favourite hot wheels I have started collecting these I only like collecting cars I like the rx7's,kenmeri,hakosuka,510 wagon,mad manga are amazing oldschool jdm hot wheels are what I want to see more of in the future


The Ultimate Racing Pack that came out about a year ago are some of my favorite designs from Jun! Mostly original creations (had 4 of 5 from Jun), but look great nonetheless - love Symbolic, Med Evil, and RD-08! Thanks for the great designs!!!


Epic designs Jun, and I thank you for your enthusiasm, which really shows in the details of these castings. My yellow 510 Wagon is by far the fastest and furthest rolling car on my track, the only thing that comes close so far is a black Dodge Viper. Hopefully, one day we will see a '73 Celica Liftback GT, it would confuse some Mustang fans, or perhaps a Celica GT4 Carlos Sainz replica! Either one would make my day.