Subcultures rarely reach aboveground. Most are survived by only a small sect that barely keeps the blood pumping in a dying breed. Some, on the other hand, strive to make their mark and carve out a path for others like themselves in this world of constant flux. This is true for the first die-cast customizers, armed with only innovation and creativity, they started down the long, hard road toward acceptance!

With no official date on file, the origin of a small group of die-cast pioneers began when they decided to repaint and redesign Hot Wheels for display and sale at collector shows and swap meets around 1999. As time passed, this trend quickly gained speed with more and more individuals testing the limits and surpassing expectations. This auto subculture had begun to hold its own in the open market. Soon it began to attract more than just the so-called Hot Wheels crowd. Many of the new recruits had previously built plastic models and resin body kits.

The switch from models to die-casts had its advantages–the die-casts were ready to paint, cheaper to start and more durable than most plastic models. For the most part, the starting point of any of the customs was an already finished product so there was no need to smooth out the body, which was the case with the rough plastic and resin models. The price also played a major roll. With your average Hot Wheel coming in at 79 cents it didn’t take a brain surgeon to add up the savings.

The metal body served a dual purpose: it was able to accept multiple applications and was resistant to paint stripper if you made a mistake. This was a big plus. Whereas in a plastic model you can carefully remove the paint once or twice, the metal bodies could be repainted multiple times with no threat of warping the body. This ability to be repainted was a key factor while exploring and refining different paint techniques and applications. No longer were you stuck with an ugly car if you didn’t get the results that you hoped for the first time.

In the new millennium, this 1/64-scale genre has a life of its own with Hot Wheels stepping up to the plate for the customizers. There’s a web page for collectors that offers support for collectors and customizer-driven shows. A few new players have also entered the market; Jada and Funline toys offer highly detailed collector pieces that can only demand respect from Hot Wheels, which has carried the torch since the ’60s.

Well, now that we’re done rambling through the past, let’s show you a few of the customs that we got our sticky paws on for this issue. Bursting out of the blistering glare of candy painted sunshine are customs by Alvarro Gonzalez. With an acute attention to detail, each of these miniatures has received hours of airbrushed action and masked-in decals the size of a penny with some hand painting thrown in to truly flex his skills. With Alvarro and madmen like him dissecting these cars and mashing them together to create whole customs, the limitations have yet to be discovered. As you can see, this is no dying breed and we have a lot planned for the future with more to bring to you in the next issue of LRB in regards to this outbreak of new die-cast enthusiasts!