Radical Front-Mid-Engine Pontiac Trans-Am Wins This Year’s Hot Wheels Legends Tour
One of Jay Leno’s favorites, the car’s looks are backed up by equally impressive engineering.
The Hot Wheels Legends Tour is a worldwide contest to get your project car immortalized as a 1/64th miniature. First ran before the pandemic in 2019, the event's national tour attracted more than 100,000 attendees, and more than 5,000 entries were narrowed down to just 18 finalists. After several regional contests, the final for this year's competition was hosted by Jay Leno and held at his massive garage, featuring some unique rides, to say the least.
Hot Wheels being Hot wheels, the winner had to be visually stunning and unique, but the eventual winner—who according to Leno was actually everybody's second choice—is of great mechanical interest as well. The Drive spoke with most car-obsessed celeb about the competition, asking a few questions about what he liked about the winning 1970 Pontiac Trans Am, and why they picked it in the first place.
He told us that the Pontiac was a car that really shined in person. Such is the case with anything builder Riley Stair puts work into, like his string of well-known custom BMWs and a certain Cummins-powered 1949 Chevy pickup. One of the less extreme-looking builds when seen in pictures, Leno told us that the quality of the build and attention to detail was outstanding. Also interesting was the way Stair solved the many issues involved with making a 1970 Trans Am front mid-engined.
If the hood was on the car, Leno said, it would've been much less impressive. The hood-off look displays the car's radical exhaust system, sprouting like hollow metallic vines from the 6.5-liter LSX V8. The headers are routed in front of the engine because of how far back it sits in the engine bay—well behind the front axle. With the motor in this position, a conventional exhaust system would've simply put the header collector right between the driver's legs.
This engineering also extends to the vehicle's suspension. The rear solid axle has been changed out with a completely custom independent setup with a quick-change differential ratio, and pushrods replace the stock suspension at every corner. The car also has adjustable Ohlins dampers, for true on-track performance. In fact, nearly every modification done to this car is visible to the naked eye without lifting a hood or taking off any body panels.
But the most impressive part that really sold the car to Leno—and the rest of the judges—was that it was built not in a professional shop, but at the home of Stair's parents. It wasn't assembled and engineered as a project to get into the limelight, either. Stair said he built the car because he wants to get younger people, like his nephew, into cars. If his nephew could see that a car he built was now a miniature Hot Wheels, it might convince him that maybe this whole auto enthusiasm thing was a hobby worth getting into.
And indeed many of the other finalists in the competition will certainly be getting young kids more excited about cars. The top 11 vehicles were very diverse, featuring everything from Porsche to Minis, and some vehicles which are unrecognizable from their original forms. A few, like the twin-turbocharged 1958 Chevrolet Apache, also have the performance to match up with the looks.
But if Leno had to live with one of the finalists every day? It would likely be the "Hulk Camino," the heavily modified Chevrolet El Camino with "I.T.W. Hot Rods" written on the side. He said it was the most Hot Wheels-looking cars of the finalists, and being extreme like that is what really defines a Hot Wheels model. It also helps that the Hulk Camino has one of the most complete and at least reasonably comfortable interiors of any of the cars presented, which Leno tends to like.
But only one of the cars will be miniaturized down to 1/64th scale, and that's the 1970 Trans Am we've been talking so much about. If you watch the live stream of the event, you can tell that all of the judges, from Leno to Snoop Dogg, were enamored with the build quality and welding perfection that went into turning a dream into reality. The builder, Stair, ever humble and not expecting to win, confirmed that no wrenches were thrown at anybody in the process of building the machine, and first and foremost thanked his parents for letting him build the car at their house. It's hard to imagine that with a story like Stair's, more young people won't get excited about cars like he is. We'll be excited to see it in stores when it finally reaches production.
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