This Enthusiast Is Making the Toy Cars Hot Wheels Won’t, From Scratch

Turns out crafting tiny scale models and RC cars of beloved vehicles from history and video games takes plenty of trial and error.
Courtesy Leander Shaffer

These days, Hot Wheels goes for some pretty deep cuts in terms of the vehicles it chooses to immortalize in diecast form. For example, if you told me when I was a kid that Mattel would do up the Nissan Silhouette Skyline I’d known from Gran Turismo 2 and I’d be able to buy it in Target across from the Batman action figures in about 20 years, I’d have thought you lost it. But even then, there are some cars, real or fictional, that will never get that treatment. That’s why Leander Shaffer’s efforts to create the toy cars that companies can’t or won’t is so damn cool.

By day, Shaffer’s an engineer for a company that develops playground equipment. When he’s got free time though, he’s churning out small cars by the dozens—every make and model you can dream of, as proven on his Twitter page. The Honda CR-X Del Sol LM Edition from the first two Gran Turismo games. The Volkswagen Phaeton. The knockoff sixth-gen Civic Si from PlayStation 2-era classic Midnight Club II. Even the Tom’s Angel T01, a nearly Autozam-sized concept from the mid-’90s that was supposed to tease a production sports car from the Toyota-affiliated racing team and tuning company.

What’s more, they look good. If you handed me a 3D printer and showed me around modeling software Blender, this is the kind of stuff I’d want to make, but my attempt would probably resemble my clay projects in sixth-grade art class. I write for a living, so you can guess how those turned out.

The custom Hot Wheels are actually a “super recent thing” in Shaffer’s words. For the better part of six years, he’s been crafting custom car bodies for XMods, a defunct brand of remote-controlled cars that were sold through RadioShack in the 2000s. That eventually turned into 1/64-scale models as well as Choro-Q-inspired replicas, in the style of Tomica’s line of cartoonishly-proportioned pullback cars.

“Normally I like to make [a car] into the XMod first because as you know, a Hot Wheels car doesn’t exactly have one-by-one-by-one scale ratio on all quarters,” Shaffer said. “They’re generally from what I found mainly wider and a little taller than what their OEM [equivalent] would actually be. Cause if they were like, proper scale and length, they would be boats.”

When Shaffer creates a Hot Wheels car, he makes everything from scratch. “I have a Hot Wheels template made up in Blender, so the template involves the alignment pins, a chassis which has the axle slots in it, and you just change that by length and print it in a rather dense material and there’s the weight that it generates.”

He’s also learned a lot, particularly about Blender, since he began. “Sadly, it’s only made making cars get slower and slower because I pay more attention to detail. Not a bad thing, but boy do I miss when I could do a whole car in 90 minutes.

“The joke I normally run is that I don’t know Blender, I just know cars. I didn’t texture anything, I didn’t do anything—I made car, I hit ‘subdivide,’ I hit ‘print,'” Shaffer said of his process in the early days. “But that ruined a lot of car models that I had, because some of them were so gunked up. You can see creases from too much data in one spot, because I didn’t know how to add a crease to purposefully make something sharp.”

The Citi Turbo in various forms. Courtesy Leander Shaffer

Two personal creations Shaffer’s particularly proud of are his replicas of the Citi Turbo and Saikou XS, a pair of cars from Midnight Club II. These cars are spitting images of the aforementioned Civic Si and A80 Toyota Supra with an Abflug body kit, respectively. But modeling them for the real world, even for a 1/64-scale result, is a lot more complicated than lifting the digital assets from the game files and importing them to Blender.

“A normal video game model, even a decent high-quality game model now, they’re only going to [comprise] like 500 to 5,000 triangles,” Shaffer said. “The models that I make, when I export them, they’re roughly 20 [megabytes], so they come out to 200,000 triangles. So when they’re all printed, you don’t see any of the triangles, or rarely see triangles in it.”

Shaffer has made hundreds of cars for himself, but he’s also started taking commissions. At the time I spoke to him in early March, he hadn’t shipped out any orders yet—for good reason.

“This is because A) it’s winter, so trying to paint’s a little difficult. B) I like to paint in batches, so I actually have all the cars on their color coat done, but I do not have any clear coat done. And this is because I actually have like a 2K auto setup with the full gun and compressor. So trying to set that up for one single Hot Wheels and then clean it is unsustainable. Normally like 16 cars at a time is my happy spot, and that I think is how many commissions I got.”

The results speak for themselves, though. Some of Shaffer’s recreations of real cars look more authentic or detailed than Mattel’s. They’re also obviously made of resin. “It’s going to be brittle,” Shaffer said, which is especially an issue for the bodies made for RC cars that inevitably go through all sorts of abuse. Still, sacrificing a little durability to have a facsimile of your favorite car on your shelf—a car that wouldn’t exist on your shelf, otherwise—is a tradeoff well worth it, in my book. I’m thinking about putting in a request for a Renault Espace F1 as I write this. And I imagine Shaffer would probably appreciate that, and not just because it was also a Gran Turismo 2 star. At the end of the day, he just wants excuses to make more cars.

“[The commissions] are a little bit of a selfish scheme, actually,” Shaffer said. “Someone orders a car—let’s say a Honda Beat. That was one of my first ones. So, I’m commissioned to make a Honda Beat. I make the Honda Beat for the customer—but then I made one for myself. So I got an unpainted Honda Beat XMod body sitting here ready to be painted, and the customer gets their Honda Beat Hot Wheels car.” Everyone’s happy, indeed.

Got tips? Send ’em to