For Ralph Benítez it all started as child’s play. “My passion for cars started very early, I think guys are naturally drawn to wheels. I clearly remember my mother (a single immigrant from El Salvador) accompanying me to the local neighborhood market (she was probably 4 or 5 years old) and buying me my first toy car, a Hot Wheels Jeep CJ7. My passion for cars continued into my teens, working at my father’s auto repair shop in South Los Angeles. I started customizing my first real car, a 1965 VW Beetle. There was a little scene of Latino and black teenagers and VW Beetles in South Los Angeles customizing their cars a lot and taking night trips. Looking back, it’s amazing and I’m glad to have these memories. “
Art played an important role in his youth in the form of graffiti and tagging. “In my 20s, cars and art came together for me when I had to find a job that did not require physical effort. I had a major accident while working at the Los Angeles airport that left me unable to walk and lift heavy objects.
I got a job designing T-shirt graphics. Many were for Route 66 events in San Bernardino. From here, I went on to my first toy car company. The rest is history.
The Los Angeles-based Ralph Benítez joined the Mattel company as a graphic designer in 2003, first in the Disney editions, passing through WWE, Master of the Universe and Matchbox. Finally, he made the big leap to Hot Wheels car designs.
How many Hot Wheels toy cars have you designed?
Wow! It’s crazy to think about it. I would have to say a total of thousands! I’ve been doing this since 2003 so that would explain it. Here at Hot Wheels I’m probably in the 500-600 range so far. Any toy that I have designed that I can see hanging on the store shelf will have a huge impact on me.
Which ones have left your mark?
We made Aaron Wheelz Fotheringham’s wheelchair! He is an incredible extreme sports athlete and this one has made a sure mark on me! Another one that left a mark on me was the Boneshaker I made for Hot Wheels ID, because it captures a moment in time for me: Hot Wheels, technology, Larry Wood and his Boneshaker design and me, all these forces come together to create the perfect product!
What is your favorite?
It’s always fun working with cars in the real world. Like the DeLorean from Back to the Future, Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine and all the Batmobiles. Actually, with the Justice League Batmobile, they even let me make a graphic of my own idea. I tagged the Batmobile with The Joker graffiti and they allowed and approved.
What is the die-cast toy car design process like and how long does it take from the first stroke to completion?
It is a very varied process. From design to store shelf it can be six to nine months, depending on many factors. For me, starting and finishing a real design digitally, from start to finish, can take a week, as we normally work on several cars at the same time. If I know in advance which cars I am working on, I will start thinking about designs and go out for inspiration. Or I’ll see inspiration in culture and music.
How many countries receive your designed cars?
Most of the companies I have worked for are international so they have been sold all over the world.
Have you also redesigned existing full-scale cars? How many have you done?
Yes, many real world cars, as I mentioned before. Some others include the Ghostbusters Ectomobile, Motor Trend’s Datsun Rotsun, vehicles from the Fast & Furious movie, and many more!
What is your workday like, where do you work, how do models come about, and how many people design scale cars like you at Hot Wheels?
Before covid-19, we were all at the Mattel Design Center. This is an amazing place for all the artists, engineers, project managers and marketing people. All in one place. We work hard, we also have fun and go out from time to time together, so that’s probably what you imagine, and yes, we do play with the toys!
How many carts do you have at home?
At home I have hundreds. I like fast food carts. I made a hamburger car called Steel Buns, the Donut Drifter, and the Street Weiner, which is a hotdog car with a grill on the back.
What challenges do you have to face in Hot Wheels?
Currently, when you return to the office, there are certain things that can only be done in person.
What was it like being part of the judges to choose the winner of Hot Wheels Legends Mexico to represent our country in the final of Hot Wheels Legends, the virtual car exhibition?
For me it was an incredible experience due to my roots. I grew up in Los Angeles in Mexican and Salvadoran homes. So going to Mexico for the first time, last year, for the Hot Wheels Legends Tour felt like a kind of homecoming. And then the people there showed us so much love that it was overwhelming. It is such a beautiful place and I can’t wait to go back. So this year, for the virtual version of Legends, it was amazing to see all the builds again and to be able to go ahead and find a winner in Mexico.
LA BRACALA WILL REPRESENT MEXICO IN THE VIRTUAL FINAL
La Bracala, a 1976 Brasilia, was chosen as the car that will represent Mexico in the virtual grand finale of Hot Wheels Legends Tor 2020. Daniel Beltrán is the winning participant who registered his customized full-scale car to Hot Wheels Legends Tour Mexico 2020. La Bracala stood out among the five finalists as the favorite of the jury made up of influencers and motorsport experts: Juca, Fercho Urquiza, Franky Mostro, as well as Hot Wheels designers: Mario Godoy and Ralph Benítez, who evaluated its authenticity, creativity and garage spirit to represent our country in the grand finale, where only one will be the absolute winner who will see his car turned into a Hot Wheels cart to be sold all over the world.
Aaron Wheelz Fotheringham is a famous extreme sports athlete and Ralph Benítez designed his toy wheelchair / Photos: Courtesy of Hot Wheels
The date for the Hot Wheels Legends Tour virtual grand finale will be announced shortly, where finalists from Mexico and the rest of the world will face off to feel the adrenaline rush and excitement of seeing their custom car transform into a legendary Hot Wheels.
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