We took a trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, over Memorial Day weekend for the sixth stop on the 2019 Hot Wheels Legends Tour—a series of 18 unique car meets around the United States. The winners from each stop will be flown out to display their cars at the SEMA Show this November where judges will select one wild ride to be immortalized in 1:64 scale and sold around the world as the next Hot Wheels car.
When we arrived at the show early Saturday morning, the air smelled like gasoline and cigarettes. A line of cars waited for their moment to pose in front of the life-sized Hot Wheels blister pack and get a taste of what life would be like as a miniaturized die-cast. North Carolina’s thick, humid air was rich with the sound of American V-8s. Some had aggressive, lopey cams that clearly didn’t enjoy partial throttle. Some had whining superchargers or whistling turbos. Others were installed in massively lifted trucks with exhaust outlets above my head.
Even at 7 a.m., a line of families and showgoers stretched across the parking lot waiting for the Hot Wheels vending machine. The machine lives inside the official Legends van, a Ram ProMaster that had been driven across the country twice in the past month. (The tour was in El Segundo just a week prior.) Some ultra-fans lined up as early as 4 a.m. to lay down $20 for an especially rad limited-edition Datsun Bluebird 510 Wagon.
The Craziest Cars in Charlotte
The lineup of show entrants in Charlotte was heavily American—lots of pony cars, big ol’ trucks, and hot rods—but there were some fun Euro rides, too. Highlights include an original Harlequin Volkswagen Golf and a twin-engine Mini Pickup with a single, centered seating position, just like the McLaren F1. Although the Mini was surrounded by curious crowds throughout the day, Hot Wheels designers acting as judges told its owner that the Mini might just be too difficult to shrink down to toy-size.
Hot Wheels also brought along several cars from its corporate fleet, including a cab-forward surf cruiser called the Deora II. In addition to looking the way it does and riding on 24-inch wheels, it also has a supercharged Cadillac Northstar V-8 … in the back.
There were too many wild rides in Charlotte to talk about all of them here, but it’s safe to say we were impressed. We saw a lifted, V-8–swapped Miata, a dually Humvee rat rod, and more Dodge Challengers than we could count. Multiple cars had tiny Hot Wheels versions of themselves sitting on a rotating platform under the hood. One guy built a colossal drivable toolbox around an old Chevy S10—he’s gunning for world records for the largest and fastest diamond-plated wrench-holder. A fellow called Mousey even built a monster truck out of a two-door ’37 Chrysler that now sports four-wheel steering, 18 inches of suspension travel, driveshaft brakes, and a remote control buffalo skull mounted to the grille.
Judges for the event—including NASCAR legends, Hot Wheels designers, and former Charlotte Hornets star Muggsy Bogues—evaluated entrants based on three criteria: authenticity, creativity, and what Hot Wheels is calling garage spirit. They were looking for cars that aligned with the Hot Wheels aesthetic and performance history but still embodied the built-not-bought lifestyle. The mechanic’s choice award went to the Mini with its pair of turbocharged, nitrous-equipped Honda engines, but judges awarded top honors to a beast known by its owner as Brutally Sexy. Chad Martin designed and built the 10,000-pound dually hot rod pickup based on a dream he had 20 years ago. Its stunning proportions, 24-inch semi-truck wheels, and 750-horsepower Cummins inline-six separated Chad’s car from the crowd, and we reckon it’ll put up quite a fight at SEMA in November.
Photo credit: Mattel/Hot Wheels and Duncan Brady
Check out the Legends Tour for yourself!
- June 1—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- June 15—New York/New Jersey
- June 29—Detroit, Michigan
- July 13—Chicago, Illinois
- July 27—St Louis, Missouri
- August 3—Dallas, Texas
- August 10—Denver, Colorado
- August 24—Seattle, Washington
- September 7—Phoenix, Arizona
- September 21—San Jose, California
- October 5—San Diego, California
- October 19—Los Angeles, California