After 50 years designing Hot Wheels cars, Larry Wood has become a legend among car enthusiasts and toy collectors alike. Since joining Mattel in 1969, Wood has designed hundreds of Hot Wheels cars and is responsible for creating some of the most unique and iconic designs, earning himself the nickname “Mr. Hot Wheels.” In 2023, Wood was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Wood’s passion for cars stretches back to his childhood. Growing up in a small town in Connecticut, he used to sit with his friends along Route 9, watching “all these beautiful ‘50s cars go by” on their way to the beach. “This is what got me excited about being a car designer,” he later recalled. After high school, Wood enrolled at the Art Center College of Design in California, hoping this training would help him pursue a career as a car designer. The program was challenging but Wood persevered, becoming one of only six students to graduate out of his class of 50.
After finishing college in 1965, Wood spent four years working as a designer at Ford and Sundberg-Ferar, designing everything from car interiors to tractors and jukeboxes. In 1969, Wood landed a job as one of the first Hot Wheels designers at Mattel. He began creating original model cars with bright colors and fantastical shapes, using his creativity to help Hot Wheels stand out from competitors who focused on making small-scale models of real American cars.
Wood initially expected that the Hot Wheels designer job would be temporary, as it was rare for any toy to stay popular for more than a few years. Due to slow sales in its early years, Hot Wheels was nearly dropped by Mattel shortly after Wood arrived. Hot Wheels remained a small department at the company for over a decade, and after others were laid off, Wood spent 15 years as the only Hot Wheels designer.
In addition to producing imaginative designs, Wood made sure his cars looked authentic. Where other toy car manufacturers gave the cars flat bottoms, Wood designed accurate engines for each of his cars. Wood’s unique designs and passion for the job ultimately helped steer Hot Wheels to success, and what he thought would be a temporary job turned into a decades-long career.
Wood spent 40 years as chief designer at Mattel. Despite retiring in 2009, he has continued to consult for Hot Wheels and design cars. He is known for creating some of Hot Wheels’ most unique and beloved cars, including the Bone Shaker, Purple Passion, ‘49 Merc, and Ramblin’ Wrecker. Today, some of Wood’s rarest designs can sell for over $100,000. In celebration of his 50th anniversary with Mattel in 2019, the brand released a modernized line of Wood’s cars with new graphics, called “Larry’s Garage.” Thanks to Wood’s contributions, Hot Wheels has become one of the most popular toy brands in the world, producing over 4 billion cars since 1968.