A race car that can withstand eight g-forces on a double-barrel loop; a dune buggy that can hit a ramp and launch into a 360-degree corkscrew flip; a Darth Vadar roadster that breathes like the Star Wars supervillain and tops out at 150 mph.
These are some of the lifesize Hot Wheels vehicles that have come out of Action Vehicle Engineering, a stunt car garage in Chatsworth.
Billy Hammon has seen business for character cars spike since he first teamed up with Mattel in 2011, when the toy company commissioned a lifesize Hot Wheels truck for a world record long jump at the Indianapolis 500.
To date, Hammon has built 15 Hot Wheels vehicles. Other Star Wars cars will likely come out in advance of the Episode VII film, but Hammon couldn’t discuss those plans.
Fancy fins and fantastical accoutrements aside, Hot Wheels cars are designed with real cars in mind, says Hot Wheels key principal designer Alton Takeyasu.
“Usually when we design a Hot Wheels car, we design it as if it were going to be built,” Takeyasu says.
Several of Hot Wheels designers come from careers as car designers at Honda and Toyota, which have U.S. headquarters in the South Bay.
In theory, all Hot Wheels cars scale 64:1. But when toy cars are used as models for real cars, tweaks do have to be made. Otherwise, a car door might end up being the size of bedroom door.
Hammon’s core business is producing stunt cars for commercials and films. He’s shot about 1,000 commericals for brands like BMW, Mercedez Benz, Disney, Taco Bell and Six Flags.
Most shoots don’t involve exploding cards or high-speed chases, but its important to have car expert like Hammon on set, in case a door or window needs to be taken off to get the right shot.
Hammon’s most challenging project yet was building a Hot Wheels car that could withstand the stress of going into an inverted loop.
The car was tested at the El Toro Marine Air Station in Orange County and broadcast live at the 2012 X Games in Los Angeles.
The challenge was creating a suspension system that could withstand the centrifugal force of a car into and out of a fully inverted loop.
He also had to minimize the distance between the front wheels and the front end of the car so that it wouldn’t drag as the car moved up the curved ramp.
Initial tests were done with a remote controlled, unmmanned version of the car, which flipped off the tracks at least once.
For Hammon, the stakes were high, because the two stunt drivers, Tanner Foust and Greg Tracy, were long time friends.
“The hardest part for me is putting my friends in cars that I build,” Hammon says.