Detroit General Motors Corp. designer Amaury Diaz Serrano still remembers the day in 1968 when his father bought him his first Hot Wheels car - a blue Camaro - at a Sears in his native Puerto Rico.
So imagine Diaz Serrano's thrill when Hot Wheels announced a competition for auto company designers to come up with a new series of the miniature cars.
"The chances of designing a Hot Wheel are like going to the moon," Diaz Serrano said.
Diaz Serrano's Hot Wheels design, a sky blue race car called the "Chevroletor," is among the seven winners in the Designer's Challenge series that will be hitting stores between now and June.
Designers from Chrysler LLC, Honda Motor Co., Ford Motor Co., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Lotus Cars and El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel Inc.'s own Hot Wheels design studio also contributed winning designs.
Hot Wheels design director Alec Tam said Hot Wheels designers have long copied real cars, such as the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, for their 1:64 scale die-cast models. But this year, the 40th anniversary of Hot Wheels, marked the first time non-Hot Wheels designers were invited to participate.
Tam said he was thrilled with what automotive designers came up with when they didn't have to think about practicalities like roadworthiness and air bags.
"They took some chances on design and did things they are unable to do in their day jobs," he said. "Hot Wheels is one of the few places where a car designer can not only be a kid but can really realize the vision of their design."
Tam said each car had to capture the Hot Wheels core values - speed, power, performance and attitude - as well as reflecting the distinctive look of each automaker. Each car also had to be able to perform a loop on a Hot Wheels orange track.
Each automaker chose three top designs, and the winners were chosen by a jury that included Hot Wheels executives and designers as well as editors from the Los Angeles Times, Men's Journal and Car and Driver.
The winning cars will sell for just under $3 in the first year and about $1 in subsequent years and will be made for as long as they're selling, Tam said.
Tam said most Hot Wheels cars sell for about $1, but the designer series has special paint and tires. Fans probably won't mind the inflated price; one of the cars, a Dodge XP-07, is already selling for $6.99 on eBay.
Diaz Serrano said he based his car's lines on the short-lived 1957 Corvette SS race car and its exaggerated proportions from race cars of the 1930s. The blue color matches the original car, he said, and the "40" on the side refers to Hot Wheels' anniversary.
The 48-year-old designer said it took him five weeks to build a cardboard prototype, which beat out 120 other entries from GM designers. He is grateful GM changed long-standing policy and allowed him to use his "Chevroletor" name instead of Chevrolet.
These days, he's back to work at his day job, but even that is one that would make most Hot Wheels enthusiasts swoon. Diaz Serrano is putting the finishing touches on the new Chevrolet Camaro, which is due out next year.
"I've been doing fan cars at work and fan cars for toy companies, so I have no complaints," he said. "I get paid to play."