By Jan Wagner
Recently I interviewed Bryan Benedict, the designer of the new, life-sized (1:1) Darth Vader Hot Wheels car at San Diego Comic-Con (for AutoMatters+ #344). While there, we made arrangements for me to drive up to Mattel to take a closer look at that car and also to see more of the 1:1 scale Hot Wheels show cars – all of which are functional. This time we’ll take a closer look at TWIN MILL.
When I arrived at Mattel for my guided tour by Felix Holst (Vice President, Wheels Design), TWIN MILL was on display in the lobby. Billy Hammons of PCW Brands – the builder of the Darth Vader car, was there, so I asked him how TWIN MILL’s two motors work. He told me that they are linked into one transmission. Their starter is from a helicopter so, when they fire up, the sound is that familiar, high-pitched helicopter whine.
Felix told me about TWIN MILL’s special place in Hot Wheels history. Conceived in 1968 by Ira Gilford, it was one of the original 1:64
scale red line cars. These had red line tires, as well as special super-fast axles and wheels. These features are what the Hot Wheels brand was founded on.
TWIN MILL’s beautiful, sleek body was absolutely cutting edge in terms of show car design, but with its twin blown big blocks coming out of the hood, it went above and beyond most everything that anybody was doing at the time.
In 1998, to commemorate Hot Wheels 30
anniversary, the decision was made to build a life-sized TWIN MILL. Boyd Coddington and Chip Foose each played a part in that build, using available technology. The life-sized car was unveiled in 2001 at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
The engines were full-race, blown big blocks. The thinking was if it’s going to be a Hot Wheels car, it’s not enough to have one full-race, blown big block engine; it’s got to have two.
The off-the-shelf brakes presented a challenge to TWIN MILL’s drivers, as did the steering rack’s poor turning radius. Felix, who drove TWIN MILL at this stage of its development, said that there was so much torque from the engines that you had to use both feet on the brake pedal to hold the car still. There was so much power (upwards of 1400 horsepower) that it had a tractor-pull transmission in it to mate the two engines. A fully functional monster, it was a real handful to drive.
A few years ago TWIN MILL was damaged in transit, so it was decided that instead of just making repairs, they would fix the car’s shortcomings. Detuned, brand new, supercharged Chevrolet crate engines were installed, along with much bigger brakes, better cooling (to address the overheating issue) and a steering rack that gives the car a tighter turning radius. While TWIN MILL is not street legal, it is streetable. With a little practice you could get in, fire it up and drive it around.
Since the life-sized cars exist to help generate enthusiasm for the smaller ones that people can actually collect and/or play with, I asked Felix about the favorite Hot Wheels cars that I have in my collection. These three 1:24
scale, battery-operated, die-cast metal Hot Wheels cars make up the “Legends To Life” series: TWIN MILL (from 1998), Kyle Petty’s Pontiac NASCAR race car and Don Prudhomme’s “the Snake” funny car.
In each one a dedicated tape and player installed in the base synchronizes a descriptive voice-over and music sound track, engine sound effects, various electrically moving parts, lights and so forth – and yet at rest they look just like any other highly detailed, 1:24
scale, Hot Wheels diecast car.
Felix told me that this is one of his favorite products that they ever made, explaining these had the best technology that they could put into a Hot Wheels item. Consequently they were very expensive and really for the true collector. Not many were made and Mattel put more into them than they got out of them. As Felix said, if you’ve got a good one, hold on to it. He really wishes that he had one, half joking that I’d better be careful with mine, since he knows where I keep them!
To see 1:1 Hot Wheels being driven, check out the Hot Wheels Test Facility’s stunt driving videos at www.hotwheels.com. Click on VIDEOS and then STUNTS.
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Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner –