Bare-Knuckle Brawler | Hot Wheels '67 Pontiac Firebird Custom | Inspection Room

Some of us want something we can call our own. A special edition, created the way we want it, with personal touches that set it apart from the rest. This end can be achieved by two means: providing a laundry list and telling another person to make it (like a commission or optional specifications), or doing it yourself.

[Originally published on Kinja 21 March, 2018 at 11:59PM . As part of a massive week-long initiative to bring my most significant LaLD posts to Drivetribe in the wake of Kinja's demise, I present my greatest hits: every feature and review I've written that's worth reading about, revised for more discerning audiences.]

What you are about to see is a result of the latter method; a model that is nothing less than a love letter to a beloved automobile, and a shining example of just how far Hot Wheels has come, and what it can truly be.

For LaLD Car Week 2018, I present to you, for your consideration, a replica of Brendon Vetuskey’s own custom Firebird.


I wouldn’t recount the build history of the real car and the toy—this piece from is enough—so it’s best to focus on the casting itself. And out of the card its presence is immediately felt.

This Firebird is Mjolnir in toy form. Set down against the desk, it is raring to go, the rear wheels acting as a fulcrum upon which the rest of the car will swing up on at launch. The front end exudes firm and strong iron will. The profile is aggressive, yet simple, straightforward. Not one quarter was given in the re-imagining of this car; indeed, there was no compromise.


What reels you in at first glance is the unpainted, polished metal that accounts for the body. This accomplishes two things: it helps expose every line and shape the car has, and, amazingly, imparts a unique swagger, a confidence akin to that of a muscleman with only his boxers on.

Naked, save for an empty black dot, the Firebird calls attention to itself even while standing still, its bare motor rippling like a finely-toned core. Initially this seems paltry, but the body itself does so much with so little. With no flames or any other livery distracting the eye, the casting has nothing to hide. Or rather, the casting is prouder in showing its true colors.

The ZAMAC finish, like I said, is the hook, but the exposed engine bay is the centerpiece, and a symbol of excellence that is unique to the casting, radiating to every other detail from bumper to bumper. You look at the front end as a single unit, from the edge of the chin, to the grille, to the hood-free powerplant.

Tilting the model as if turning in to a corner, you are greeted to a simple yet effective silhouette. It’s brutal, but restrained; assertive, but also humble, like a counter-puncher with nigh-immeasurable striking power. The rear three-quarter view shows a thoroughbred stallion, honed by miles of hard, disciplined running, its calves and thighs ready and willing to make the oversized wheels and wide tires put down well over 500 horsepower on Hot Wheels’ signature plastic tarmac. Inside, it is sparse, equipped with the barest essentials, and made such that every rumble and note from the engine is heard.

Now, such imagery might be reserved just for the real thing, but the toy is effective in creating these pictures into the mind. The imagination is engaged, and scenes of drag-strip challenges, highway pulls and canyon runs are conjured up. This is the mark of a truly great model car.


To me, Mr. Vetuskey’s Firebird is one of the best Mainline models of this decade, which is high praise considering the plethora of spectacular and brilliant castings that have come out since 2010. This is a craftsman’s work, one for himself, but that is willing to share to the world. It’s the best way to give the public a glimpse into the life and sensibilities of an artist without exposing too much; a way to show the most without telling anything more. Few models get to be a medium of expression for this kind of statement. You're looking at one of Hot Wheels' best.



This time I wrote the prose first, so that I won’t make the same mistake of rushing to get the feature out before the day is done. Still, the actual photography took the greater part of mid-morning, and even then this doesn’t leave much room for post-processing., if you even call it that.

I do hope you enjoyed this new addition to Inspection Room, which I now think I can turn into a longer-term thing.

Good night!

+ Faithful recreation, ZAMAC rawness, engine detail

- No bonnet or lamp details


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Comments (2)
  • Wasn’t looking for this one but I stumbled into it at the market and it cast its spell. It really does stand out in the best way.

    8 days ago
  • I have this casting. I too am a fan of the zamac finish and the exposed engine bay ( with LS swap goodness )

    9 days ago


I​s this slot car track the best way to spend $20,000?
Performance is Our Business: 1966 Ford GT40 MkII by Shelby Collectibles