This story is all backwards, but it's quite a story... When it comes to making models of vehicles, you start with a famous or popular car, then scale it down to some small size and make it in plastic or die-cast. In this case, the concept began life in an extremely small scale--a 1/64 die-cast Hot Wheels--and then got scaled up, first to a 1/24 scale Legends, and then to a fullsize, fully-operable, real car. That sounds like a fairy story befitting a toy company like Mattel, but it's more than a fairy story...the creation of this car took more than seven years.
Let's start with the toy itself. The first Hot Wheels designer was Harry Bentley Bradley, whose penwork we know from these pages and other car magazines. Since his days designing for Chevrolet and Mattel, Harry has taught transportation design at the Art Center College of Design. The current and long-time Hot Wheels chief designer, Larry Wood, is an Art Center graduate as well as an avid street rodder and member of the Early Times car club. In between, for a short period of about a year and a half, the Hot Wheels designer was another Art Center graduate named Ira Gilford.
The first Hot Wheels were production cars like Camaros and Mustangs, with the occasional scaled-down likeness of some custom show car, such as the Red Baron. But around 1968, Ira was given the go-ahead to design his own fully custom Hot Wheels. Eventually named the Twin Mill, you'd think that's where the concept originated--with the dual engines--but Ira says that's not the case. The concept started at the back (I told you this story is all backwards). In 1968 the latest thing in tires were Wide Ovals, especially at Indy. "I wanted a big roller across the back," says Ira. Once he designed the big, wide, exposed rear wheel and tire combination, complete with a matching rolled rear pan, he realized that the rest of the body would have to be pretty wide--wide enough for two engines. So that's how the Twin Mill came to be. Ira said that his initial version had generic V-8s with 6-71 blowers and bug-catcher injector hats, not the giant scoops seen on the 1:1 version. Introduced to the Hot Wheels line in 1969, this was the first in-house designed custom Hot Wheels. To date, some 12 million have been produced. To avid Hot Wheels collectors, a mint, in-the-package original Twin Mill could go for as much as $800.
As Hot Wheels' 30th anniversary approached, someone at Mattel got the good idea to reproduce one of the little buggers in full size, and the Twin Mill was the logical, if grandiose, subject of choice. The project was shopped to Boyd Coddington of Hot Rods by Boyd (then in Stanton, CA), with Chip Foose in charge, in 1996. There, a frame of 2x6-inch .080-wall tubing was built, with twin Carrera coilovers at each corner suspending a Currie 9-inch rear and a Magnum tube front axle, each with four-bars and Wilwood disc brakes. The twin big-block engines are connected by machined steel transfer plates (built by SCS Gearbox out of Bellevue, OH) from a tractor puller, employ a 36-volt starter from a Bell Helicopter, and a single B&M Torqueflite transmission. Prototype Source of Santa Barbara shaped the body to scale in foam and then pulled molds for the urethane fiberglass body. They also molded and fabricated all window glass, headlight, and taillight assemblies.
Then, to everyone's surprise, in 1998 Boyd went bankrupt. Since proving ownership of the unregistered project could be difficult, it was spirited away in the early morning just hours before receivers arrived to cart everything off. But once at Mattel the project was dropped and neglected, left outside to rust and weather.
It wasn't until Hot Wheels' impending 35th anniversary that the project was revived and enthusiastically taken over by Hot Wheels Director of Adult Licensing, Carson Lev, and supported by a show tour agreement with Championship Auto Shows' Bob Larivee Jr. In March 1999 the neglected Big Twin Mill was shipped to Barry Lobeck's of Lobeck's V8 Shop in Cleveland, Ohio, where the hydraulic canopy and unmuffled exhaust were completed. But the majority of the final construction--including two Mooneyham 8-71-blown 502 GM Performance crate engines topped with Edelbrock carbs and the deep House of Kolor candy flame red paint aptly named Twin Mill Red--was done at Carron Industries near Dearborn.The completed Big Twin Mill debuted at the 2001 SEMA show in Las Vegas. Ira Gilford was there and, to say the least, the car made a strong impression on the crowd as announcer Dave McClelland presented it.
But what's more amazing about this giant toy is that everything works on it: headlights, taillights, sequential turn signals, and two complete sets of gauges. It starts, it stops, it turns. And when those twin 502 big-blocks roar to life with an estimated 1,400 total horsepower, the car gets everyone's attention.
And I haven't even gotten to the good part yet. Toys are made to play with, right? That's just what Carson Lev has done with the Big Twin Mill more than once. After its debut at the SEMA show, he figured he had to take it for at least one pass around the block. In doing so he passed not one, but two traffic cops. One gave him a thumbs up, while the other just gave him a "Where would I start?" sigh. Next stop was the new Las Vegas International Raceway, where Carson made a couple of laps around the track and then "banzai'd" down the dragstrip. "They wouldn't give me a time," said Lev, "Because I didn't have a rollbar and hadn't passed tech. But somebody mentioned something about 160 or 170 miles an hour." Who knows?
Next, Lev got a call to display the car at the Playboy mansion in Beverly Hills at the finale of the cross-country Gum Ball Rally. He said the hill was too steep for the roll-back truck, so he just drove the Twin Mill in--but not before taking it for another spin around the block. On Sunset Boulevard some guy in a Maserati gave him a thumbs up, Carson says. He also said Hefner loved the car.If you want to see this big toy in person, it will be one of half a dozen real cars and tons of Hot Wheels collectibles in a Hot Wheels Hall of Fame exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum beginning in April 2003. Unfortunately, that display will be static...unless you happen to be there when Carson is driving it in or out. Someone--I won't mention who--confided that, "This car does really good burnouts." I bet it does.
The Hot Wheels Twin Mills came in 12 different Spectra-Flame colors, which was a process o
Ira Gilford's design holds up pretty well after 33 years. Although it has been driven on t
New engines had to be installed after the car sat in the weather, so they chose GM Perform
This pretty much tells the story of the Twin Mill.
The speedometer has an early-Corvette look to it complete with a Hot Wheels logo and the n
The interior was a collaboration between Steve Greninger and Chip Foose, done in '60s-era
Look closely at the center cap on the five-spoke Americans and you will notice they're out
The twin big-block Chevys are connected by a pair of machined steel transfer plates from a
Circa-'95 is the Twin Mill chassis resting nicely at Hot Rod's by Boyd (then in Stanton, C