Life Size S1E4 Script

Bare Metal and Big Power: The Custom '67 Firebird (2020)

(energetic music)

(engine revving)


(engine revving)

We all imagined building our own custom cars when we were kids, out-of-this-world designs with crazy paint jobs and crazier engines.

But for most of us, we never got that car to the asphalt track, much less the orange track.

(Upbeat music)

(car accelerating)

There are over 20 cars in the Hot Wheels Garage of Legends, and most of them started as die-cast cars before being built into full-size drivable ones.

But on this episode of Life Size, we've got a car that was first built in the garage and then in the toy studio.

So I traveled to Long Beach to meet up with Brendon Vetuskey, veteran Hot Wheels designer, and the man behind the Custom Firebird.

This is actually my personal car.

It's not a Mattel owned car, but it's one that I bought back in 2009 and I tore it apart in 2010, took about five and a half years to recreate it into what you see here.

And then a couple years after that, I was able to make it into a 1:64 scale Hot Wheels car.

Ooh, so you designed this car first, and then came the Hot Wheels design?

That is correct.

I was very lucky to be able to do that.

You know, a lot of things that make this car unique, I've got a lot of subtle custom exterior design touches hence, the name Custom '67 Firebird.

So whereas, a stock one, like the bumpers sit out far from the body.

They're almost floating on there.

I've tucked this in nice and tight.

The wheel openings I've actually enlarged them by trimming away the inner lip of the fenders and then mini-tubbing it front and rear so that these are 275 tires in the front but I can turn 'em lock to lock and go through the suspension travel without them rubbing on the body.

And then I have 335's in the back and there's plenty of room back there for more.

So, I had a '67 Firebird and mine was total drag car.

Obviously, what you're explaining to me this is not intended to be a drag car.

You built it for speed on a different track.


My goal was to make a car that could handle, like turn corners, open track day, stuff like that.

So, I used things like Detroit Speed and engineering suspension, late model brakes, transmission T-56, 12-bolt rear, 6-point cage, everything's all tied in.

This car handles.

Just like a Hot Wheels car, it'll zip around the track.

1:64 or a 1:1 scale.

I'm noticing too like these vents.

Yes, I did widen the car actually.

When I re-did the quarter panels, I actually widened them in the back just enough to fit the '69 Trans Am spoiler cause normally these cars are a little bit narrower in the back, but I just brought it out a little bit.

I actually frenched the tail panel just for a custom subtle look to it.

Not subtle.

You keep, subtle is not the word.

Most people, they walk by, they wouldn't realize it, but you own a 67 Firebird yourself so you can realize those differences.

So is this the bare metal?

It's clear paint over this so yeah, basically it is the bare metal.

This was a result of me being impatient, really.

I wanted to drive this car.

I was four years into the build and I was just to the point like--

[Nicole] Clever. I can drive this thing.

It's been in the garage way too long so instead of putting it in paint shop purgatory I decided I'm just going to put some clear paint on it and then I'll deal with it later.

Well, it's like five years later and it's kind of a thing.

Making the Hot Wheels car replica of it, we made it in bare metal, we call it Zamac, just for the actual alloy metal that the die-cast cars are made from.

It reminds me almost like of a fired bullet basically, cause it's got grooves and ridges and yet it still, has that presence about it.

You can really see the work.

You can see all the weld lines, good, bad, or indifferent.

You can see where everything was put together, kind of like a Frankenstein, if you will, but hopefully a little nicer looking in the end.

I just happened to have a Hot Wheels model car.

[Nicole] Nice!

So you can see it for comparison.

Now I see a ton of similarities, but I do see some differences.

I definitely don't see a hood on here.

(laughs) Yes.

I see one on here.

[Brendon] Yes.

The first time I was driving this car, I was getting the bugs out.

I just didn't have a hood on it.

So I was driving it around like that for a good six months or so.

So Hot Wheels saw it without the hood first?


The management saw it and they're like, "Wow, that looks really unique

"and different."

Most people run a hood.

I was running around without a hood for a while and every now and again, I'll take it back off just for fun, but right now I happen to have it on there.

Can we see what's under the hood?

Yes we can.

Let's take a look.

(car hood pops)

This is my engine.

It's a '01 LS1 Engine.

It's a 383 Stroker.

So it's got ported 243 heads.

They were from the LS6 Corvette and this engine actually came out of an '01 Trans Am.

So it is a Pontiac engine still in a Pontiac.

I painted it Pontiac blue like it would've been in the 60s just to kind of--

All the blocks were painted that color.

Mine was too originally.

Yup, yup.

553 at the crank, 442 at the wheels.

What's funny, I mean a lot of people do LS swaps.

I know it's a popular thing to the point of people are bored of it and sick of it.

They're like, "Ugh, another LS swap", but it's funny cause even with the Hot Wheels, like having this exposed LS engine in here, people buy this casting just to cut that out and put it in their own Hot Wheels car to make a custom LS swap.

I've seen it, like they'll put 'em in the JDM cars, they'll put 'em in anything, everything.

So you've created a monster.

(laughs) Yeah!

With people taking the engine out and seriously putting it in their own--

[Brendon] It's a sacrificial Firebird just for that little piece of plastic in there.

So what came first, the designer in you or the builder in you?

That's like the chicken or the egg, but I honestly think it's both.

I mean I was drawing cars when I was four or five years old at a very young age playing with Legos, building model kits, taking apart my toys, taking apart my bikes, so I was doing both, really.

I think they just both kind of helped each other.

I was always very mechanical with designs that I would work on trying to make sure that they could be realistic or like, work or what mechanism does it take and stuff like that.

I would always think about those details.

So you had an engineering mind, basically.


Even with my Hot Wheels cars as a kid, I would get out the Sharpie markers, the testers paints.

Like when I was five or six years old, I can honestly remember my parents' touch-up paint for their '71 Ford Pinto.

It was this blue color and it came with a little brush on the end of it and I would paint.

It was like a Dixie Challenger car and I just made the whole thing blue or stuff like that. the silver model paint on the Poison Pintos.

Sometimes I would get more destructive.

I'd hacksaw the roof off of a car.

So I was always tinkering with things and modifying them.

You weren't afraid to modify and kind of create your vision even at that young age.

Not at all.

Very cool.

So this car is so unique.

What's the best compliment you've ever received?

There's a father and son who are building a Dodge Challenger, a early 70s one, and they made their car like this.

They sanded it in bare metal and put clear paint over it.

It's one thing to say, "Hey, that looks cool", but when you actually see someone else build their own car in a similar fashion just because of something you did, I think that's the best compliment that I've received so far.

That's definitely one heck of a compliment.

But looking good is not what this car is built for.

It's time to get it to the track.

(upbeat guitar music)

(car engine revs)

(car revving)

Oh, okay!

(tires screeching)

I'm feelin' it, I'm feelin' it!

(tires screeching)

(car revs loudly)


This car likes to do this!

I don't think GM ever intended this when they built these cars.

I don't think so.

(car engine revs loudly)

(tires screeching)


Whoa! (laughs)


(car revving loudly)

(tires screeching)

(car revs)

Little spin out never hurt nobody.


(car revving)

And that's the beauty of this paint job.

I don't have to worry about the stone chips.

[Nicole] No!

(car engine revving)

(upbeat rock music)

(tires screeching)


(car revs)


All right Brendon.

You just totally scared me, but it was so much fun.

In a good way, I hope.

In a good way.

That was awesome, but it's time to show Brendon how I race and I figured, why not make things a little more interesting.

(suspenseful music)

[radio] On the way to you.

Okay, the armidor guy is actually ill.

(wheels spinning)

(suspenseful music)

(car engine revs)

(car revving)

(car revving)

(car revving)

(car revving)

(car revving)

(car revving)

(victorious electronic music)

All right!

Classic Firebird!

We got us a 90-second car, baby!

I don't think that model car can keep up with this life-sized version right here.

The model version of the Custom Firebird might not be as fast as it's life-sized counterpart, but that doesn't mean it's any less fun.

So take a moment, the next time you're doodling a cool car or renting away on a project, because who knows, some day, you might be racing against it.

(victorious electronic music)

On this episode of Life Size, we're going back home.

If you're home had a Custom '67--


Try it again.

I got it.


Let's do it.


(finger snapping)


(finger snaps)

Got to shake it out.

(finger snaps)



Are they talking with us?

I don't know.

I can't hear them (laughs).

Okay, I just hear something.

_ I hear something, but I don't know what it is.