Otto Kuhni, Illustrator For Hot Wheels Passes

otto kuhniOtto Kuhni had been doing freelance work since 1962, including some projects for Mattel that predated his involvement with the Hot Wheels line of diecast cars, which began in 1967. He had created artwork for the original blister card and many of the collector’s buttons, play sets, and accessory packages for tracks, curves, jumps, loops and double loops and more.

He illustrated many of the Hot Wheels blister card and collector set illustrations through 1995, including the popular 12, 24, 48 and 72 car collector cases.

During this time, he was also freelancing for Lockheed, McDonald Douglas, Hughes, JPL, Max Factor, J. Walter Thompson, L.M. Cox, Challenge Publications, Graphic Films, Entex, among others.

He continued working with Hot Wheels into the mid-1990s, especially when retro-inspired art was required. After that still occasionally did some art for them when only his hand would suffice. For these wildly memorable images, he was inducted into the Diecast Hall of Fame in 2012, when he received a Diecast Designers Award.




Perhaps his most famous illustration was the blue car on the original Hot Wheels blister card. It looked sleek, muscular, and sort of familiar. A little bit of Mustang, some Charger here and there, maybe some Riviera… It was every car and no particular car all at once. He blended elements of the styling from Ford, MOPAR and GM so seamlessly, you swore it was real.

otto design

However, Otto didn’t base the illustration on any one real car, nor was it based on a model. Despite being emblazoned on the cards of millions of Redlines, there was never a diecast version of the car… until 2008, that is. In honor of Hot Wheels’ 40th Anniversary, the Custom Otto, as it was called, finally came to life in 1/64 scale. It has since been released in premium level versions, such as Redline Club cars, but also one very rare variant… even  one was encrusted with Swarovski diamonds, rubies and even black diamonds on the wheels.


It celebrated the 4 billionth Hot Wheels car ever made, a fitting debut for a design that had been there all along. There was only one of this version of the Custom Otto, by the way, and there will ever only be one Otto Kuhni.

Godspeed, Mr. Kuhni, and thank you.

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