Earlier this year the world of diecast has lost a legend in Otto Kuhni. If you don’t know his name, you surely know his work. Otto was a freelance graphic designer in California in the 1960s when he got the call from Mattel… They needed an illustrator with a passion for cars, for their new brand of diecast vehicles, and well, the rest was history.
Otto was the man behind many of the bright orange hued illustrations that were emblazoned on Hot Wheels items… advertisements, carrying cases, lunch boxes, and of course the packaging itself.
It takes a talented, passionate artist to create something so simultaneously realistic yet fantastical. Otto’s illustrations blended enough correct details of the model cars with the slightly exaggerated and distorted fantasy of speed and motion it could attain as it zipped down orange track through kids’ imaginations.
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.
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.
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… this 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.
There was only one Otto Kuhni, too.