Longtime Matchbox and Hot Wheels designer Ryu Asada has died of cancer at 42 years old.
Asada started with Mattel in 2004 designing mostly licensed, not-too-outrageous vehicles based on real cars. Even his original Matchbox concepts were vehicles that looked like they could be miniatures of actual production cars.
In 2009 he started “guest designing” for Hot Wheels, moving over to the brand permanently in 2013 as Lead Designer. There, he unleashed a torrent of creativity. Asada’s designs ranged from customized production cars to wild caricatures, such as the Tooned series, to flat-out crazy cars based on rubber ducks, pedal cars, and food.
Some of his models were easy to spot, especially when the livery included tiny sponsor decals or bogeys. A small “RYU” logo might be mixed in with other designs, a fun detail a lot of modern designers use. Perhaps his best of such signatures was saved for the motorized taco hot rod that was released in 2021. The name “Street Taco” would have been obvious, but Hot Wheels went with “Car-de-Asada,” an even better moniker and of course incorporating his surname.
He also included tributes to friends and family when possible. His Porsche 944 model has a stethoscope in the back window, a nod to the car owned by one of the doctors who took care of him while he battled cancer.
His legacy lives on through the hundreds of thousands of models sold throughout the world and the very kind tributes pouring in from the world of diecast and real automobiles.
Update: Ryu Asada has now been inducted into the Model Car Hall of Fame. He is the 2021 Model Car Designer of the Year. We hope he would have appreciated the honor.