Tutorial: Converting Hot Wheels for Gaslands

Gaslands is a post apocalyptic vehicular combat game from Osprey that uses Hot Wheel and Matchbox scale cars. These are all produced by Mattel, and they are everywhere. You probably had a bunch as a kid because they’ve been sold for 50 years, and if you have kids there’s probably a bunch in your home right now. They’re colourful, sturdy and come in a wide range of vehicle types, both licensed cars from real manufacturers like GM, Chevrolet etc. and fantastic creations from the Hot Wheels design studio. There’s buggies, cars, hot rods, muscle cars, vans, trucks and rigs as well as a few planes and helicopters. Hot Wheels tend to be more brightly coloured, and Matchbox tend to be more realistic, including a nice range of military vehicles like Humvees.

This is a quick tutorial about the steps I go through to convert a humble $3NZD Hot Wheel car into a Gaslands nitro-boosted war machine.

What You’ll Need

Here’s a list of what you’ll need for the tutorial:

– Cars! I’m using a Hot Wheels Gas Monkey for this tutorial. Get a bunch from your kids room, or the local toy shop or Warehouse.
– Bitz, lots of Bitz!
– A sharp hobby knife, and maybe a ruler.
– A pin vice and a small drill bit for detailing.
Evergreen plastic sheet and rod. 0.5mm sheet and 1mm rod is pretty handy.
– Some kind of mesh to cover the windows. Tea strainer metal mesh, fine netting, and leftover 3D printed ‘rafts’ all work well.
– Superglue.
– Primer, and hobby paints. I use Army Painter primer, and Citadel and Vallejo paints.

Here’s some optional stuff. Why these are optional is covered below:

– A Dremel or power drill and a 3mm drill bit.
– Two part epoxy.
– Household Paint Stripper (the nasty strong stuff).
– Household Bleach.
– An old toothbrush, and an old terrain brush.
– Gloves and eye protection (since we might be working with paint stripper and bleach).

Lots of Bitz?!

Cars and bitz are the most important ingredients. Raid your bitz box, and general hobby collection for parts. You’re looking for anything that might make a decent weapon or piece of armor. Here’s some examples of cars I’ve converted for Gaslands already.

The two middle cars are covered with Games Workshop 40k parts – all from the Astra Militarum (aka Imperial Guard) range because that’s what I happen to own. The flamethrower parts are obvious, and the red car has cut down Lasguns on the hood, Cadian mortar rounds on the back (as rockets), and GW WHFB shield skulls stuck on the rear wheels. It also has metal tea-strainer windows. Tau rocket pods and other weapons are very handy, and Ork shootas are great too if you have them.

The left and right cars have weapons lifted from a variety of 1:35th scale Tamiya and Italieri WW2 kits. German WW2 machine guns in 1:35th scale make nice weapons if you just cut them down to the barrels. That’s what the orange car has on the hood. The orange car’s window mesh is also left over 3D printed ‘raft’ material cut down. The green car has some kind of recoil-less rifle or bazooka jammed through the body. The rams, the windows, and body armor are all constructed from strips of cut up and painted plasti-card. The ‘rivet’ holes were drilled into the plastic with a pin vice.

Bitz can also come from Hot Wheels themselves! These toys are so cheap, you can always cannibalise a few for their parts alone. Popular parts to strip from other Hot Wheels are larger wheels, as a simple ‘wheel swap’ can give a car a different or more raised look. Many Hot Wheels also have exposed plastic or metal engine parts that can be re-used for scratch building.

If you’re looking fantastic inspiration it’s worth joining the official Gaslands Facebook group as people regularly post incredible vehicles on there, and share all sorts of tips regarding converting for Gaslands. The Gaslands website also has a ‘friends of Gaslands’ list of manufacturers you can buy resin parts for your cars from. You’ll see some of these below.

Step 1: Explode the Hot Wheel (Optional)

Let’s get started! This first step is entirely optional, but depends on a few choices you’ll have to make:

Q: Do you want to strip the Hot Wheel body back to bare metal?

Folks do this is because the Hot Wheels factory paint jobs tend to be pretty thick and can hide some of the molded detail on the bodies. Repainting a stripped car with finer, thinner hobby paints will leave those details showing. Stripping back to metal also gives you a better bond when super-gluing parts and armor onto the car. However, to strip back to metal you will have to take the car apart.

Another option is simply to lightly sand the original paint job to give the surface some ‘tooth’ and paint directly over it. Some folks simply retain the original paint job and weather it lightly with enamel washes. Overpainting saves you the hassle of exploding the car into parts.

Q: Do you want to armor the windows, and possibly remove some of the interior parts?

You can take the car apart to get inside the car and add details in the body or window spaces. You can armor over the normal Hot Wheels plastic windscreens, or simply repaint them for a cleaner look. It’s your choice.

Q: Do you want to change or freeze the wheels?

As we’re using Hot Wheels for a war game, we don’t want them rolling around the tabletop. A quick solution to this is simply to stick a blob of Blu Tack on the bottom of the car. A more permanent solution is to use super glue or two-part epoxy to ‘freeze’ the wheels in place, which is easier to do with the car in parts. Also if you want to do any wheel swaps you’ll have to take the chassis out to free the car’s axles.

If you’re now tempted to explode your Hot Wheel car for any of the above reasons, you’ll need a 5mm drill bit and either a Dremel or standard power drill and some eye protection as you’ll be making metal dust and chips. Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars are held together with one or two rivets you can see if you flip the car over. If the car body is metal, these rivets will be metal too. If the car body is plastic, they’ll be plastic (and the chassis will probably be metal).

These rivets can be carefully drilled out to let the car fall into several pieces. This is a bit of a dark art amongst Hot Wheels converters, both for Gaslands and in general. Googling ‘How to drill out Hot Wheels’ will get you plenty of videos showing how this is done.

You can see in the photo above I’ve spent five minutes and drilled out the rivets, to explode the car into the typical parts you’ll find in a Hot Wheel: the diecast Zamak metal body, plastic windscreen, plastic chromed interior, and the plastic chassis that hold the axles and wheels. It’s funny but some Hot Wheels contain interesting little interior details you’ll only see if you explode them like this.

Step 2: Strip It (Optional)

Once you’ve exploded the Hot Wheel you might as well strip the paint off the metal body. For this I use strong rubber gloves, and some horribly caustic household paint stripper (the “Diggers” tin shown above) from Bunnings. This stuff is dangerous so both gloves and eye protection are recommended. It will give you painful chemical burns very quickly if you get it on your naked skin (trust me on this).

Out in my garage, I hold the metal body with a pair of hobby pliers and paint the paint stripper on with an old wide terrain brush. After a few minutes, the paint job will bubble visibly and can be scrubbed off carefully with the same brush. Once most of the paint is removed or loose, I dump it into a container of warm water and detergent to neutralise the paint stripper, and carefully scrub it clean with an old toothbrush. Any remaining paint can usually be chipped off with a hobby knife if it’s trapped in cracks and fine details like grills.

The plastic chrome parts of a Hot Wheel can be stripped very easily with undiluted, household bleach. Just drop the chromed part into enough bleach to cover it and wait several minutes. The bleach will dissolve the chrome effect and reveal the black or white plastic underneath.

The photo above shows the exploded, stripped Hot Wheel put back together. Looks nice and shiny, doesn’t it? Notice how stripping the paint makes some of the detail clearer. In particular the rear gas cap is visible again, as well as some of the fine detailing on the bonnet.

Step 3: Swap or Freeze the Wheels (Optional)

As mentioned above, once you’ve exploded the car it’s easy to freeze or swap the original wheels out. If the chassis is plastic you simply have to cut a few of the teeth holding the axle in to get it out. A metal chassis is a little harder to work with, but the same principle applies.

Warning: the axles of Hot Wheel cars are made from some very strong metal. They’re a challenge to cut through with pliers and tend to fly off at dangerous angles when they are cut. Be careful if you’re trying to take the wheels off the axles for whatever reason.

If you’re just freezing the wheels, drops of super glue on the exposed axles and the wheel hubs should work. I tend to throw a blob of two-part epoxy in there myself just to guarantee nothing is going to move, but that can look ugly underneath because it tends to run while setting.

Step 4: Applying your Bitz

Right, this is where the real fun begins! The car is now ready for you to get creative with. Take your bitz and start applying them. I usually start with weapons for a Gaslands build, because if you’ve got the rules you’re probably building a list with a certain loadout for the car. I super glue all the parts and armor to the car, to get a really strong and fast bond.

Once the weapons are in place I’ll start adding things like rams, body armor, and other little details. For example here’s another Gas Monkey I’ve already exploded and built up again. From the bottom up the changes I made are:

– Original rear wheels are now the front wheels, and the rear wheels have been replaced with resin cast drag tires. These are from a reseller called Ken Overby, you’ll find him in the Gaslands Facebook Group.

– A simple ram has been added using trimmed down parts from an old, OOP Imperial Guard Chimera dozer blade that has been in my bitz box for about 15 years.

– The original exhaust pipes have been cut away and replaced with slightly longer pipes built from 1mm plastic rod superglued together. The pipes were drilled out with a pin vice too.

– The original engine stack has been hacked away with a hobby saw (and added to the bitz box), to be replaced with another, slightly more detailed resin cast part with an interesting air filter, again from Ken Overby.

– A 3D printed heavy machine gun has been glued to the bonnet, and an ammo feed created using a small piece of cut and bent plastic zip tie.

– The original windscreen has stayed, but the side windows have been ‘armored’ with a cut-down, leftover 3D printed ‘raft’. Metal tea strainer mesh or fine cloth netting would work just as well here. I just happen to own a 3D printer that produces an endless supply of this material.

– Another 3D printed fuel tank has been glued to the rear of the car, covering the back window which was first blanked off with a small piece of plasti-card.

Your imagination and your supply of bitz are really your only limitations. Feel free to indulge any crazy Mad Max, Deathrace, Carmageddon inspired insanity you can dream up. Experiment! You can build a team of unique cars, and then tie them together with a simple matching paint job.

Remember the worst that can happen is you might have glued too much stuff onto a $3 Hot Wheel car. This is one of the reasons I think Gaslands is such a popular game, the money you have to spend to get into the game is only the cost of a couple of cups of coffee or a takeaway burger. It probably helps that the game is great fun too!

Step 5: Painting

Once I’m happy with the car I’m working on, I give it a scrub in detergent and warm water to get rid of any finger grease from handling it, then let it dry before priming it with a spray primer. I’ve used Army Painter ‘Desert Yellow’ coloured primer on this car. I just prefer coloured primer to give me something less stark than black or white to paint over.

I paint the parts separately, and as you can see above I’ve Blu Tacked them down to old drink bottle lids for handling. Cheap but effective recycling! Once I’ve painted the parts to my satisfaction I’ll put them back together and varnish the finished vehicle. In the photos below I’ve also put the car back together to show the paint job.

As I’ve drilled out the rivets and exploded the vehicle to convert and paint it, I also flip over the car and apply a couple of drops of two-part epoxy back into the drilled out rivet holes to hold it all together.

Here are the steps I’ve taken this Hot Wheel through while painting. It’s not intended to be a strict painting guide, as everybody has their own style. Although hopefully it might encourage you to experiment with Hot Wheel paint jobs.

Step 5: Painting – Base Coat

Here’s the car parts after priming and base coating. This car is going to be an experiment with some new AK Interactive Rust Effects enamel paints I bought recently, so I’m trying to paint a weathered ‘beater’ look.

Muted earth tones were used for the body (and the air filter): Vallejo Game Colour 72.043: Beasty Brown. Vallejo 70.863: Gunmetal Grey was used on all the metallic parts straight out of the bottle, and then mixed 50/50 with 70995: German Grey for the undercarriage and ram. Windscreen, tires, and engine pulley belt were painted with an 80/20 mix of Vallejo: 72.045: Charred Brown and 72.051: Black. I don’t like to paint straight black on the tires because it looks too dark to my eyes. Finally, the extra range fuel tank and window netting were painted with Vallejo 301: Light Rust. That’s a mix of Vallejo’s Game Colour, Model Colour, and Panzer Aces colour codes on the car.

Step 5: Painting – Sponge Chips and Ink Washing

Once the base coat was dry I started adding the first layer of detail. I generally try to paint in layers and aim for speed more than a super fancy paint job. A ripped up piece of sponge (a pull foam finger from a Battlefoam vehicle tray) was dabbed in Army Painter: Filthy Cape (a light green/grey) and applied carefully to the body. Mainly trying to hit the areas that would naturally wear on a car’s paint job in the post-apocalyptic wasteland: wheel arches, front, and rear of the car and a little around the doors and roof. The sponge work was followed by hand-painted Vallejo Gunmetal Grey chips on a few of the high points of the sponge work.

Once everything was dry, all parts were given an ink wash mixture of two drops of water, two drops of Army Painter: Soft Tone Quickshade and three drops of Army Painter: Strong Tone. I tend to ink wash a lot of stuff I paint because it replaces the ‘black lining’ effect folks get by painting over a black undercoat. I’m not patient enough to do layers of paint over black so prime in lighter colours and try and get the same effect with a quick ink wash halfway through the painting process.

Step 5: Painting – Highlights

The ink wash flattens everything out and tends to blend colours together so the next step is to apply some highlighting. Vallejo: Gunmetal Grey is repainted on the metal parts, highlighting edges and trying to give flat surfaces a bit more body again. Most of the ink wash is left in the recessed parts, as this is just a highlighting pass. Another quicker set of highlights are done with a 50/50 mix of Vallejo: Gunmetal Grey and Vallejo 70997: Silver to really make the edges shine.

The other parts are highlighted as well. The extra fuel tank was retouched with its original colour: Vallejo: Light Rust. The body was given some edge highlights to pick on the panels and add some texture. Vallejo: Beasty Brown was lightened with Vallejo 70.819: Iraqui Sand and carefully painted on. I don’t use a pure white to lighten colours as I find an ‘off-white’ tone like Iraqui Sand or Vallejo 72.034: Bonewhite gives warmer, less stark tones when mixed with other colours.

Step 5: Painting – Rust Effects

This is where I started experimenting with new paints: the AK Interactive AK 4110: Crusted Rust Deposits set. This is a set of three 35ml pots of AK 4113: Light Rust Deposit, AK 4112: Medium Rust Deposit and AK 4113: Dark Rust Deposit.

I hadn’t used these paints before, so this Hot Wheel was an ideal model to experiment on. Gaslands Hot Wheels have pretty much become my test bed for all sorts of new paint techniques and supplies. As I mentioned earlier, if it all goes wrong the worst you’ve wasted is a $3 Hot Wheel car. This is much less painful than discovering you can’t get a technique to work halfway through painting an $80 Games Workshop 40k vehicle for example!

The AK Interactive rust effects were applied the way their tutorial suggests you should, and again I was trying to hit the areas of a car that would rust in real life.

To finish off the vehicle for varnishing, the windscreen was masked and spattered with some diluted Army Painter: Desert Yellow mixed with Vallejo: Bonewhite. The windscreen didn’t really work that well to my eye, but I can live with it. The ram was also highlighted with a little more Vallejo: Gunmetal Grey mixed with Vallejo: Silver. I didn’t bother applying any rust effects to the ram, because I imagine it gets kept nice and clean by well, being rammed into things!

Step 6: Complete

At this point I’m calling the car complete. I have several AK Interactive Dust Pigments (like AK081: Dark Earth and AK041: North Africa Dust) that can be used to add convincing road dust to tires and vehicle bodies, but if you’re playing Gaslands you handle the cars a lot and dust effects tend to wear poorly in my experience. The vehicle will be finished up with a dusting of Army Painter: Anti Shine Matt Varnish once everything is dry and then added to my Gaslands collection.

I hope you’ve found this tutorial useful, get out there and play some Gaslands!

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