MINICARS: the Jun Imai Era comes to a close at Hot Wheels

There is just one more bit of Hot Wheels news left for today, and it’s a sad one. Our friend and star designer Jun Imai has left Mattel for new opportunities. We had known it was happening for a couple weeks, but didn’t want to say anything before he had announced it publicly. Needless to say, with this knowledge in the backs of our minds writing the article about Hot Wheels’ 50th anniversary, especially the part about the Jun Imai Era and how much it had impacted the brand was bittersweet. 

As we mentioned in the 50th anniversary story, the Jun Imai era was probably one of the biggest shifts in Hot Wheels’ long history. Jun was able to open the brand to more car cultures and new collectors than ever before. It’s not just Japanese classics, though that is undoubtedly a huge part of it. It was German, Italian, 80s cars, race cars, bosozoku, and yes, new interpretations of Hot Wheels’ traditional muscle car base as well.

During his tenure he brought to fruition cars like the Toyota AE86, Datsun 510, 620 pickup, Fairlady Roadster, Laurel, Mazda RX-7 both old and new, numerous Zs, the bosozoku- inspired Mad Manga, Toyota 2000GT and just about every generation of Nissan Skyline. Beyond the Japanese cars he added icons like the Fox-body Mustang, Buick Grand National, suicide-doored Lincoln Continental, Tyrell 6-wheeler, E30 BMW M3, various Porsches, and many more too varied to list.

Jun was also a visionary in bringing in complimentary brands that were real and in tune with today’s collectors and car society, such as Yokohama, GReddy, Magnus Walker, and us at Japanese Nostalgic Car. He even convinced Yokohama to use their Advan branding in the US. Momo was absent from the consciousness for a while and he brought them back as well.

Jun put in 14 years at Mattel. He had studied transportation design at the acclaimed Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, one of the premiere auto design schools in the world. He could have gone to work for a car company, but he chose to design toy cars and bring joy to millions of fans.

Jun isn’t just a designer. He bleeds oil like all of us. He owns a Datsun 510 wagon and a Datsun 260Z, both of which he painted, built, and modified in his own home garage. In fact, one of JNC’s first sneak peeks took place on the roof of his wagon, which later got its own Hot Wheels version as well.

Best of all, Jun is a great guy and was always game to sign autographs or doodle quick sketches for fans at our JCCS booth. Those fans might be concerned about what Jun’s departure means for Japanese cars in the Hot Wheels lineup. Well, the best part about Jun was his leadership of the Hot Wheels design team and how he brought talent into Mattel with just as diverse automotive interests as him. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the J-tin yet.

Omedetou, Jun-san! Best of luck in your new endeavors.

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15 Responses to MINICARS: the Jun Imai Era comes to a close at Hot Wheels

  1. Tim Mings said:

    The sad part is he left before finishing the N600 HONDA. The car that would insure his legacy for all eternity……..sad.

  2. Ric Q said:

    thanks to Jun and you guys, I started collecting again…. it’s a sad day, but he has made lots of smiles!

  3. Bert Neal said:

    Dang I hope its not going to effect the love hot wheels been showing jdm because I was hoping I could get more like this

    1976 Toyota Corolla SR5
    Honda S2000 Convertible
    2017 Infiniti q60 black
    1974 Mitsubishi Colt Galant GTO GS-R
    Toyota Chaser
    Nissan GT-R Liberty Walk Widebody Kit (no wing )spoiler only
    Lexus RC 350
    1974 Datsun Sunny Hakotora Truck
    Mazda Speed 3
    Nissan Stagea Autech 260RS (R34 front)
    Acura RSX like the speed Machine Version
    Lexus FLA
    1995 Nissan 240sx Rocket Bunny Kit
    Toyota Supra MR3
    Nissan GT-R Rocket Bunny widebody Kit
    2013 Nissan Altima Coupe

    As you can see I love Jdm but I would love to see these make mainline too

    1972 Chevrolet Suburban (slammed)
    2018 Audi A7
    2018 Dodge Durango SRT
    2018 Chevrolet Camaro convertible
    1960 Chevrolet Suburban (slammed)
    2019 Ford Bronco Concept
    2017 Nissan GT-R Wagon concept (stagea RS)
    1959 Ford F100 pickup (slammed)
    2017 Cadillac Escalade
    2018 Cadillac ATS V Coupe
    2018 Bentley Bentayga
    1993 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Wagon (slammed)

  4. Samuel Ace said:

    This is a sad day. I will definitely miss Jun imai and his car’s.

  5. SHC said:

    Might have been a wise choice on Mr. Imai’s part. With the bankruptcy of Toy’s R Us, Mattel lost a major sales segment of the company, they are shuttering offices and retail stores across the U.S .in a cost cutting move. Time will tell if they survive in the present “toy” market.

  6. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    I’m not a Hot Wheels fan but I can really appreciate his work. The love for things automotive starts young & in this day when young adults are even foregoing driver’s licenses, I really appreciate keeping up the enthusiasm. He may have left Mattell, but I hope we get to see more of his work in the future.

  7. Josh Edwards said:

    I can’t believe it was Jun who brought all those cars to the table. Im a little disappointed that the Hot Wheels team can’t pull this off. l also want all the cars Bert Neal wants. I didn’t shop at Toys R Us for the simple fact there wasn’t one around me.

  8. Mr. Creature from the Black Lagoon said:

    Sometimes change is good.
    He did a lot for the vintage Japanese car community during those fourteen years.

    I wish him the best of luck and look forward to his future projects.

  9. Nigel said:

    Good luck Jun, thanks for making Hot Wheels even more cool !

  10. Eric said:

    Thank you Jun for bringing classic Japanese cars back to to the mainstream. I had all but lost interest in collecting until you brought the cars we love into the mix and now I can’t make a trip to the store for milk without coming home with something. Good luck on your next venture!

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