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.