RIP Ryu Asada, Hot Wheels designer, 1978—2021

Ryu Asada, beloved designer of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, has passed away after a hard-fought battle with cancer. He was 42 years old. Ryu was immensely talented and instrumental in bringing a multitude of well-loved cars to the Hot Wheels and Matchbox canon. With his perpetually upbeat personality, he garnered countless fans and friends in the local Los Angeles-area car community and all over the world.

Ryu was born in Osaka and was told that he loved cars even as a baby. His parents would say that the only thing that stopped him from crying was being in his father’s 1970 Toyota Corolla. Cars may soothe a lot of babies, but Ryu was calmed even if it wasn’t in motion.

Growing up in Japan, Ryu was influenced greatly by Japanese cars he saw on the road and by the Tomica, Tamiya, and other Japanese toys he was privy to. By kindergarten, he was already a talented artist. While most kids drew cars as boxes with two circles underneath, Ryu was illustrating his real-life favorites in perspective.

In the 80s Ryu’s father brought the Asada family to Maryland, where he worked temporarily for one year. Though only in grade school, the experience would inspire Ryu to attend college in the US when the time came.

That led to an undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Oregon, where Ryu met his wife Hazel. The pull of car design was great, though, and so Ryu went on to attend southern California’s Art Center College of Design, one of the top automotive design schools in the world. His classmates included many other Hot Wheels alum, including Jun Imai.

After a brief internship at a Peugeot design studio in France, Ryu returned to the US and used the money he earned to buy one of his dream cars, a Subaru SVX. In fact, Ryu has owned three of them (the dark red one above was his third).

In 2004 Ryu kicked off his nearly two-decades long career at Mattel, responsible for turning many of the Japanese cars we know and love into beautifully proportioned and highly detailed 1:64 scale cars. His work began on the Matchbox side of things, where he injected a much-needed dose of Nihon steel into the lineup with castings like the Scion xB, Toyota FJ40, Lexus GS, Subaru Impreza, Mazda 2, and Infiniti G37. During his eight years in the Matchbox division he worked on over 200 cars, highlights of which include a Mini panel van, Hummer H3, Alfa GTV, Lotus Europa, Citroen DS, Jaguar E-Type, Ford GT, Tesla Model S, and V16 Dakar race truck.

However, those who know Ryu personally will tell you that his first and true automotive love was Honda. It all started in 1983 when Ryu’s father brought home a brand new second-generation Honda Prelude. With retractable headlights, digital dash, and signature electronic sunroof, Ryu was smitten, and called it his first love. It helped him cement his motto, “Honda for life!”

Sadly, the Asadas couldn’t bring it to Maryland, but when they returned to the Japan they owned a succession of Honda cars, including a Quint (first-gen Integra), fourth-gen Prelude, fifth-gen Prelude, CR-V, and more. At one point, Ryu matched his parents’ yellow S2000 in Japan with another one from this side of the Pacific.

Ryu put his love of Hondas into many Matchbox castings, including the Honda Element, Insight, Ridgeline, and FN2 Civic Type R. When he moved to the Hot Wheels side of the business in 2012 he continued to spearhead their inclusion, transforming the roster from a mere handful of Hondas to the point where an entire special edition series could be assembled for the actual car company’s 70th anniversary.

Beyond castings that include both generations of the Honda CRX, Monkey, City Turbo, EF and EG Civic, FK2 and FK8 Civic Type R, Integra, S2000, and NSX, Ryu played a pivotal role in the recent infusion of true enthusiasts’ cars into the lineup. Sure, he designed standard fare like Lamborghinis and Corvettes, but Ryu also got into deeper cuts with the Lancia Delta Integrale, Porsche 934 RSR, Volvo 850 Wagon, Ford F150 Lightning, and others.

Of course, Ryu will likely be best remembered for bringing to life the best of the golden era Japanese cars. His recent efforts spanned the J-tin spectrum from a humble NA Miata to the Nissan R390 GT1 supercar and everything in between — Prelude, FC RX-7, DR30, R33 Skyline, Subaru 22B, R35 GT-R, just to name a few. Even his fantasy design cars like the Manga Tuner, Roller Toaster, and ‘Tooned Baja Bug were inspired by the cartoon style of cars prevalent from his childhood in Japan.

He proved an indispensable force in bridging the car cultures of Japan and the US through diecast. Being bilingual opened doors to expand the Hot Wheels brand and family, and his work helped welcome a new generation of collectors into the fold — ones whose turbocharged, twin-cammed aspirations were every bit as deserving of being included in the diecast canon as traditional street rods. Ryu’s work was prolific and poignant, making our dream machines if not life-sized at least tangible.

When he wasn’t designing toys, Ryu lived the enthusiast life in 1:1 scale as well. He often autocrossed his S2000, took his SVX to car shows, road-tripped in the IS300 SportCross he owned with Hazel, and spent his spare time building incredible models. Eventually he was able to acquire his unicorn, an Acura NSX, which he modified to match a little known Suzuka Circuit pace car.

On a more personal note, we had the privilege of working with Ryu over the years and in the end we became great friends. This loss is particularly hard on the JNC family. It was a pleasure to know Ryu thanks to his easy-going attitude and natural charm, and anyone who met him would agree.

At a car event a few years ago, Ryu signed autographs at our booth. Fans formed a line so massive we ended up having to double the allotted time to accommodate everyone. Of course, Ryu was happy to oblige and spent some time with all the people that had come out to meet him.

In fact, Ryu was the most positive person we’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Yes, that’s a sentiment often uttered when someone dear has passed, but in Ryu’s case it was absolutely one hundred percent, without exaggeration, true. Even in the face of his four-and-a-half-year struggle with a painful and terrifying illness, he maintained his trademark cheer and optimistic spirit, always happy to chat about cars.

Whether it was walking a car show together, hitting up his favorite curry spot before a cruise, watching  Game of Thrones (for which he required much convincing because it lacked any motorized vehicles), or getting yelled by an angry lady in Osaka for photographing cars, we always had a blast with Ryu. And even though he’d been ill for a while, it’s still devastating to know that we will won’t be able to see him anymore.

It’s only fitting that Ryu spent his life bringing happiness to so many with his work. Ryu’s legacy, impact, and spirit will endure whenever someone finds a glimmer of joy when they hold one of his designs in their hands. He may have immortalized our favorite cars in diecast form, but it’s Ryu that will be immortalized by all the lives he touched.

We will miss you, brother.

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23 Responses to RIP Ryu Asada, Hot Wheels designer, 1978—2021

  1. speedie says:

    We should all live such an exampled life.

  2. Tim Mings says:

    Sucks soooooo hard. He really was 100 “HONDA FOR LIFE”
    What an honor to have had him, and Hazel visit my shop, and take turns driving a few different N600’s. He definitely left his mark, and a giant and hole in community.

  3. jim simpson says:

    Gone way too soon, sad to hear of the loss of such talent…

  4. Land Ark says:

    Hie passing was very shocking and made me quite sad. His affect on the US diecast world is impossible to overstate. He and Jun turned the collecting world upside down with their amazing designs.
    He will definitely be missed and my regards to those who knew him.

    Frighteningly, he and I are the same age. Knowing he battled for years makes me think he was stronger than I am so much respect to the man.

    Thanks for the detailed write up.

  5. エーイダン says:

    He has designed some of my favourites in the Hot Wheels range. His talents will be missed dearly.

  6. Natthira Lamphong says:

    Sad to hear the news, Ryu you are a great Hot Wheels designer. You are a Hot Wheels Legend. I am very proud of you. RIP.

  7. RX626 says:

    I first heard of him on a Japanese website called Desktop Garage.
    The plastic models he made were so fascinating that it drove me crazy.
    A few years later, I learned that he was a designer for Mattel.
    And there, too, I became enamored with his creations. He definitely brought the wonderful Japanese car culture to HW, and outside of Japan, and spread it.

    Even as a Japanese, I couldn’t imagine HW releasing Japanese culture such as dekotora and bosozoku.
    Today, however, Mad Manga and Raizin Express are already part of the HW family and have become part of the beloved collections of many die-cast car fans.

    He was undoubtedly one of the true JDM gearheads and an evangelist for the culture. His passing is definitely a great loss not only for die-cast car and JDM fans, but for all gearheads.

    Thank you, Ryu, for the great memories and the wonderful diecast cars.
    May you rest in peace.

  8. Adam says:

    An incredibly beautiful tribute to an amazing individual Thanks JNC. <3

    Thanks for spreading so much joy Ryu.

  9. XRaider927 says:

    This really hits me hard…. As a fan of his work as well as an enthusiast, thank you for everything Ryu. Without you, we won’t see these diecast cars (Including the Civic EF which we still had in real life to this day)….. God bless you and your family どうもありがとうございます!!!

  10. XRaider927 says:

    Also the Honda Monkey Z50? Ryu wasn’t involved with that….Jun Imai did

  11. Nigel says:

    RIP Sir, we are glad to have known you thru the cool work you have done.

  12. Spirit Road says:

    May you rest in peace. Memories will live on.

  13. Ben, my deepest condolences to you, and to all those who met Ryu and knew him as a friend or family member.

    Ryu’s work inspired me to get back into the Hot Wheels collecting hobby. Also have some of his Matchbox cars. In fact, my coworkers at the museum have several of his cars in their collections as well, proudly on display in their offices.

    It was great to see Ryu’s prototype Lancia Delta Integrale racing on 3Dbotmaker’s channel. That cemented my image of him as a proper enthusiast.

    To those of you who met or knew him, I envy you.

    May his memory be eternal.

  14. Ken takahashi says:

    RIP Ryu san. I’m happy that I got to know you at conventions and occasionally chat on facebook messenger. Arigato gozaimasu!!!

  15. eric says:

    R.I.P……….he will be deeply missed 🙁 Great story,thank you for sharing.

  16. Samuel Ace says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with him, his family, his friends, and to all of his fans. God bless all of them. Rest in peace my friend. This is so sad. RYU Asada was a great hotwheels designer. He designed lots of great new hotwheels castings over the past few years and I have all of his hotwheels castings in my hotwheels collection and I will be collecting his hotwheels castings for the rest of my life and he will be in my heart for the rest of my life. ?

  17. Lina says:

    Ryu, your creativity, attention to detail and technical eye for creating realistic looking miniatures will be truly missed. You have inspired all of us in the auto enthusiast. We thank you for your enormous contribution to the automotive toy industry. Your work will continue to live on with every iteration. We will always remember you through your work, the people you influenced and the art pieces you have created for us.

  18. Justin Curtis says:

    I gotta say, as a Hot Wheels lover it hits hard, I remember seeing him on the legends tour livestreams and just loved listening to him talk about his design philosophy and passion. Truly sad to see him go.

  19. F31Roger says:

    It is absolutely sad to hear and condolences. I know many people (including the JNC staff) knew him personally.

    I’m not a hardcore diecast collector, but I do love my Japanese cars.. and I will keep the ones that I have unopened.

    I hope someone at Mattel will continue to bring J cars up.

    Definitely sad…

  20. carlos ojeda says:

    Deepest condolences to the Asada family.

  21. CobaltFire says:

    I’m grateful for what Ryu gave us, as he and Jun’s models got me back into Hot Wheels.

    Also, my son plays with many of those JNC Hot Wheels while he goes through chemo, so this hits home for me personally. It so happens that cars are one of the only things that calm my son down as well, particularly my Integra

    RIP, and if his wife reads this know that at least one little cancer kid really appreciates his models..

  22. Bob Mccowan says:

    When SIZZLERS came out with the fat track, endless fun!
    Bob McCowan

  23. Hazrul says:

    I was going to shop looking for some Hot wheels car yesterday and i saw 2 Hot wheels Honda Prelude with a yellow colour and black hood and a Hot wheels Nissan 300zx with a blue colour and black interior… When im going home i pick up my smartphone and started seacrhing info about the hot wheels in Google… I was shock too knowing that Ryu Asada already pass away… Now i must buy the hot wheels bcause its design from Ryu Asada and i really dont wanna miss it this to be in my collection…

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