His big design ideas fit in a child’s hand
The gig: Felix Holst is vice president of design for the Mattel Wheels Division and the chief designer behind the Hot Wheels and Matchbox toy car brands. He supervises more than 50 designers who work on toy cars and related products.
“We get to engage in automotive fantasy in little 3-inch works of art,” said Holst, who lives in Venice.
Prior gig: Bassist and manager of The Kustombuilt, a British rock band that toured England for five years.
“The two passions in my life have been cars and music,” Holst said.
Mattel contributed to Holst’s music as well as his car career. The designer got his chance to pursue the rock band when Mattel closed the British office where Holst worked in 1996. This was about the time the band started to get its single played on BBC radio.
“I figured this was a good time to see if I had a future in rock and roll,” Holst said.
The name of the band came straight from California car culture, a reference to the idea that custom cars are “built from scraps here and there. It reflected the diversity in the band,” he said.
Holst, 40, used the “K” spelling of Kustombuilt because that was how legendary car designer George Barris spelled the word when he helped launch custom car culture in California back in the 1950s.
Management according to rock ‘n’ roll: “I left Mattel as a good toy designer, but the five years in the band, including managing it, taught me about people and managing creative people,” Holst said. “It’s not the same as managing accountants.”
Creative workers focus on art and creativity. They don’t think much about business. “You have to be the portal between art and the business,” Holst said.
Prior car experience: Holst said he is a “lifelong car fanatic” whose first word was “truck.” He wanted to be an automotive designer but, before launching into a master’s degree program in car design, took a temporary job at Hot Wheels.
“I discovered that you get to be a lot more creative in design at Hot Wheels than in the real automotive world,” Holst said. “You get to design multiple cars a year instead of working multiple years on details of one car.”
Main drive: A 2003 Audi RS6. “It is a very rare car in the U.S. They only imported a few hundred,” he said. “It is understated but fast and capable.”
Holst also is working on hot rodding a 1931 Ford.
Dream car: The Audi. But Holst also admires European classics, especially the Jaguar E type coupe from the 1960s.
“I get the opportunity to drive a lot of fantastic cars every day, but that early Jag needs to go in the garage,” he said. “I just love the design of the E type — all grace and style.”
Favorite Hot Wheels car: The Pontiac GTO convertible in Spectraflame red with an opening hood. “It inspired me,” Holst said.
How Hot Wheels has changed: “For years we were mainly an American brand,” Holst said. “But it is no longer about screaming V-8 engines and chrome exhaust pipes.”
The brand now partners with nearly every automobile manufacturer worldwide and turns out 50 new designs a year.
Design inspiration: “You need an expansive look at the world,” he said. “Entertainment, music and fine art, and kids every day inspire us. I am always looking to see how I can create something new out of two disparate elements.”
Holst likes to read science fiction for inspiration and keeps close tabs on what’s going on in the car world. This year he’s noticed the advent of the vinyl wrap on cars and is experimenting with how that works.
“We just wrapped a Camaro with reflective vinyl for a movie, and when light falls on the car, it looks like it is glowing,” he said.
“Toy design requires whimsy from your childhood that often gets pushed out of you,” Holst said. “You have to maintain that connection of what you were like when you were young and how you used your imagination.”