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Every industry has big men—men of vision, persistence and guts willing to risk it all for a passionate belief in a product, ideal or service. Steve Metz was well on his way to becoming this type of man by risking his life before it had barely begun.

To those inside the diecast industry, Metz is a familiar figure. Although a relative newcomer to our world, he made a huge splash with his first attempt—Muscle Machines. But, then again, Metz has never been a man to do anything on a small scale. Big splashes are typical of the 61-year-old Californian.

Metz’s life is an inspirational rags-to-riches story. Although he now lives the ultimate Southern California lifestyle, he began as far away from the surf, sand and speed capital as one could imagine. Born in Germany, he escaped East Berlin during the Soviet occupation. In a daring 1948 airlift, the family was smuggled into West Germany aboard a DC3. A few days later, Steve, his parents and his five brothers and sisters were in Scotland. Eventually, the Metz family migrated across the Atlantic to New York. It was during this time that Steve’s life made a complete switch.

“When I came to this country, all I wanted to do was be an American,” he told DCX. “I wanted to be the ‘all-American’ teenager. For me, the hot-rodding car culture, not to mention the hard mechanics of it all, was as American and as cool as it gets.” From street action to drag strips, Metz immersed himself in the hot-rod lifestyle. “It was for me then, as it still is now, the quintessential essence of what is great about America.”

A rare, stolen photo of Steve Metz shortly after he arrived in Southern California. This is total Beach Boys era stuff, with the clay-wheeled shorty skateboard, wide-stripe shirt and flip-flops—how West Coast is that?
Metz (left) became very good friends with the late Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the legendary car customizer whose cars were immortalized in plastic-kit form by Revell.

During the Vietnam conflict, Metz served in the Army. At the end of his tour in Vietnam, he was stationed at Fort Ord in California. After reading countless hot-rod and custom-car magazines, Metz felt like he had reached the promised land.

“Man, I thought to myself, ‘’I’m in God’s country; I’m in California.'” Once he was discharged, Metz wasted no time heading downstate to Los Angeles. “One of the first things I did was go to Blair’s Speed Shop. I’d always heard about it. I got to Blair’s, and Don Blair was behind the counter, and Ed Pink was there tuning an engine along with Doug Thorley and Gene Mooneyham.” Three of Metz’s idols stood just a few feet away as a fuel-burning engine rumbled the paint off the walls of the shop. Metz settled in a few miles down the road (in Pasadena), where he lived for 40 years before he moved into his current home in Montrovia.

Having a strong work ethic, Metz earned an undergraduate degree in business and Masters degrees from UCLA and Pepperdine. He married and started not only a family but also a chain of highly successful restaurants. The financial freedom he achieved through his hard work and remarkable marketing aptitude allowed Metz to fully explore his nearly all-consuming passion for hot rods and muscle cars. A little over a decade ago, the “Wall Street Journal” printed a story that listed the Metz restaurant chain as one of the top 50 franchise opportunities in America. He used that to market and eventually sell the operation. This is when the fun really began.

With an interest in entering the automotive styling world, Metz went to Toys “R” Us to check out the diecast aisle. “I looked at what was offered, and I said to myself, ‘I can do better than that.'” By this time, Metz had gotten to be well-known within the L.A. car culture. That put him into the inner circle with many customizing legends. “Ed Roth and I were good friends. I was also close to artist Dave Deal [who created the logo for Armor All]. I ran an idea past Ed and Dave about a new concept in diecast.” Although Roth had created many famous T-shirt designs and MPC had released the Zingers model kits in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Metz saw an opening for a car with a massive engine, oversize tires and features dripping with horsepower. “I came up with the concept of Muscle Machines. Everybody likes everything big—mighty power, big engines. But, let’s make them less cartoon-like by putting a bit more realism into them.” Thus, the Muscle Machines line was born.

Updated: June 30, 2011 — 11:22 AM

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