Steve Metz Page 2

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Roth-inspired Muscle Machines changed the dimensions of the diecast world. While Metz exaggerated the engine, tires, wheels and some styling features, key elements of the original car were un-touched to keep each model recognizable.
One of the original Muscle Machines was this 1:18-scale ’41 Willys coupe modeled after Steve’s full-size car that’s affectionately known as the “Frantic Frog.”
One of Metz’s newest rods is the poster child for Toy Zone’s new Underground Garage diecast line. This ’32 Ford three-window coupe is a prime example of Steve’s lust for big horsepower in lightweight packages.

Metz worked with Deal to create illustrations that reflected a Roth-like style but kept the car’s most endearing features intact. “We fattened up the body, chopped the tops and channeled the bodies but kept the front and back as is. We wanted to make sure that,if someone loved a ’65 Mustang, that this was a ’65 Mustang.” It was a formula that changed the face of diecast.

Metz used the talents of many artists to bring his vision to life. While in negotiations with a company in the action-figure market, Metz ran across a display of diecast cars at a weekend swap meet. “I looked at the back of the box and discovered that this diecast company, Funline [Merchandising Co.], was just down the road from where my shop was.” The timing was right for both parties. Metz was looking for a manufacturing partner, and Funline was looking for a hot-rod attitude. As much as Funline knew about the toy world, the hot-rod and car-culture scene had completely eluded it. Steve Metz and Funline were the perfect fit. After many marketing meetings, Metz convinced Funline to create his Muscle Machines in 1:18 scale instead of the typical 1:24 scale that was popular at the time. “To get the sense of drama and the dynamism of what I was creating with these in-your-face cars, we needed to do something larger.” Funline hedged its retail bets by launching both 1:18- and 1:64-scale models. “The money was really made with the 1:64-scale cars. For every 1:18-scale car sold, twenty 1:64 scale cars were rung up.”

Funline, a company known for the dancing flowers musical novelty and Pogs, was now a force in diecast. Major retailers bombarded Funline with orders. Muscle Machines’ shelf space in Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart and Toys “R” Us grew every quarter as the brand flew off the shelves.

Within a few years, Funline’s retail shelf space had become commensurate with its presence in the hobby market. To gain much-needed retail market penetration, Action Performance Co. bought the entire Funline operation in 2003. The move put Muscle Machines into the hands of a far more powerful player in the diecast market. At first, Action gave Funline a long leash. Muscle Machines continued to win its new parent market shares and profits. But before long, Action began to reel that leash in, and Funline was no longer as nimble as it once had been. As is the case in most large companies, it took longer to develop a concept into a finished product.

As Motorsports Authentics, which primarily serves the NASCAR market, purchased Action in 2005, the future of Muscle Machines seems to be in jeopardy. “I still think there is a big market out there for Muscle Machines,” Metz says with a tone of concern.

With his Funline/Action contract complete, Metz is now free to pursue other diecast endeavors. Produced by Toy Zone (the manufacturer that released the Tom Daniel creations in 2005), his new Underground Garage line of hot rods will debut shortly. Within this line, rat-rod and rockabilly attitudes play a major role. “Today’s new generation of hot rodders look to the roots of the sport for inspiration. There is a growing faction that does not identify with the jellybean look of Japanese tuner cars. They’re finding these old outside-the-mainstream American cars and making them into what they see as the rod culture. Now, primer is cool; rust is cool; tattoos are cool. It all screams ‘underground.’ That’s going to translate real well to the diecast side.”

Ever the visionary, Metz intends to produce and release diecast products that expand the horizons within the collectible car culture. “The car culture goes way beyond the car itself. It’s rock-‘n’-roll, drive-in movie theaters, sock hops, soda fountains—all these things are part of the lifestyle. And there are other activities and sports that also endear themselves to the car culture—things like bowling alleys, lowbrow art and such. Not to mention the connection with the surf culture through woodies.” With this in mind, Metz looked to the iconic to make up part of a new line—custom-painted scale bowling pins and Tiki gods, flying eyeballs and wild guitars.

With the pending release of the Toy Zone Underground Garage line, Metz is already looking for emerging trends. “The car culture has always been there. And it will always be there long after we’re gone. There are going to be other guys who are going to come up with other angles and reinvent themselves,” he concludes. And, as Metz reinvented the hot-rod diecast niche, so, too, will he inspire the next generation of enthusiasts to take the car culture to the next level.

Updated: June 30, 2011 — 11:22 AM
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