Is this one-off Corvette wagon from a Hot Wheels designer your next wild project?
Want to have your own full-size Hot Wheels car? No, I’m not talking about one of the Hot Wheels-branded Camaros or Pontiacs that General Motors has produced under license from Mattel, but rather a real car, styled by the original Hot Wheels designer.
Harry Bentley Bradley is a bit of a legend in the world of car design, and not just for the work he did in designing 12 of the original 16 Hot Wheels cars and trucks for the Mattel toy company back in the 1960s. Now you can own a one-off custom 1973 Corvette Hatchback Coupe shooting brake that Bradley designed and had fabricated, currently offered on eBay with a Buy-It-Now price of $18,999. It may not have a Hot Wheels logo on it, but throw on candy-flake paint and a flame job, and its extreme front and rear treatments would make it right at home as a 1:64 scale model in a blister pack.
While still at the Pratt Institute learning to style cars, Bradley started a design studio, drawing custom cars for fabricators and contributing art to enthusiast publications like Street Rodder, Customs Illustrated, and Rod & Custom. During his last semester at Pratt, he was hired by General Motors and moved to Detroit in the summer of 1962. Bradley, alongside some of the other young designers at GM at the time, like Pete Brock and Larry Shinoda, chafed under the white collar corporate structure at the automaker.
To work off creative juices, Bradley continued to contribute to custom car magazines. Since it violated GM policy to do outside work, Bradley had to submit those drawings under a pseudonym. Around that time he met Larry and Mike Alexander, Detroit’s preeminent custom car fabricators. Harry and “the A Brothers,” as they were known, hit it off and he would go on to draw their most successful show cars (sometimes credited as Designer X to keep him out of trouble at GM) including the Dodge Deora pickup truck that would later become one of those original Hot Wheels.
Born in California, Bradley loved the Golden State and returned in 1966 when Mattel offered him a job there designing their new line of die-cast model cars. Hot Wheels were introduced in 1968. Wikipedia says that Bradley was unsure of the toys’ success so he left Mattel a year later, but while he indeed left Mattel to start an independent studio in 1969, the historical record shows that Hot Wheels were an immediate hit.
In addition to opening his studio, which eventually produced the design of the 1995 version of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, Bradley taught in the automotive design program at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles for 35 years, helping along two generations of car stylists in the making.
The 1973 Corvette Hatchback Coupe was another product of that design studio. It cost $25,000 ($143,000 in today’s dollars) and took three years to fabricate. It’s not clear if there were ever any plans for series production, but Bradley wanted it to be more than just another Corvette Summer custom.
The eBay seller quotes him as saying, “This Corvette Hatchback Coupe was designed and constructed to give the owner a vehicle that was as close to a factory prototype as possible. The intent was to develop a quality specialty vehicle, not another Corvette custom car.”
Bradley wanted to keep it looking like a Corvette so in side view, other than the long roof, it appears fairly standard. The new roof was built around a modular steel roll cage that bolted to the Corvette’s frame with rubber shock mounts, allowing the new roof to yield to the Vette’s infamously flexible plastic body and letting the new roof panels be removed. The new side windows were made of polycarbonate, while the hinged backlight is glass. A custom subfloor was fabricated for the cargo area, below which was a Camaro gas tank, whose filler was hidden behind the rear license plate.
The Corvette’s lighting was even more radical than the wagon roof, replacing the Corvette’s round taillights with a narrowed 1971 Thunderbird taillamp assembly that runs the width of the car. Up front, the Corvette’s signature hidden headlights were replaced by a V-shaped horizontal light bar made of six rectangular headlight units. This car was professionally fabricated, so a square-tube steel frame provided structure for the headlamp assembly, with fiberglass laminated to the steel.
Mechanically, it’s a fairly stock ’73 Corvette with a small-block Chevy and a four-speed manual transmission, except the numbers-matching 350-cubic-inch V-8 has an Edelbrock intake manifold, and the Hatchback Coupe’s wheels were custom made by Cragar to Bradley’s design.
One thing is for sure, Bradley’s Corvette Hatchback Coupe would catch your eye coming or going. Unfortunately, that dramatic front end got wrecked in a 1997 collision and the car hasn’t been operational since. Originally painted in a light blue, it currently looks like someone tried to graft on most of the front clip of a silver Corvette, with the sheet molding compound crudely cut away to make room for the not-very-straight lights.
The seller is advertising it as a one-of-a-kind car, but there have been other Corvette wagons. Famed custom designer and fabricator Chuck Miller’s Styline studio made six Corvette Sportwagons based on the early C3. Corvette racer John Greenwood took Miller’s idea and applied it to the soft-bumper version of the third-gen ‘Vette, producing one prototype and selling about two dozen kits.
To make sure that the Corvette wagon being sold on eBay was the actual Bradley car, I asked my friend and mentor Michael Lamm, who knows Bradley, about it. Mike said that he’d seen it on his local Craigslist in “bedraggled” shape a couple of years ago and that he’d called the then-owner who didn’t know much of the car’s history. Michael put me in touch with Harry Bradley, who graciously gave me a few minutes of his time.
First, we clarified that it was actually his design, primarily based on the lights. The Miller cars also have recessed rectangular lights but they aren’t all in a row like on the Bradley Corvette, and the Sportwagons retained the OEM round taillights.
The current seller says that it needs a complete restoration, but could be a six-figure car if restored properly. Bradley says that’s going to be easier said than done. He apparently wasn’t kidding when he said it was designed and constructed like a prototype. “A regular restoration or collision shop won’t be able to restore that front end. It would have to be a shop capable of building prototypes or concepts,” Bradley told me. That means a firm like the Gaffoglio family’s Metalcrafters, or Mike Kleeve’s Automotive Metal Shaping would be in order, and shops like those don’t work cheap. It might be a six-figure car when done, but it could cost that much to get it there.
A restorer will have a lot of material to work with, though. The Bradley Corvette Hatchback Coupe was well documented in publications during its heyday, even appearing on the cover of Super Chevy magazine in 1978. Should you finish the restoration, you’ll have plenty of publications to display with it at car shows.