Hot Wheels 2JetZ is Top Gun meets Mad Max meets… vegetable steamer?

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2JetZ at Carlisle courtesy Luis Rodriguez

Look! Out on the road! It’s a car! It’s a plane! It’s the 2JetZ!  Wait a minute, what the heck is a 2JetZ?

In case you hadn’t heard, 2JetZ is the one-of-a-kind custom built by Luis Rodriguez in Hope, New Jersey, that won the Hot Wheels Legends Tour in October 2018. More than 3600 cars competed in what was part of the brand’s 50th anniversary celebration, with a finalist chosen in each of 15 cities across the U.S.

Rodriguez won his semifinals slot at the Garfield, New Jersey, event. In the finals, held at the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, a team of judges—legendary Hot Wheels designer Larry Wood, former Tonight Show host Jay Leno, Urban Outlaw fashion designer and Porsche builder Magnus Walker, and Fast ‘N Loud’s Richard Rawlings—named 2JetZ the winner for its “authenticity, originality, and garage spirit.”

The Jay Leno seal of approval
The Jay Leno seal of approval courtesy of Mattel

This unique machine has now joined the Hot Wheels Garage of Legends™. So, even if you haven’t seen the 2JetZ blasting down a New Jersey highway, you’ll be able to buy a 1/64-scale replica in late 2019.

The design, based on a concept drawing called the “Face Peeler,” by artist Dwayne Vance, is part Top Gun, part Mad Max, and part Formula 1 racer. The build mixes parts from a Toyota Supra, Nissan 300 ZX, Subaru WRX STI, and—wait for it—a vegetable steamer. “Originality” might indeed be an understatement.

Born before Hot Wheels

Luis Rodriguez with 2JetZ
Luis Rodriguez with 2JetZ courtesy of Mattel

Rodriguez was not even born when Hot Wheels launched in 1968. Yet, as it was for many young boys and girls, playing with Hot Wheels cars as a child sparked a desire to work on cars later.

“When I was young, my family didn’t have much money, so I only had a few, but they inspired my creativity,” Rodriguez recalls. “I liked that Hot Wheels had that extra-special something. They weren’t like the boxes that most people drove.”

The Hot Wheels inspiration began to shape Rodriguez’ approach to modifying cars when he was 19. While attending college, where he studied classical history and art, he took a job in an auto shop. While honing his welding and fabrication skills, he also earned the money needed to pay for school.

His zeal accelerated from there. His first car was a 1990 Nissan 300ZX, in which he replaced the stock V-6 with a hot-rodded turbocharged inline-six from a 1990s Toyota Supra. At one point, he had it up to 900 horsepower. “It’s a very stout motor,” he says.

Now for something completely different

Completed project 2JetZ
courtesy Luis Rodriguez

Rodriguez later built up a 1973 Datsun 240Z with another Supra engine (converted to single turbo) and used it as his daily driver. For his next challenge, though, he wanted to avoid the compromises that go into modifying existing cars.

“I got tired of trying to make things fit where they shouldn’t,” Rodriguez says. “I’m a fabricator at heart. I wanted to build something where everything fit and worked the way I wanted.”

He pulled the Supra drivetrain from the 240Z and sold the car as a roller. Meanwhile, he still had the parted-out 300ZX. He had a vision of combining everything into an old Bonneville Salt Flats “belly tanker,” which racers made from the auxiliary fuel tanks carried by WWII fighter planes.

F1-inspired front suspension
courtesy Luis Rodriguez
Toyota Supra power
courtesy Luis Rodriguez

A search yielded remnants of machines that Rodriguez felt could not be made functional enough for him to drive on the street. He then began scouring the internet for original concept-car designs, and that’s when he found Vance’s “Face Peeler.” He was floored.

“I contacted Dwayne to ask if I could build it, and he gave me the thumbs-up,” Rodriguez says.

Coincidentally, that connection brought him closer to the Hot Wheels world.  “I was a Hot Wheels designer from 2002 to 2005,” Vance says. “I designed Face Peeler as a display model for all the car shows I was attending selling my art and books.”

Building the 2JetZ

Building the 2JetZ chassis
courtesy Luis Rodriguez

Rodriguez, who says he has “a boring 9-to-5 job,” spent a year and a half of his spare time building the 2JetZ. The name—pronounced “two-jet-z”—is an amalgam of the Supra’s 2JZ GTE engine code, the jet fighter inspiration, and the Nissan 300ZX that donated many of its chassis parts.

“I adapted whatever I needed from that car,” Rodriguez says. “I wanted the most reliable parts that were also obtainable.”

Not obtainable for Rodriguez at around $12,000 was a Porsche transaxle he considered using. For much less, he converted a Subaru WRX STI all-wheel-drive six-speed transmission into a two-wheel drive transaxle.

2JetZ built engine
courtesy Luis Rodriguez

“I try my best to make a part or find a production part that works,” he says.

Rodriguez explains that he methodically maps out every step of construction and completes each before proceeding to the next. After creating the car’s basic layout on his garage floor, he built the chassis using the 300ZX’s rear subframe and 4130 chromoly tubing. He kept the 300ZX rear suspension, and for the front fabricated a Formula One-type pushrod suspension. Aero tubing used for the upper and lower A-arms, angled downward at about 30 degrees, adds downforce when driving.

Many ask Rodriguez what jet parts he used to craft the body, but it’s all his own handiwork, inspired by Vance’s illustration. He made the panels from 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum. He added “Honor Those Who Serve” decals on the car’s flanks as a tribute to veterans.

His handmade Lexan canopy, shaped into the frame with help from the sun during a summer heatwave, opens hydraulically, either by using a key fob or a switch in the cockpit. The “Danger: Emergency Ejection” label was British Royal Air Force surplus.

2JetZ heads-up display
courtesy Luis Rodriguez

Pushing a switch labeled “Afterburner” cranks up turbo boost to add another 102 horsepower, for a total of 627 dyno’d ponies on pump gas. With a 1650-pound vehicle weight, that works out to 2.6 pounds per horsepower. By comparison, the $315,000 Ferrari 812 Superfast has a 4.9 lb/hp power-to-weight ratio.

And what would a fighter jet be without a head-up display? Rodriguez made one of those, too.

A steamer, but not from Stanley

2JetZ engine at Carlisle
courtesy Luis Rodriguez

Looking for the crowning touch to complete the jet theme, Rodriguez found inspiration in his kitchen. He welded a basket-type vegetable steamer to the muffler and connected it via linkage to the gas pedal so that it opens and closes with throttle operation. It’s a big hit at car shows.  

“It actually changes the pitch of the exhaust,” he says, adding that it also acts as a spark arrestor when the exhaust pipe shoots flames on overrun.

While the 2JetZ would certainly qualify as what Hot Wheels head designer Ted Wu calls a “fantastical” design, it is a fully functional, street-drivable car. Registered as a kit car, it has headlights (hidden in the nose), turn signals, and brake lights. Rodriguez drives the 2JetZ to car events near and far, including three hours in the rain to Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Some have asked Rodriguez if he would make another 2JetZ to sell. The answer is no.  He’s already begun building something new, inspired by what he calls “a futuristic racer theme.” This one will be a two-seater, so he can share the thrills.

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