Ryu Asada, Hot Wheels Design Legend, Dies At 42

Illustration for article titled Ryu Asada, Hot Wheels Design Legend, Dies At 42
Screenshot: Hot Wheels

Cancer has taken another legend of the car community. Ryu Asada, who has designed cars for both Hot Wheels and Matchbox, has died at age 42 of colorectal cancer.

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The announcement came via Asada’s Instagram. He had been battling Stage IV colorectal cancer for almost five years, undergoing a variety of treatments while remaining on diecast design teams. He died on March 23, 2021 with his longtime partner, Hazel Diaz Asada, at his side.

Asada was born and raised in Japan, later moving to the United States to pursue higher education. He graduated from the ArtCenter College of Design in 2004, at which point he immediately began working at Mattel as a Matchbox car designer. There, he estimated that he had created over 150 different diecast designs.

He moved to the Hot Wheels team as a guest designer, his first design being the Gearonimo in 2009. He joined the Hot Wheels team full-time, where it was estimated that he created 20 to 30 1:64 models per year. He took control of the $1 lineup in 2012. You can find a full list of his designs here.

But some of his shining stars of design have been the cars from his native Japan. Asada helped fuel the JDM diecast craze via his passion for his designs. People have since fallen head over heels for his Honda S2000 NSX designs, his FC Mazda RX-7, and his Lancia Delta Integrale HF.

Two of Asada’s most recent designs have been part of the J-Imports mini collection, which included several different Japanese classics. He was responsible for the custom 1970 Honda N600 and the 1999 Honda Civic Type-R.

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Diecast collectors across the globe have been sharing kind messages about Asada, a man many of them deeply respected.

Asada’s loved ones are in our thoughts at this time. Cancer sucks.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

DISCUSSION

I was obsessed with Hot Wheels when I was little, but I eventually lost interest as I got older. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I noticed that in the intervening years Hot Wheels had shifted from primarily making a bunch of fictional, cartoony designs that as a kid I never really liked (looking at you Turbo Flame and Slatflat Racer), to making incredibly detailed recreations of real-world cars including not just factory-looking cars but some with custom touches just like you’d see in real life. I started looking into what changed and I saw the name Ryu Asada next to most of the designs that stood out to me. If you look through Hot Wheels releases over the last 10-15 years there’s a noticeable shift when Ryu joined and I think they’re making some of the best designs in their history now thanks to him.

Here’s a few of my favorites by him:

Lamborghini Countach Pace Car (based on the real one used at the 1983 Monaco GP)

‘85 CRX with a Mugen body kit and mid-engine conversion

Honda City Turbo II (with Motocompo in back)

R30 Skyline RS-Turbo

NA Miata with some tastefully flared fenders and a roll bar

The new dajiban-inspired Ram Van