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Hot Wheels competition drives hobby car builder

SANTA FE – Paul Kalenian is still playing around with Hot Wheels cars as he nears his 70th birthday.

Only it’s not the same tiny toy that generations of children rolled across the floor. It’s a self-constructed adult version that exudes both a modern and retro feel.

Kalenian, a retired manufacturer and Santa Fe resident, built the roadster and gave it a nickname – Lulu. It is a 1,530-pound, four-cylinder aluminum two-seater that looks like an adult version of a Hot Wheels car.

The car was one of 10 showing in a mid-May round of the Hot Wheels Legends Tour, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported. That competition features original vehicles that capture the Hot Wheels spirit. The competition’s guidelines include a provision the vehicles be “built, not bought.”

The ultimate winner, to be determined in future competitive rounds later this year, will be inducted into the Hot Wheels Garage of Legends and become a miniature die-cast car for Hot Wheels buffs to play with and collect.

“Boys and toys, you know,” Kalenian said of the continuing appeal of Hot Wheels, which originated in the late 1960s.

Kalenian didn’t build Lulu over a nine-month period in 2018 and 2019 just to enter a contest. The inspiration was his deceased father, Aram, a mechanic who worked on airplane engines to help the war effort in the 1940s and later ran a machine shop in their home state of Massachusetts.

He remembers his father’s penchant for tinkering and obsession with engines.

“My father would buy a car, and my mother, on Sunday, would think we were going to go on a ride,” he recalled. “I knew we wouldn’t. I knew we would be taking the car apart to see what was new in the car. He was very, very mechanical.”

Kalenian said that he too is more fascinated with building than driving.

“I never watch car racing,” he said. “I go to car shows to understand how cars are built. I love the nuts and bolts of it.”

The “Lulu” name come from an odd expression Kalenian’s dad used in frustration when a project went awry.

It cost Kalenian about $35,000 in parts to create Lulu. He used his father’s lathe, milling machine and hand tools to craft the vehicle.

“I broke a lot of parts building her, not having done this before,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

In the beginning, he only drove the car as far as he knew he could push it home if the thing broke down.

Fellow car enthusiast Val Baehr said Kalenian builds rapidly and doesn’t get discouraged by breakdowns.

“Another guy might have been devastated, ruined, to be towed,” he said. “Paul just said, ‘This happens, this is funny, this is part of the game.’ ”