Home » Watch: This Hot Wheels Miata Has Been Converted To Radio Control, Complete With Working Pop-Up Headlights

Watch: This Hot Wheels Miata Has Been Converted To Radio Control, Complete With Working Pop-Up Headlights

Micro Miata Popo Ups Ts

If there’s one thing the original Mazda Miata is known for, it’s pop-up headlights. You might think these mechanical marvels would be too difficult to cram into a tiny palm-sized RC car, but one YouTuber has proven that dead wrong.

Today, skilled craftspeople are creating fully functional RC cars at the Hot Wheels scale (1/64 to be precise, or S-scale for model train fans) and even smaller. It’s practically a sport on YouTube, where the most talented creators work to cram as much functionality as possible into the tiniest little cars they can build.

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YouTube channel TLS Garage is at the forefront of this movement, and the Miata build we’re showcasing here truly is a beautiful thing to behold. And joy of joys, it drifts like a dream, too! You might think this is achieved with expensive parts and complicated tooling, but it’s mostly done with a steady hand and a rotary tool – and plenty of ingenuity, of course.

The build began with a Hot Wheels model from the HW Speed Graphics Range—the 1991 Mazda MX-5 Miata. It was quickly taken apart for its die-cast body shell, with the paint stripped off to begin the build in earnest. A small hand saw was then used to remove the front bumper and prepare the bonnet for the installation of working pop-up headlights. Meanwhile, the bodyshell also received a hardtop roof crafted out of sheet metal and epoxy putty.


Like all Hot Wheels, the Miata model in stock spec features free-spinning wheels on springy wire axles. This won’t do for RC duty, so the car instead gets a proper rear axle with a spur gear. The axle sits within a brass tube that facilitates mounting the drive wheels assembly to the chassis and serves as a bushing for the axle within. As befitting a proper drift car, the micro-Miata runs on a sick set of rims: gold SSR Formula Mesh wheels in a “15-inch” size suitable for a Miata, scaled down to 1/64th size.



Making A Pocket Drift Miata With Working Popups (rc Hotwheels Custom) 8 44 Screenshot
Fitting all the mechanics of an RC car inside a Hot Wheels body isn’t easy.

A tiny brushed motor provides drives the rear wheels via a pinion gear that meshes directly with the axle-mounted spur gear, sans differential – a diff would no doubt be fiendishly difficult to make workable at this scale, and a live axle is all the better for drifting action.

A tiny lithium-ion battery powers the onboard gear including the RadioLink R4FGM receiver that enables full radio control. These components were chosen for their diminutive size, allowing them to fit beneath the 1/64 scale body. Even then, the components had to be shaved down before they could actually fit.


Minuscle servos operate the steering system and functional pop-up headlights. The custom pop-ups are hand-made from plastic and hinged onto the hood. When raised via servo to the upright position, LEDs light them up. The functional pop-ups make the car seem even more lifelike, and the clever mechanism is fun to see in action.

Making A Pocket Drift Miata With Working Popups Rc Hotwheels

This shot shows the steering assembly. The pop-up servo is also visible, though the body and headlights aren’t installed here.


The front suspension is a rudimentary spring setup with no damping, but the fact that it has functional suspension action at all is impressive. One might expect (and could certainly excuse) the front wheels being steered simply by mounting them to a single pivoting axle like a rope-steered soapbox car, but no: the steering servo swings the left and right wheels independently, just like a full-size car. Further enhancing steering control is a piezoelectric gyro module. The gyro system’s software compares the car’s motion to the driver’s steering inputs and makes automatic steering corrections to help keep the car traveling in the intended direction.

The final build actually drives well. It’s able to cut clean drifts on a smooth surface and hold some decent angle, too. It looks cool as hell drifting around the street scene diorama TLS Garage built for it.


Making A Pocket Drift Miata With Working Popups (rc Hotwheels Custom) 15 12 Screenshot

Once upon a time, building such a compact functional RC car wouldn’t have been possible. Today, it’s remarkably achievable. All you need is the right set of parts and the will to do so. Throw in some basic model-making skills and you can build epic little drift cars that you can slide around your desk at home.

Image credits: TLS Garage via YouTube screenshot

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23 days ago

It’s been said before, but this really is amazing. Certainly worthy of more attention than it’s getting.

I was another child of the 80s with Radio Shack and other branded RC stuff – Ferrari Testarossa when I was pretty young, a generic Bigfoot clone, Tyco Turbo Hopper, Tyco Hovercraft, and eventually some more custom stuff as we got older.
And I STILL have a few cases of matchbox/hot wheels cars, but I would have honestly never thought to combine the two.
Seriously cool what can be done today with some time, inclination, and a little bit of cash and effort.
Thanks for showing us this Lewin!

Last edited 23 days ago by lastwraith
24 days ago

I love that the hardtop is removeable and held in place by magnets. Brilliant.

24 days ago

This is spectacular, miniature, insanity. Thanks for writing about it!

From the comparatively small number of comments, apparently not the flavour of madness that the majority of folks on this site are into, but I genuinely appreciate the fact that on this site I’ll always stumble across a niche of Autopian-ness that I know nothing about and often disappear into that rabbit hole to find out more.

Modern RC stuff is bewildering to someone who hasn’t owned an RC car since he drove his Tandy Porsche 944 off a bridge sometime around 1986, but there is a chance I could actually afford to own, store, and drive a nice RC car. If anyone knows where I should start I’d be curious to hear suggestions!

24 days ago

And now I have a new life goal that may still be unattainable, turning my collection of hot wheels scale cars that I once owned into RC racers. I still have to paint several of the ones I had to get 3D printed as Hot Wheels/Matchbox/Johnny Lightning didn’t make a 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport edition.

Maybe I’ll just make the streets move in the giant diorama of neighborhoods I used to live in with said cars that I will also someday build maybe.

Future me is gonna be so ticked at present me.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
24 days ago

Holy Crap! Someone who does stuff like this amazes me. Very cool.

I remember we had a ton of HW track as kids. Used to lay straight track side by side in the driveway and have drag races. But we would duct tape bottle rockets to the cars for that land speed record effect. It was really cool to see after dark when the fire out the rockets really showed well.

It was also cool to see the bottle rocket explode down the track. Usually torched the paint and windows a bit.

55 years later I can now better understand why the neighbors hated us kids.
But good times.

Last edited 24 days ago by Col Lingus
25 days ago

So the answer is always, Micro Miata now?

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
25 days ago

I used to drift a full sized MX5 semi-professionally. The lack of diff is mechanically accurate.

Amazing work. All I did to my Hotwheels was add the hard top and paint it the right colour. I’m still looking for the right wheels…

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
25 days ago

This is pretty amazing. I’ve seen hotwheels rc’s before, but never with working headlights. I love that this is possible.

Root Beer
Root Beer
24 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

Yeah, this is the first of seen like this, but I did see one converted into a lowrider with springs simulating the hydraulics and also featuring a trunk that pops open to reveal the subwoofers and speakers. I thought working turn signals was wild, but jeesh.

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