Converting Die Cast Toy Cars into Post-Apocalyptic Combat Vehicles

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Converting Die Cast Toy Cars into Post-Apocalyptic Combat Vehicles

If you have any involvement with the tabletop gaming hobby, you’ve likely heard of (or even played), Gaslands, the “post-apocalyptic vehicular combat game” designed by Mike Hutchinson and published by Osprey Games. This modest titled has taken the gaming world by storm.

In Gaslands, you put together a racing crew using die cast toy cars (Hot Wheels, Matchbox, etc) that you have modified to create combat cars. Then, using special dice and movement templates, you take turns racing through a scenario while fighting off other players’ cars using weapons and various dastardly deeds that you pay for in points as you outfit your crew. In many game scenarios, you have 50 points (called “Cans”) to spend on your cars and their weapons and special abilities.

Hot Mods Contest for Make: readers! Submit photos of your custom Hot Wheels by Nov. 30, 2018, and official Mattel Hot Wheels designers will judge the winners and award cool HW prizes. Go to the contest page to enter!

The game has a very basic but evocative backstory where the rich and powerful have left Earth and become Martians, abandoning a dying Earth and most of its population to fend for itself. For entertainment, the Martians host an anything-goes vehicular combat reality game show, called Gaslands, back on Earth. The show is televised, and hugely popular, on Mars. Winners of each game show season earn a one-way ticket to Mars, and an escape from the miseries of Earth.

One of the most compelling things about Gaslands is that you spend around $13 for the rule book and then you have to basically build the rest of the game yourself. There are templates and markers in the back of the book to print out and mount, terrain and buildings to build, and most fun of all, you get to convert and Mad Max-ify toy cars.

Warning: This is a highly addictive activity. These cars are cheap to buy new and you can get big lots of used ones online for next-to- nothing. From there, you add weapons, armor, and other do-dads, and paint them up to look suitably post-apocalyptic. Once you get started, it’s hard to stop.

Here are the first three cars that I converted (my first crew) and the first piece of terrain that I made:

This game is cheap to get into, fun to play, and is perfect for makers since there is so much of the game that needs to be built by you. This would be a great game to play with your kids, at makerspace gaming nights, in a Scouting group, etc.

Here is what I’ve learned so far about acquiring, converting, and painting cars for Gaslands.

What You Need


Getting cars is easy. Too easy. Nearly every pharmacy, grocery store, convenience store, and department store sells Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars, usually for not much more than a buck. You can also find auction lots of used cars on eBay for next-to-nothing. I got 15 very used cars for $8, shipped. This is obviously hit and miss, but I got 4-5 great conversion candidates out of it and I used the others for parts and wrecked vehicles for “scatter terrain” on my gaming table. Once you start looking for them, you’ll see the cars everywhere, and because they’re so cheap, you can’t help but buy them.

Here are two Hot Wheels vehicles that I just picked up at a CVS for $1.30 each. I am now building a “death cult” racing crew that I’m calling The Necros (the original name for The War Boys in Mad Max). They may look a little silly now, but wait until I Goth- and Max-ify them up.

Here is a car I saw online that used the Skull Crusher (above left). I might go for a similar bone look on mine.

Tip: Save images of Gaslands cars you see online for conversion ideas, ways of painting, weathering methods, etc.


You don’t really need a lot of fancy or specialty tools to modify cars. Here are the tools I have on my bench when converting cars.

Scissors – For cutting paper parts, thin plasticard, and a thousand other uses.
Hobby Knife – The universal modelers tool.

Tip: Change (or sharpen on some fine-medium sandpaper) the blades frequently. Life is so much easier (and safer) with a sharp blade.

Sprue Cutters – Angled snippers that can be used to cut model parts from their plastic frames (called “sprues”) and for cutting other small plastic parts.

A jeweler’s saw, a handy tool to have.

Jeweler’s Saw – Not a required tool, but a Jeweler’s saw (or hobby saw) can be very useful in cutting off parts of you car you don’t want.
Tweezers – These allow you to pick and place tiny parts and to position slide-transfer decals.
Paint brushes – You need at least several paint brushes, a sturdy, bigger brush for base coating, one sturdy brush for dry brushing, and a few smaller detail and highlighting brushes. One attractive aspect of Gaslands is that, because it’s post-apocalyptic, most everything is dirty, rusted, broken, and decayed. Because of this, painting Gaslands cars is far more forgiving than other forms of miniature painting. Even cheap craft store brushes and paints work fine.
Rotary Tool – The most “exotic” tool you might want to have is a Dremel or other rotary tool. You will use this for drilling out the posts that hold the cars together, for cutting parts, for sanding, etc. Many weaker rotary tools may not be up to the task of “de-posting” (see below), so you might want to use a regular electric drill for that.
Toothpicks, rubber bands, Q-tips, paper towels, bottle and jug caps, wine corks — You also want to have a supply these on-hand, for stirring, clamping, whipping, blending, holding liquids and parts to be painting, all sorts of uses.


One of the other attractive things about converting Gaslands cars is that you can use almost any material to create armor, weapons, dozer blades, pungi spikes, and other embellishments. I have seen very lovely conversions that were done with little more than paper, thin card, and toothpicks. Here are the components I keep in my materials drawer.

A styrene grab bag assortment is a great way to start your collection of plastic stock.

Plasticard – Any plastic stock will do, from commercial plastic from suppliers like Evergreen and Plastruct to plastic packaging and kitchen trash. You can even use the plastic and cardboard that your toy car comes in to create armor plates and other car conversion parts. One way to get a nice supply of various types and thicknesses of plastic stock is to buy an assortment from Evergreen or Plastruct. You can get these on eBay. You want smooth and textured sheet plastic in the .10, .20, .40, and .80 ranges.
Paper and Card Stock – I keep some bond paper and card stock (from packaging) of different weights handy. Paper is great for creating tie-down straps, banding around rods, and thin armor plating or other raised body details.
Tubing – Along with the plastic sheet material, you’ll want to have some plastic tubing on hand for making weapons, car frame parts, suspension, exhaust pipes, and other situations where metal rod would be used on the car. Again, you can scavenge this or buy commercially. The assortments you get commercially usually include plastic tubing.
Jewelry Chain – Old bits of jewelry chain (also found cheap at any craft store) make very convincing steel cable and chain after being painted and weathered.
Metal Mesh – The kind of wire mesh used in sculpting forms (found in craft stores) makes perfect metal mesh to go over windows and other areas of an armored-up vehicle.
Toothpicks – One of the most heavily used components in car conversion. You can use them for gun barrels, car wheel and body spikes, as tubular building material, all sorts of uses.
Wire – Thin wire, piano wire, and solder can be used for wiring and piping on the cars. You can also take pipe cleaners, soak them in lighter fluid, burn off the fabric, and you have convincing-looking cabling (be careful — do this outside).
Kitchen Trash – Once you start doing model conversions and terrain-building, you will quickly develop what is known as “terrain eye.” Nearly every piece of trash will be considered for its potential as material or a form that can be used in modeling. This can become addicting. At one point, I had a huge box in a bedroom closet filled to the top with saved trash. In a cleaning frenzy, I threw the box out. I regret this very much. There were precious gems in there!

I got this bundle of weapons for LEGO minifigs on Amazon for under $9 (Prime). Tons of useful car conversion parts and weapons here.

Models Kits and Bits – One of the best, most convincing parts you can add to your models are parts from other model kits. Gaslands is a 20mm game. That is roughly equivalent to 1/72 scale. But you can use parts from other scales as well. Search Goodwill, eBay, and other such sellers for cheap model kits. You want to build up what’s called a “bits box” of parts. Going through a well-stocked bits box is a great way to get inspiration for your next build. A cool part or two can be the inspiration for an entire conversion.
Aftermarket Gaslands Parts – A cottage industry is starting to emerge around car parts and game components for Gaslands. The best two I’ve found so far are Ken’s Chop Shop and Gun Depot (accessible via the Gaslands Trade and Sales FB group) and the Mad Cars line of resin cast miniatures and accessories from Polish makers, Green Miniatures.

Some of the Mad Cars blister packs from Green Miniatures.


Glue – You want to have super glue, PVA glue, and optionally, hot glue, on hand.
Acrylic Paints – Again, because Gaslands modeling is so forgiving, you can get away with cheap craft store acrylic paints. Just make sure to water it down and do several thin coats as it can be thick. Stores like Michael’s sell Apple Barrel brand craft paints for around a dollar for a 2 fl. oz. bottle.
Washes – Washes (jokingly referred to among miniature painters as “liquid talent”) add amazing depth and bring out details in your models. I use (and love) the Army Painter tone washes and Citadel’s Nuln Oil and Agrax Earthsade.
Art Chalks – Hobby companies sell expensive weathering powers but you can achieve the exact same effect by getting a cheap set of colored art chalks and scraping the chalk into a powder you can apply with a Q-tip or soft brush. Make sure to get a set with decent shades of red, yellow, and brown to use as rust colors.


While most of Gaslands car conversion is simply a matter of gluing some guns and cool bits to a car to make it look suitably post-apocalyptic, there are a few techniques that will give you the biggest bang for your buck.


– You can get away with not taking apart your die cast cars, but you can do so much more if you separate the chassis from the body. With the car disassembled, you can remove the windshield (and replace with armor or metal mesh), remove and upgrade engines, add bigger tires, exhaust pipes, etc. Most 20mm die cast cars have two rivet posts on the underside. You simply have to use a bit slightly larger than the rivet and carefully drill these out. This can be a little finicky. It’s best if you can hold the car in a vise or otherwise secure it while you drill. And you need to take your time.


– Put a few thin base coats on a primed car, cover in a wash, and then add final highlights and drybrushing, and it is hard for your model to look bad, even for a beginning painter. Washes sold by companies like Army Painter are expensive, but I think they are worth it and a small 17ml bottle of Strong Tone will last you for a while.
Weathering – Since this is a post-apocalyptic future, most modelers like to dirty up, rust, and weather their cars. This is easily done by applying powdered art chalk in the colors of rust and dirt along the bottom edges of the car, behind the wheels, around edges that would get chipped and rust. You can also use thinned-out paint of similar tones. There are dozens of videos on YouTube on creating rust and weathering effects on models.

A mid-tone brown sponged on to wear areas and art chalks in various shades of brown and red add dust, rust, and age to your vehicles.
Silver painting along wear areas and weathering powders made from brown shades of art chalk add dirt, dust, and chipping.

Building a Model

How you trick out your car is entirely up to you. It is so much fun to pick out a car that appeals to you and then to go through your bits box, look at the parts available on other cars you have, and to look for inspiration in other Gaslands conversions online (see Resources below). Once you have a general idea, then you basically just jam with your parts and materials. It can be a very improvisational process. I usually start with a very general idea about the kind of car I want to build and what I end up with has often moved in a different direction. Here is one of my vehicles that has been de-posted, sanded, and modeled. Ready for priming and painting.

My Hot Wheels “Terrain Storm” conversion. I made it as a sort of armored-up buggy with a turret cannon and mortars. The front spikes are from a Warhammer 40,000 Ork buggy, the cannon is from my 40K bits, and the turret beneath it is the tank turret from a 15mm steam tank. The six plastic tubes on the back are mortars. The pole and skull-mask sign are from an Ork vehicle. The wheel spikes are toothpicks. I also added a chain with a skull on it (on the other side) and several 40K Ork bombs.

Note: Many tabletop miniature games are WYSIWIG (What You See is What You Get). If you say that your model is carrying a certain weapon, that weapon needs to be depicted on the model in some fashion. Gaslands is not WYSIWIG. What weapons and abilities your vehicle has only need to be spelled out on your Dashboard card (think: character sheet in RPGs). They don’t have to be depicted on the model. That said, when designing your vehicle, it’s fun to spec a real weapons load-out and depict that on the model. If you decide to add/remove weapons for a particular game, you can easily reflect that on your Dashboard.

And here is the almost finished vehicle. I still want to work on the highlighting, rust, and weathering. Sometimes it’s hard to stop working on these and call them finished:

A Gallery of Gaslands Cars from Instagram

The level of creativity and cleverness seen in online Gaslands groups for vehicle conversions is amazing. Even if you don’t play the game, looking through these galleries is fun. Probably the biggest and best is the Gaslands tag on Instagram. Here are a few recent uploads tagged to that group.

Wasteland Must-See TV

There is a growing amount of Gaslands content on YouTube. Do a search to find the latest. Unfortunately, the quality of the content is very hit and miss. Here are some sample videos from several of my favorite Gaslands content-creators.

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This guy isn’t actually building Gaslands cars. He is kit-bashing models to create wasteland vehicles for display. But his videos have tons of inspiration and techniques that can be applied to Gaslands modeling.

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This channel has now produced two excellent Gaslands battle reports. Watching these is a great way to see how the game is played.


Here are a few of the top-tier Gaslands resources online.

Osprey Games – The publisher of the Gaslands rules.
Official Gaslands Page – The site run by Mike Hutchinson, creator of Gaslands. Lots of good stuff here.
Friends of Gaslands – A collection of links to suppliers of Gaslands templates, dice, dashboards, and more.
Gaslands Facebook Group – The main Gaslands group on FB, with over 10,000 members.
The #Gaslands tag on Instagram – Subscribing to this IG tag will serve you up an overwhelming daily feed of inspiration for car conversions and terrain ideas. The creativity of people’s cars will blow the intake manifold on your supercharger.
Gaslands on Thingiverse – A growing collection of 3D design files for Gaslands game accessories, terrain, weapons, and car parts.

Another piece of scatter terrain I made for my Gaslands board. I love making these little diorama pieces and try to have them tell a story.
My next terrain project is going to be this “Nitro-Guzzoline Depot.” Here I am blocking everything out. There will also be a tin shack garage to the right of the vehicle.
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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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