It wasn't long after the Corvette arrived that toy versions starting showing up in stores. At first they were mostly crude, die-cast iron or tin replicas, but as plastics caught on in the '50s, companies flooded the market with styrene-plastic kits of miniature airplanes, boats, ships, and, yes, cars. These companies formed a close relationship with carmakers, and by the mid-'60s, some car kits were being released simultaneously with their real, full-sized counterparts. While Matchbox was making vintage and European cars, Hot Wheels began to popularize muscle cars, race cars, and Corvettes in die-cast.

Two developments in the toy industry occurred in the late '80s and are still being felt today. As tool-and-die manufacturers in China started to gain proficiency, we saw $100-plus, pre-assembled die-cast cars with details that rivaled the more difficult plastic kits. Second was the introduction of toy-grade radio-controlled cars and trucks from Taiyo, Tyco, Nikko, and others, all with prices under $100.

Then a new player arrived, and it had a profound effect on the toy-car market. Build-A-Bear Workshop took the traditional teddy bear to a new level in 1997, when CEO and founder Maxine Clark created a chain of stores that invited girls to come in and make their own customized bears. It wasn't long before Clark was swamped with all sorts of "build-a-toy" ideas. She even outlined her own DIY model-car line, but she was too busy overseeing her existing business to make it happen.

In 2005, entrepreneur Larry Andreini pitched Clark his own build-a-car concept, which he called RIDEMAKERZ. Andreini's background in financial services, customer-loyalty programs, and experience at bringing a brand to reality convinced Clark to collaborate with him, and RIDEMAKERZ was launched.

The concept follows Build-A-Bear, but with lots of diamond-plate aluminum and edgy, urban-style graphics in place of fake fur and tiny clothing. The plan was to create a cool, fun miniature-garage environment where boys (and girls) could build their own custom rides, just like the ones they see on popular TV shows like Overhaulin'.

RIDEMAKERZ shops offer 14 different body styles that measure 10 to 12 inches, including trucks, sports cars, race cars, and even muscle machines. All of the bodies fit onto two different chassis-4x4 off-road or street machine. While not over-the-top caricatures, certain characteristics of the 1:14 to 1:20 scale models are exaggerated and enhanced for dramatic effect. Bodies are pre-painted, so no glue or paint is needed, and all the parts snap on and off.

Kids can choose the stock push-around chassis, or go motorized with a 27-MHz R/C chassis and controller. Next, they choose from six sound chips; 31 wheel styles; four street or four off-road tire designs; three plug-in engines; four hood scoops; seven front-grille guards; wheelie bars; nine exhaust tips; roof items such as rally lights, nitrous tanks, and surf boards; three ground-effects glow kits; five side pipes; three running boards; seven spoilers; and 11 different truck-bed covers. RIDEMAKERZ says there are more than 649 million different combinations, not counting decals.