Starting Small

Quite a few of the confirmed gearheads I know will tell you the same story: They started out small, playing with plastic.

A younger me... model maker at work.

Specifically, the scale car models that came in those colorful boxes… the ones with the eye-popping artwork and the artists’ renderings of all the extra parts included that would let you build any one of three different versions. By way of the five-and-dime, they came to us direct from Troy, Michigan… out of the very shadow of Detroit and the heart of internal combustion country. They were just like Dad’s;  just like the ones we saw in the car magazines, at kid-toy prices that wouldn’t knock the stuffing out of a paper-route savings account. They fit well in our hands and displayed perfectly on our shelves.

Part of my model collection... circa 1962.

They helped us develop the eye and and the tastes that would shape adventures yet to come in the world of real wheels. I’m convinced the plastic cement that automatically smeared onto the most visible places somehow transformed itself into the gasoline that came to be in our blood. These are the roots of the proclamation you’ve seen on t-shirts and garage-wall-art everywhere: “Still plays with cars”.

My "parts box" Jo-Han '64 Dodge super stocker...

Every now and then, nostalgic for simpler days, I’ll sit down at my basement workbench, usually in the dead of winter when the old cast-iron radiator next to me is clicking happily, and I’ll pull out my box of model parts. Sometimes I’ll actually work on a car model. But other times I’ll just dig through those parts and dream about the models that gave them up: the ones put together in the winter days long past.  They’re gone now, most of them, scavenged for parts, traded with buddies, blown up with firecrackers and all the other fates that awaited plastic models before they became sought-after collectibles. But not much has really changed. They still fit well in the hand and display nicely on the shelf. And even now, unlike their full-scale cousins, they won’t knock the stuffing out of a (pretty much nonexistent!) savings account.

Here’s to all the car builders who started small, and stayed there.  There’s a lot to be said for that.

A diorama in the corner of my A.C.Gilbert 1/32 scale slot racing track.. circa 1963.

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