Volume IX, Number 1

By Jeff Koch

I like cars. And I like toy cars. I've been obsessed with both since the age of two, when I was given a Matchbox BMC 1800 Pininfarina as a shut-up toy while wheeling through a discount store somewhere in darkest New Jersey. It has led to a career as a writer and photographer of automotive subjects, it has led to a collection of car magazines that would get me condemned by the fire marshall if he ever visited my home-office, and it has led to a collection of 1:64 scale diecast cars-the majority of which are mint-loose and on display. To me, they have to be on display. If they're tucked away in a box somewhere, they don't mean anything to me; if I can't roll them on the kitchen table, open their little appendages, examine the details with my own fat, grubby fingers, they're no good to me.

Hence an investment in display cases that rivals the investment in the cars sometimes. (Buying a $75 case and stuffing it full of 100 50-cent cars does make me wonder sometimes.) They fill the upstairs halls.

Once upon a time-not that long ago, just the mid-'90s-I thought I could own everything, which now sounds impossibly grandiose and naïve. It was a time of discovery and accumulation for me. I was still on the steep end of the learning curve, and I dove in, wallet first. All scales from 1:18 to 1:64 scale were in my scopes, with 1:87 figuring in if the subject matter was somehow right, and Micro Machines across the board. I built model cars too, and had literally hundreds of started, never-to-be-finished projects.

In my two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, not only did I have plexiglass, mirror-backed Giovanni display cases, but I had a collection of illuminated, rotating Timex watch display cases to handle the overflow, as well as a six-foot-long, glass-fronted shelf display similar to what you'd see in a hobby shop.

I had an epiphany, around 1998 or 1999. A friend of mine had to return some equipment to his mentor's place-a creaky old place up in the Hollywood hills somewhere. And as I waited in the foyer, I had a look around. Creaking towers of documents rose from every surface and leaned over, threatening to topple at any moment, There were piles of papers randomly scattered about the floor. The place hadn't been dusted in ages. Stuff was just everywhere. No order, only mess. It was a shambles.

In that shabby house up in the hills, I flashed forward to myself in 30 years and cringed. This is exactly what I didn't want my life to become. It was then that I decided that not only could I not couldn't have it all, I really didn't want it.

I started by analyzing what it was that I actually liked. That, I discovered, were passenger cars and light trucks from around the world. My preferred scale was 1:64, since this is what I grew up enjoying thanks to that first Matchbox, though larger 1:55 Sikus and items falling into the 1:72.

Editor's Note:

The following images are of the Koch Collection as it now stands at about 7,000 pieces. These images are not labeled (although Jeff provided descriptions) since most of the models are to small to really identify. If you really want to see something better, the images when downloaded, will double in size.

The thinning started slowly, and in truth I hadn't even begun to catalogue what I had. But I know that there were two or three hundred pieces of construction equipment-bulldozers, road graters, dump trucks, you name it. All brands: Matchbox, Majorette, Tomica, I was all over the map. All of it, gone. Other heavy equipment-fire engines, big-rigs, armored cars, out the door. I held on to about fifty buses of all sorts-mostly London doubledeckers but some other tour and school buses, until just recently, for reasons I cannot articulate. Anything that could be considered a "fantasy" vehicle-anything from a casting changed slightly for licensing reasons to rolling toilets-were gone. Quality was also an issue: Summer is my fulcrum. Anything cheaper or cheesier than a Summer goes away.

Two hundred and twenty-five 1:18 scale cars have been whittled down to thirty and fall into one of the following three categories: Subaru WRX (my current driver and a car I'm nuts over), cars I have driven and enjoyed in my professional career, and cars that do not have a 1:64 scale equivalent in my collection at this point. Every year, as my 1:64 scale numbers grow, my 1:18 scale numbers decrease. (If anyone ever does a good Triumph TR6 or Spitfire, '57 Ford Skyliner with retractable top, or Renault Sport Spider in 1:64, my 1:18 numbers will drop further.) Micro Machines? Turned into earrings and sold on eBay, save for cars that haven't been done in my preferred scale. 1:43 scale items? From 100 to about ten, more or less, with remaining models satisfying niches unfilled thus far in 1:64 scale. HO scale items? Also mostly gone, unless there is no 1:64 scale equivalent (I have an early Jetta, Mitsubishi Tredia and an '80s Suzuki Swift that remain, among a handful of others).

My collection focused, yet at the same time I had broadened and deepened my search for 1:64 scale. I was able to invest in some more premium pieces, trade with others for my extras (this, in the days before message boards and my involvement on eBay) and grow my collection. The love of the cars came before loyalty to a brand of toy, so my display had always followed a certain hierarchy: organized by continent (ie American first, then European, then Asian), then by company (ie GM, Ford), then by marque (ie Chevy, Pontiac), then chronologically (in Chevy's case, starting with the Zylmex '35 sprint car and ending, at this writing, with Johnny Lightning's 2006 Chevy HHR wagon). So within the cases you could follow the history of a marque: Matchbox next to Hot Wheels next to Maisto next to Kyosho of a given car. It makes sense to me, if no one else.

A noble if ultimately futile attempt to limit the scope of my collection arrived with the new millennium. In my mind, the two things that change the look of a given casting most are, from a production standpoint, the easiest to change: the color of the paint and the style of the wheel. I decided that if I was going to have the same casting over and over again, it would have to look significantly different from the other ones just like it in the case. Alas, what happened was, I would have an overwhelming number of popular subjects-I had fifteen Johnny Lightning '69 Camaros, for instance-dominating real estate at the expense of some of the older, more interesting vintage pieces near it-my Mini Marx '67 Camaro, for instance, or a Zylmex Monza. Additionally, some of the color and wheel combinations were only to be found in cars from so-called licensed series: I recall a buying an appalling purple Johnny Lightning Camaro convertible with Clue tampos simply because I didn't have one with the Cragar Street Lite wheels it had. I never liked it-I bought it because it fit in with the scheme. (And I single it out for mockery since it was in development when I was employed by JL.)

In that frenzy, I remembered the trip to the musty old house in the hills and the epiphany that followed. Why am I buying cars if I don't like them?

This past August, I reached a milestone of sorts-ten thousand 1:64 scale cars, from 150 different brands around the world. It occurred to me that I didn't have room in my condo for ten thousand cars-and the piles of two-sided Jammerz cases consisting of the overflow were stacking up rapidly. I was having a hard time keeping up with the new stuff coming out-both time-wise and financially. Too much, particularly for what I felt was an increasingly narrow focus on muscle car oddities and obscurities.

So rather than multiple color-and-wheel variants of each casting, I have moved on to the notion of having no more than three of a given casting: one with a "basic" wheel, one with a premium hard wheel, and one with a premium soft wheel or "rubber" tire. (The definition of a premium hard wheel is open to debate, but I argue that any wheel that was introduced on a premium line or is called out special on the package is a premium wheel. In the world of Hot Wheels, the Pro Circuit 5- and 6-spoke wheels are certainly premium as they're two-piece wheels but I'm also throwing in wheels like the "green wheels" that showed up on Miatas and the BMW 850, the "noisemaker" wheels that came on set cars, and the Hot Ones and Faster Than Ever wheels, since they were a major selling point on the packaging. The new Matchbox Superfast line also has premium hard wheels, as an example.)

Details are still being worked out, since there are exceptions. In the case of Playart and Zylmex that had hubcaps in their early days, I'll collect one hubcap wheel and one "safety" wheel. For some brands, like Johnny Lightning, this is easy: they don't really have a "basic" wheel, so two of each casting and I'm done. For '60s Matchbox, I'll do one regular wheel and one Superfast, if so available.

Following this admittedly convoluted logic, not only do I largely take myself out of the loop buying all manner of newer models, I can concentrate on some of the older, harder to find pieces from the '50s, '60s and '70s that are missing from my collection. They're not uncommon, I just didn't have the scratch to pony up for them. Now I might.

So from ten thousand cars over the summer, I'm now right around the 7,000 piece mark. Which means I have about three thousand extras sitting around. (Sadly, they are not catalogued or photographed another project for another time.)

What comes next? Good question. I've been thinking that the modern 1:72 scale vehicles will be the first to go, particularly since the majority of the subject matter apes things I have in larger scales and so many of the companies seem to run together (Hongwell makes cars under its own and the Schuco names; Real-X, Joy City, Futura and Epoch all seem to have intermingled at some point though I'm not sure how). I've been toying with the notion that the pickup trucks may go away (though car-based rigs like El Caminos and Rancheros will stay). Perhaps I will choose the better of two premium wheels rather than one hard and one soft. That will thin out another thousand or so. But I'm not ready yet. Maybe someday.

At the same time, I'm getting new Norevs and Biantes and Konamis and CM's rally cars from worldwide trade partners on a regular basis, I'm in the midst of a trade for the majority of the Grell models released to date, and at the same time I discover vehicles from more new and different companies that I need to collect.

No matter how much I get rid of, or how much I find, there's always that much more that remains to be discovered, chased, and explored.