When my son was in kindergarten and learning to count, he came home with instructions to gather 100 objects and then use them to practice counting. Suggested items included playing cards, toothpicks and pennies but I had a better idea: Hot Wheels Cars. We scoured the house for them, first emptying the plastic storage display that hangs from his bedroom door and then moving on to the toy box and then various drawers of his dresser and desk. The pile in the front room soon grew to amazing proportions and as the search widened to include all the nooks and crannies of the house, still the cars turned up in ones and twos, some under the couch, still others in the kitchen drawers and even a few amid the dust bunnies behind the TV. When, after about an hour, we had gathered them all together, we lined them up in neat rows on the carpet and counted to almost 170.
How we got so many cars is a result of the passion that I feel for cars. As a child of the 1960s, I can remember the feeling of going into the local hardware store and staring at the plastic display case of Matchbox cars that sat on the back counter. They were all there, the entire “Matchbox 75” collection and what a glorious feeling it was when I managed to scrape together the $1.07 that would actually allow me to take one home. I remember my collection well, the yellow Ford pick-up with a clear canopy and a red plastic lion that circled in the back as the truck rolled across the floor, the blue Citroen SM that had doors that actually opened, the angular green military transport truck with a plastic machinegun on top and a row of troops seated at the ready in the back and the yellow Mercedes SL with the black top you could pop off (and promptly lose) in order to turn the car into a convertible.
At home, the Matchbox cars joined cars from other brands, a Johnny Lightning AMX and Dodge Challenger as well numerous Hot Wheels including the Red Baron, the Twin Motor and the outrageous hotrod Paddy Wagon. There were off brand cars too, a Starsky and Hutch Gran Torino and a Jaguar E-type so old that it’s once smooth baby blue paint had been scraped to bare metal, its once clear plastic windows so badly scratched and fogged that you could no longer see the car’s interior. My collection grew and filled the 48 slots of my Matchbox carrying case and then, like my son’s collection, spilled out into the various nooks and crannies of our house or became lost in the sand box or the soil of our yard where they likely remain to this day awaiting rediscovery.
As time passed on and I grew to adulthood, my die cast car collection was consigned to the back of the closet and then the attic. When my brothers and sisters had children, the boxes were brought down and my nieces and nephews also played with and enjoyed my cars but as those kids also aged, the cars were again consigned to boxes. They remained there, forgotten again, until I returned to my parent’s house after a lifetime of world travel with my own children and found the last two or three cars that still remained. Today, those few survivors are among the others in my son’s collection, perhaps a little more worn than the others but still holding their own. Only I know which ones they are for sure.
In some ways, my son’s large collection is the result of my own obsession with these little cars. When he was born I once again had an excuse to haunt the toy aisles where, to my wondrous surprise, I found that they still sell for the same price they did almost thirty years ago. As he has grown, I have used every excuse to take him to the toy store to pick out cars, he gets them for his birthday, whenever he visits the dentist or gets a shot, for good grades and on those days when just he and dad need to go out and do something together. His collection is a mixture of our personal preferences, it has a Gran Torino, a Datsun 510 and any number of other classics in it because of my guidance and Sharkruiser and a Ratmobile because he doesn’t always listen to good sense.
There will, I know, come a day that the cars will see less use. It is happening already as Pokemon cards and Nintendo compete for more of his attention but I know that one day, as these things too fall away, he will return to the car hobby. In the meantime, these cars too will make the trip to the back of the closet and eventually on to our storage unit. There, they will remain, waiting for the day that they are rediscovered by my son’s children. As a man who has come to fatherhood later in life than most, I know that I may not be there to see my grandchildren grow into adulthood. They will know me by the things I leave behind and so I hope that the tiny die cast seeds of my enthusiasm will not have lost their magic and that they too will develop the love I feel for all things automotive. Let’s just hope they don’t think I picked out the Ratmobile.
Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.