When I launched Carriage House Models in 2013 as a boutique retailer of precision diecast model cars, friends who were otherwise very encouraging often asked me, “Who buys these things, anyway?” My reflexive answer, of course, was “model car collectors,” but that’s really only part of the story. Diecast scale-model cars are a $300-million-a-year industry, so clearly there is a great deal of demand for a product that is the very definition of a discretionary purchase. Beyond the narrow band of people who would identify as “model car collectors,” there are auto enthusiasts of all stripes who acknowledge their passion by displaying a miniature car or two in their homes, their offices, their “man caves.” The real question is, “Why?” With so many other ways to celebrate our love affair with cars, why choose models?
I believe that the primary appeal of model cars is that they are aspirational totems, small reminders of our dreams that we can hold in our hands. Few of us will ever own a Ferrari GTO, Mercedes Gullwing, or Bugatti Veyron in real life, but model cars allow enthusiasts with constrained budgets to build our own fantasy garages.
I’m also convinced that besides being surrogates for the real thing, model cars allow us to connect with our inner children. They take us back to a time when we played with our Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, learning how to drive in the safety of our parents’ living rooms, looking forward with unbridled optimism toward the day when we would be grown-ups with real cars of our own. I get the same thrill from acquiring a new model as an adult that I did as a child, and I think it’s safe to assume that almost all model car collectors, from the most casual to the most fanatical, pursue this hobby for the same reason: it’s a connection to the dreams of their youth.
I think there’s one further reason we acquire model cars: to display them! Collecting model cars gives auto enthusiasts a point-of-reference in sharing their passion with others. In my other, non-automotive job, I keep a select handful of beautiful diecast racing cars in my office, and visitors comment on them almost without fail. They’re a surefire conversation-starter, a sort of calling card to the world for my appreciation for elegance in engineering and design. And should one of those visitors happen to be a car-lover him-or-herself, I can guarantee that I will have just made a friend.
I’m certain that there are as many reasons for collecting model cars as there are individuals who collect them, but for me, it comes down to these three basic ideas: they allow me to live out my automotive fantasies, to keep in touch with the car-crazy kid I used to be, and to build personal bonds with both fellow enthusiasts and with the uninitiated alike.
What about you? How did you get started as a collector of model cars, and why do you keep at it?