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How to start your model car collection


The owner of one of the UK’s largest private model car collections issues a stark warning when admiring his vast museum of miniature motorcycles: don’t let it get out of hand. .

“Don’t do what I did – don’t collect everything!” Marian Gradus adds, because we were allowed a special private tour of his lifelong passion. “Watch out for yourself, because this can grow like mushrooms after the rain.”

Marian has owned 15 real-life cars, starting with a Renault 10 and culminating in a unique gold one. Nissan Micra C + C in his driveway today. But his love for all things automotive drops 43 times and he owns around 5,000 examples and this number is continuing to grow.

It all started in his native Poland in the mid-50s. The country was locked behind the Iron Curtain and bleak auto scene, but his grandfather made a living finding and renovating cars. somewhat old German and American left behind after the Second World War. One of them was the 1950s Ford ‘Woodie’ station wagon, built in the United States.

Marian said: “I love that car in the palm of my hand. “I cried when he sold it. I used to play there so it feels like my home.”

However, if glamorous cars are a rarity, the toys are even harder to find. In 1955, his grandfather built his first seven-year-old Marian model plane, a model airplane, from cutouts of wood, and in just one trip to Paris to visit an uncle, he just received his first toy car, a plastic Norev model of a Citroen. ID19 Safari.

“I had never seen anything like it,” he recalls. “When I got a little older, I became daring to approach foreign tourists in Krakow, and ask if they would do a hobby exchange with me. I would send them something like a Polish record or stamp and in return ask if they would send me some model cars. I was once stopped by the police on suspicion of buying foreign currency, a violation of the law!

“That’s how I started having a pretty large collection of Matchbox, Dinky, Corgi, Spot On, Norev and Solido from France, Siku from Germany etc. It worked very, very well and it really started to build. build. You can buy Matchbox cars in several city centers [hard currency] shops called Komis, specializing in foreign goods but very expensive.

However, when Marian’s career in aeronautical engineering brought him to the UK in the late sixties, he was in small car heaven. He quickly perfected the toys made by Matchbox, Dinky, and their colleagues, and discovered model stores like the now-defunct Beatties chain, where precision and detail were beautifully crafted small is the key. His collecting frenzy was successful.

Fast-forward to the present day and Marian’s collection is so vast, he has entire shelves in his display case devoted to single themes, or sometimes just one label.

For example, at eye level in his research, you can see a giant viewing a Rolls-Royce and Bentley collection that would make any real-life museum jealous, yet only need one. Shelves down is a packed Eastern European scene. cars from countries like Romania, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Your eyes glide over the rooftops of recognizable Skodas and Wartburgs and catch amazing obscurity, such as the Polish-made Daewoo Nexia and a Syrena sports car by The prototype East Germany that Marian said had made Enzo Ferrari himself.

There were rows of Mercedes cars, several square meters of classic British cars, and a series of presidential limousines centered around the convertible Lincoln Continental in which John F Kennedy was assassinated. There are military vehicles, concept cars, old trucks, you can name it, but you have to drive to the dining room to catch the ‘Americana’. Here are some cases crammed with the best of Detroit, from the Ford Model T to the chrome cruisers of the mid-fifties that, for a Polish boy of the day, were iconic symbol of the ‘free west’.

Although Marian has some stunning models of mostly American cars and Rolls-Royces in 1:18 and 1:24 scales, it is the compact size of the traditional 1:43 scale (see sidebar). ) has caused the collection to grow to monumental proportions.

“I just have a passion for cars and by collecting models you can see how the car has evolved, how the design has changed,” he said. “All my life I’ve worked in aircraft and automotive engineering, and I’ve collected models of all the cars I’ve admired at motor shows, things that I’ve seen. while working there.” Sure – and keeping an eye on the competitive car industry itself – Marian displayed Car Of The Year winning models in Europe from the 1964 Rover 2000 P6 to 2017 Peugeot 3008.

However, it is the groups in his collection with individual, exotic themes that are most intriguing. He has a list of models of all the different cars he owns, including a Renault 10, then a Renault 4, a Fiat 127, a Mini and an Austin Princess. And not far away was a similar array of all the cars his parents-in-law had, from the Czech canvas Velorex tricycle that passed through their DKW and Opels, to the Morris Eight and the Triumph Herald. which they have after moving to the UK decades ago. For the recent Queen’s Jubilee celebration, Marian even placed a 1:43 display of Royal transport in the living room window.

“My models are a mixture of rosin, resin, white metal and diecast, some from professional manufacturers like Western Models, Brooklin and Danbury Mint,” explains Marian. “I also have many state-made Russian model cars in the 70s and 80s, which are very rare and very collectible today.

“About 15 years ago, d’Agostini launched free-model magazines and they were extremely popular, especially in Eastern Europe. The models are made in China as diecast – they can never do this level of fine detail in the West; it’s just too expensive. The models used to cost £50 each but because in China they cost £10-11. They are affordable for everyone.

“So now you can get a model of almost every car ever made. It was like a dream come true for me, and I admit I was a bit crazy back then because I was able to fill the void with all the cars I could ever dream of!

“These are models, not toys. I am always looking for quality and similarity with the car. In the plastic models, for example, detail is much better even when parts like the doors and bonnet are not open. So, do you prefer Harrods or Woolworths stuff? You have to decide.”

Marian’s expertise and passion for the finest details means that his name is revered when it comes to custom models.

He shows us a Morgan he built for one owner, reimagining the specifics of his car, even down to the special bumpers and individual number plates. Two additional examples are needed to gather the ingredients for an exact replica of this. Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce was a client of the owner of a particular Phantom Drophead Coupé, while Marian also had letters from both the Queen and the late Princess Diana thanking him for perfectly recreating those pieces. their personal car (in Princess Di’s case, her Audi Cabriolet).

After just a few hours admiring his collection, you’ll see something slowly about Marian’s massive performance: hardly any sportswear or supercars, and not a single Formula 1 driver any.

“I have a beautiful collection of F1 cars because I used to work for Williams, but I sold it. I don’t care Ferraris or LamborghiniS. I really hate sports cars! So most of my collection is salon and limousine,” he revealed.

Building a collection like this takes extraordinary dedication; ‘administering’ it can become addictive. But Marian put it into perspective, saying, “Yes, I agree it can be a fanaticism, an obsession, but it makes me happy. I don’t smoke or drink, so all my hard-earned money goes to modeling. Wherever I go on vacation, I love to go out and find a few new ones, and although my wife isn’t always happy about it, she knows what I have to do!

“That’s my hobby, and it’s really a pity that young people don’t have any hobbies anymore, because there’s nothing more beautiful in life than a hobby that you can lose. My generation is probably the last generation to collect model cars. “

Chronology: The History of Hobby

The original Diecast toy cars were a by-product of the American hot-zinc typesetting process in the early 20th century, while manufacturers in Germany brought tin model cars to life in how to mount them with watch movements.

However, it was Britain’s Dinky Toys, launched in 1933, that started the collectible craze. The company pioneered and popularized the 1:43 scale as they were originally seen as simply layout accessories for Hornby train sets in their respective O-gauge sizes.

Dinky Toys joined the more affordable Matchbox series cars and the more sophisticated Corgi Toys in the ’50s, though between then and ’70s European brands like Solido, Mercury, and Gama often have an edge over their rivals when it comes to model realism.

Italy’s Rio started selling high-precision 1:43 models of vintage and veteran cars in the sixties. They were intended for display rather than play (Brumm, Vitesse and many others have successfully followed suit), and demand for ‘collectible’ models exploded.

In the United Kingdom, ‘handcrafted’ products from brands such as Grand Prix Models and Mikansue cater exclusively to watch enthusiasts, and ‘white metal’ kits allow the faithful Custom map on request 1:43. Plastic models have entered the specialized market, although age-related shrinkage sometimes overshadows the precise authenticity they achieve.

Manufacturing in China over the past 25 years has completely transformed model car collection, and the low prices and limitless selection now available are the envy of the decade’s avant-garde collectors. 60.

How to start your own collection

A seasoned collector like Marian encourages newcomers from the start to decide what they like and stick with it. “If you like Renault, collect Renault,” he said. “If you like Ferrari, collect Ferrari. Otherwise you will end up with so many models you will run out of space. “

Scale is important; The smallest standard size that provides any meaningful detail is 1:87. The Matchbox or Hot Wheels style scale ranges from 1:60 to 1:65, but most serious collectors prefer 1:43. The larger sizes at 1:24, 1:18, 1:12 and 1:8 are more impressive than ever, but gradually eat up display space.

Buying online has become the default for the past 20 years. But every year there are dozens of collectors’ fairs across the UK known as swap fairs, where the choices – and the opportunities to negotiate prices – are endless.

How will you display your collection? Glazed wall units or freestanding cases protect them from accidental damage and a lot of household dust, though it’s almost impossible to get rid of the latter completely. Shielding your collections from direct sunlight is important to keep them looking fresh.

But the most important aspect to collecting is enjoying your models – whether it’s the occasional half-hour, holding them in your hand, admiring them, or otherwise showing them off to friends who absolutely love them. ‘understand’ why you love them.

Do you own a model car collection? Let us know in the comments…



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