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Crazy for little cars

Die-cast car collectors all revved up with their toy-sized rides

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Four years ago, Harold Taylor’s wife and two teenaged daughters summoned him into the living room for a family heart-to-heart.

Once Taylor was seated his loved ones got to the point. "We’ve been talking," they said in unison, "and we’ve come to the same conclusion: we think you need a hobby."

After Taylor picked his jaw up off the floor, he asked where this was coming from, exactly. Was he getting on people’s nerves? Did they think he had too much time on his hands?

Finally, at the end of the dialogue, Taylor stood up and declared, "OK, give me 48 hours and I’ll tell you what my hobby is going to be."

When everybody reconvened two days later, Taylor had made up his mind.

"My new hobby is," he said, pausing for effect, "Dinky Toys."

The family’s response: "Dinky-wha’?"

Taylor explained that Dinky Toys were a line of die-cast, miniature vehicles produced in England from the 1930s until the late 1970s. He had a bunch when he was a kid, he told them, but he hadn’t picked one up in decades and was excited to start collecting anew.

"At first they seemed happy I’d found something to keep me occupied," says Taylor, who has since expanded his pursuit to include Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. "But now it’s gotten to the point where I was recently told to find a bigger cabinet to put my cars in ‘or else.’ And ‘or else’ probably isn’t too far away."

Taylor belongs to the Winnipeg Die-cast Club, a group of miniature-car enthusiasts that has been hooking up for the past seven years. (To be clear: it’s the cars that are miniscule in size, not the club members.)

One of the regulars’ kids teasingly refers to the get-togethers as "Daddy’s show-and-tell" — an apt portrayal according to Harald Wodtke, one of the troupe’s founders.

"That really is about the only way to describe it. We push a few tables together at the start of the night, pass our stuff back and forth for a couple of hours and talk about what we’ve bought recently — or want to buy next," Wodtke says. "We’re usually done by 10, but it’s not unusual for guys to stand outside and yak for another hour or two, before finally going home."

Wodtke specializes in Ferrari roadsters reproduced on a 1:18 scale. He got interested in die-cast cars 33 years ago after his daughter gave him his first one for Father’s Day.

In time, Wodtke became a familiar face at Die-cast Bobz’ Quality Collectables, a hobby shop that used to be on Archibald Street. One afternoon in 2007, Wodtke was chatting with the store’s owner about how much he enjoyed collecting cars but how, at the same time, he felt isolated because he didn’t know anybody else who shared his passion.

"I told him I wished there was a way we could get a bunch of guys together on a regular basis to chat about what everybody had," says Wodtke, a retired designer who spends his spare time building life-like dioramas for his and his cohorts’ vehicles.

The shop owner told Wodtke that was an excellent idea and handed over the store’s mailing list, saying, "Here’s a good place to start."

Bob Dmytrowski was one of the first people Wodtke got in touch with. Dmytrowski thought the idea of a club devoted to die-cast car collectors was a phenomenal idea, so he approached Peter Ginakes, owner of the Pony Corral restaurant chain, to ask if he and Wodtke could use Ginakes’s downtown location as the group’s unofficial headquarters.

Ginakes, a die-cast collector in his own right, agreed and the Winnipeg Die-cast Club has been parking itself in the main-floor courtyard-area at 444 St. Mary Ave., the first Thursday of the month, ever since.

Dmytrowski concentrates on European cars and "racing stuff." He got into the hobby in 1988 while he was backpacking across Europe.

"I was in Italy and stopped in a toy store that had a Ferrari F-40 and was completely blown away. When I got home I discovered Toad Hall Toys and the whole thing just kind of ballooned from there," he says. "At first I pretty much bought anything and everything and quickly amassed a collection of over 500 cars. But I’ve since become a little more discerning. Thankfully my wife is very understanding; her thing is as long as I keep (my collection) confined to a specific area of the house, she’s good with it."

Dmytrowski says there are no dues associated with the club and anybody is welcome to attend. While most members range in age from 30 to 60, there have been a few teenagers who’ve popped in from time to time, he says.

"But really, it’s pretty much the same faces, every month," he goes on, noting while the club has been exclusively male to date, he is familiar with a few women who collect die-cast cars, as well.

"Every so often we’ll get a new collector dropping in. At the end of the night he’ll tell us what a great time he had and how much fun it was. Then we never see him again. It’s almost like some people are embarrassed or don’t want to admit how into this they really are."

Elliot Stokoloff is a former lot manager for a Winnipeg BMW dealership. He started off collecting American muscle cars such as Corvette Stingrays and Chevy Camaros but his current passion is movie cars — vehicles that made a name for themselves in fast-paced flicks such as Bullitt, The French Connection and The Dukes of Hazzard.

"Remember that TV-show The Munsters?" Stokoloff asks. "Well, Grandpa (Al Lewis) had this car called the DRAG-U-LA that was made out of a coffin. I have that."

That ain’t all: some of Stokoloff’s latest finds include a Monkee-mobile (a modified, Pontiac GTO used to transport chart-toppers the Monkees), Greased Lightning from Grease and a set of four cars featured in the film American Graffiti — including the one Harrison Ford’s character famously referred to as a "p***-yellow coupe."

"You come to my house and downstairs it’s all cars: pictures, magazines, books... I guess you could say I buy these because I can’t afford the real thing."

When club night rolls around, the guys tend to be a little choosy about what they show up with. That’s because the majority of them prefer to keep their treasures at home, safely protected in glass showcases. After all, certain models cost upwards of $300 and $400 and are so intricate nobody wants to chance any fender-benders.

"Take this one for example," Dmytrowski says, pointing to one of Wodtke’s cherry-red Ferraris. "It’s so realistic you can actually roll the windows up and down, open the glove box and take the gas cap off. Each of its tires has 70 spokes that are individually hand-woven. There are over 1,500 parts in that car alone."

OK, so these are closer to works of art than toys, but seriously, what’s the point of a gazillion add-ons if the people buying the cars have no intention of "playing" with them in the first place?

"It’s true they’re mostly made for show but maybe," Dmytrowski says with a wink, "we do roll the windows up and down a couple of times when we first bring ’em home, just for fun."

For more information on the Winnipeg Die-cast Car Club, you can contact Bob Dmytrowski at bog.kris.polson@gmail.com.

 

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

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