"My Favorite Models", by Jeff Koch, writer/photographer at Hemmings Motor News…

Another series that has taken a bit of a hiatus from the blog is the “My Favorite Models” series.  We have only had four, but it has come from a prestigious group, from the Design Manager at Matchbox, to two former Matchbox Ambassadors, to one of the brains behind Japanese Nostalgic Car.

One article we have had waiting in the wings is by car nerd Jeff Koch.  Jeff makes his living writing from Hemming’s Motor News, and is also well known for being one of the most popular sellers at JCCS, Toyotafest, the Matchbox Gathering, and the Hot Wheels convention.  He is a vat of knowledge on all things vehicular, as well as diecast, having spent some time over at Johnny Lightning.

I have picked his brain a lot.  He is nice enough to answer my dumb questions that make me look like I know what I am talking about on the blog.  His connections in Japan have helped me acquire many of the Tomica and Aoshima models I have featured here on the blog.  He gets mad at me when he goes to visit his parents in Mesquite, Nevada, and finds that all the nearby Walmarts are devoid of Hot Wheels Celicas because I was there first.  He introduced me to the best sweet and sour soup I have ever had.  He is a good friend and a great supporter of the Lamley Blog.  He has helped a ton.

So I asked him to dig into that nerdy brain of his and tell us about his favorite models.  He even let me photograph them when we were in Albuquerque at the Matchbox Gathering.  Enjoy the read.

(Thanks Jeff.)

My Favorite Models, by Jeff Koch


Born and raised in New Jersey.

Career in writing/photography started in 1993, hired by CSK Publishing in New Jersey, home to High Performance Mopar, High Performance Pontiac, Vette, Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords, Musclecars, and others.

Left NJ in 1996, and by 1997 was living in LA and was hired at HOT ROD. (In between, was editor of CAR TOYS magazine in LA for two issues.) At HOT ROD I was instrumental in a couple of diecast special sections, done largely in conjunction with Mattel, and got to design the contest giveaway cars. My first taste of speccing out cars. Lovely.

Left HOT ROD in 2001, moved to South Bend Indiana and became Johnny Lightning’s brand manager for 2 years. Responsible for massive hits as well as crushing failures there.

Left JL at the end of ’03, and have worked for Hemmings now for almost nine years. A recent chronicle of my photo achievements at the link below…


As for collecting … I played with diecast as a kid, and eventually set ’em aside. But when I was 14-15, I found a flea market that sold the Euro-only MB versions, castings that were hard to find here, like the UK taxi and the Skoda rally. They differed from the usual peghangers at the corner store, and I bought what I could. The diecast faded again in my college years, when I had become a serious 1/24 plastic builder. I did use my model skills to customize small diecast, which culminated in a piece in Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine in 1996 or thereabouts. But around that time, I fell out of love with the larger scale, and moved to diecast. Customizing–really, paint, detailing and wheels–fell off the radar, and now I’ve settled on collecting 3-inch. I greatly appreciate the work that goes into many of the customs shown on the Lamley blog, and am jealous of the patience and time they have to devote to these customs.

Far removed from my days of wanting one of everything, in every scale, I’ve downsized (and regrown) my collection several times, settling on 1/64 (aka 3-inch) as a common denominator. Used to be I’d have multiples of the same casting if they were a different color AND wheel to everything else, but what happened was, 12 variations of a modern casting would end up drowning out a genuine vintage ’60s or ’70s piece; by limiting the massive array of new things coming in, the older, more interesting stuff would naturally achieve greater prominence in my collection. Scales are up to 1:55, and as little as 1:76. Anything in between, I’m game.

Now, my collecting goal is simply this: I want one casting of every 3-inch model ever made commercially available. It has to be a real (or factory concept) car or light truck–no construction equipment, fire engines, big-rigs, fork lifts, airplanes, tanks, etc. And it has to say something other than MADE IN CHINA on the bottom–I don’t care where it’s made, but it at least needs a car name, a company name/logo, or a casting/collector number. Any one of the three, and I’ll collect it. I’m up to 8700 pieces now with little duplication of castings. And my want-list is down to just 19 pages, and is filled with hyper-obscure brands that rarely show their heads on American shores.

My favorites, in chronological order of how they impacted my life … 

* MB BMC 1100 Pininfarina

My first Matchbox car, a shut-up toy my parents got me at the age of two while wheeling me through a New Jersey discount department store. The entire story was told in Hot Rod magazine in 1998, IIRC, and I can’t tell it better here:
* Tomica Honda Civic

Growing up, my favorite aunt was Japanese; my uncle was in the Air Force and was stationed in Japan in the early ’50s, and they got married there. And she was my favorite aunt–she was always interested in what I was up to, always wanted to play, always was more interested in what I was up to than what the other adults were blabbing about. On one of her trips back to Japan, she found a toy car for her car-crazy American nephew–she brought back this Civic. (Well, one like it; I played with mine until the back bumper fell off and it was lost in a neighbor’s garden somewhere.) Cancer took her late in my high school years, so she never got to see what I’d do with my life, or meet my son (now 6). This model reminds me of her, and how much I miss her–now more than ever.  
* Motormax 1976 Chevy Caprice and Chevy Impala

My first car was a hand-me-down from my grandfather, a ’76 Impala Custom Coupe. That was my high school and college car. As a car, it was largely pointless–4500 pounds and a 145hp two-barrel 350 under the hood–but as a means to an end–ie, getting out of wherever it was I needed to get out of–it was brilliant. When MotorMax launched the Caprice in their American Graffiti series (a car that was scaled down from the reissued MPC plastic model kit), I knew that an Impala would have to be forthcoming. But there were enough differences between the Motormax and my own car that it seemed impossible. Differences include: round headlights in the Impala vs square, wraparound taillights in the Caprice vs the Impala’s which did not wrap, no rear wheel skirts, and a lack of body side rub strip down the side of the car on my Impala. 
Fast-forward half a dozen years. One of my top trading partners is Sini Pismestrovic of Austria, a true renaissance man and, without qualification, an artist. He designs websites, he draws political cartoons for a number of German-language daily newspapers, he speaks at least three languages (and English so fluently that I frequently forget that English is not his first language), and he does custom diecast–mostly restorations of beat-up models or modifications of existing cars. Sometimes he does cars from scratch–he once did a Citroen entirely of mustard tubing. And he was kind enough to make the needed mods on the MotorMax Caprice to my specs. And so, this car has two meanings–not just as a symbol of my impetuous youth and my first car, but also as a symbol of a friendship that stretches nearly halfway around the world.
* Johnny Lightning CG2 r19 1970 Mercury Montego

Another car I owned … but this time I got it officially produced! I worked for Johnny Lightning for two years, in 2002 and 2003, and this was one of the first things I got to do. Something in Classic Gold had fallen through for licensing reasons, there was a hole to fill, what do we do? The notion of doing my own car so soon after my arrival wasn’t something I wanted to push–slightly tacky, I thought–but I had good art for the packaging, the casting existed, and it was, after all, a former Hot Rod Magazine project car. (Never mind that the Hot Rod name didn’t appear on the packaging.) The real car was stolen in 2006, out of my garage in Southern California, but I still have the model(s) of it, and though it’s small consolation, it’s still something.
* Johnny Lightning Herbie the Love Bug

Lots of things at JL were a team effort, but the initial ideas (good and bad–and God knows I had lots of bad ones) were often down to one person or another on the team. Not that anyone ever got credit. So I want to take the opportunity now to say this: doing Herbie was my idea. Mine mine mine all mine. It came about because Playing Mantis’ figure division was making some Disney-related figures at the time; adding Herbie to the contract was a clerical matter at the lawyers’ office. Suddenly Hollywood on Wheels was a hot series again, ’cause Herbie was in it. We did another HOW series, with Herbie Goes Bananas cars in it. Again, sell-out. Try finding one today on eBay. 
Remember the Herbie diorama with the car, two or three figures and the SFPD Ford cop car? Remember the variation–with and without stripes? There was an argument over that one in the office: the scene took place before Herbie had stripes. One of my bosses wanted to know why we’re paying Disney a license to do a car that doesn’t look like Herbie? And so we split it: in each case of 4, three had the Herbie stripes, since that’s how people knew him, and one was plain, which was correct for the movie and a now-impossible-to-find chase variant. It was after my time, but remember the WalMart endcaps of JL Herbie 5-packs in conjunction with the Lindsay Lohan travesty-of-a-film, the summer the film came out? Maybe not. That’s how fast they sold. I’m sure JL signed a new license for Herbie in between, but the notion that such a thing was even possible had its roots back in my efforts in 2002.
If I can point to any single thing in my career at JL and say “that was a success” it would be Herbie. 

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