Model car display techniques

Part one: Tell a story

You are probably like so many of us that started with a smallish model car collection. Then it grew. And grew. Then some more. Until one day you look at your beloved collection and realize it’s a mess! What to do? Use effective model car display techniques that organize the whole thing, that’s what.

It’s important to please yourself, of course. In the end, you are probably going to be the main audience for this stuff. If you have trouble finding a focus when viewing your hard-won acquisitions, then it’s time to do something. If guests have seen your collection, do they ask: “What’s up with all the toys?”. When your accurate model replicas don’t tell some kind of story, the end result may be odd glances coming your way.

When it gets away from you

Dennis Erickson was 69 when he passed away. Erickson was a religious man and was active in his local church. With no wife or family to leave his estate to when he passed, he left all his worldly items to the church, including his house. When church member Lisa Lundstrom got the key to Dennis’ house, she was overwhelmed when she opened the door.

There were models everywhere. More than 30,000 of them, all large-scale models. “Literally, it’s floor to ceiling in every single room,” Lundstrom said.

There were cars, trucks, tractors and every other kind of wheeled vehicle. Erickson began meticulously building displays for his prized possessions. He built more and more. He put them in every room: bedrooms, bathroom, laundry room and along every wall, and when there was no more wall space for displays, he put models on every flat surface. On floors, beds, household cabinets….everywhere.

“I mean, we just kept finding cars,” Lundstrom said. Never mind that were drivable collector cars in the garage. A Ford Model T, 1959 Edsel and a 1966 Rambler.

Erickson had started collecting at the age of 9. It’s estimated that he had collected more than one model for every day of his life. Days after Erickson died in his sleep, cars still were arriving.

Organize to the max

You may not have a collection the size of Mr. Erickson’s, most likely a somewhat smaller collection. When you look at the photo above, can you pick out many models at all, much less figure the why and what? His collection makes a very strong case for collecting 1/43 scale. That collection would have fit in 2 rooms.

model car cabinets by racerheadA well-organized collection tells a story. You might have a section for every one of your Ferraris or Formula One. Try to organize them in chronological order. You will be able to clearly tell how the cars evolved over the years.

My passion is for LeMans, IMSA and Can-Am cars. I have every LeMans winner and lots more non-winners. I love Indy cars and Formula One too. There’s a display of nothing more than Jagermeister-sponsored cars. No matter the category, the models (99% 1/43 scale) are organized by country, type of car, sponsor or team. Any way you look at it, it’s clear that each display tells some kind of cohesive story.

Unlike Mr. Erickson, you may not have the carpentry skills to build wall units such as he made. There are alternative choices. Read on.

Off the shelf displays

You can find endless posts about converting IKEA displays for model use. IKEA does make some nice and inexpensive cabinets. Very few keep dust out though. The most popular cabinet recommended is the Detolf unit. Glass door, sides and 4 glass shelves; you can’t fit much in the $59.99 unit. You can find workarounds that add shelves to the unit. That requires running around to get more glass and probably some hardware store pieces. The problem is that the Detolf is open at the corners. That causes dust infiltration, a mortal enemy of little replicas. Even overly cautious dusting of the models will inevitably result in tiny parts flying off, never to be seen again. You spend how much? on your models?

IKEA also sells the $199.99 MILSBO unit that does a better job of keeping the dust out. It’s metal with 4 glass shelves and it’s lighting capable. However, it’s also one of those IKEA units that have a bad habit of tipping over. Not good for children and pets or your collection.

model car cabinets by racerheadIn our first story on this issue, we recommended Trumpeter display boxes as one of the better model car display techniques. They are still a very good way to protect your collection. I have 26 of them laid out on shelves. There are other IKEA shelving units that will accommodate adding more shelves readily. Multiple Trumpeter displays will fit nicely on them. Each display can hold up to 14-15 models and keep them clean too. You can purchase more as you need them and they never tip over. On the left, I grouped some junior formula categories into a spare 1/24th display that I had laying around. The larger model is a Crossle 32F, one of just 48 ever made.

Okay, that sounds good. What else?

race tire display Model car display techniquesHow many times have you seen a racing at a race carrying a used racing tire off to his vehicle? I’m one of those people. I utilized a rear slick off a vintage Marlboro McLaren M23 as an end table. I obtained a piece of thick, smoked glass that was cut to the size of the wheel opening. Placed on the tire bead, the glass simulates the wheel and makes a dandy place to put some models. The one I used for that is from an IMSA Ferrari 308 Turbo that ran (unsuccessfully) at a Lime Rock IMSA race some years ago. Naturally, I display Ferraris on that tire.

Now that’s a story.

More model car display techniques (Part two) coming on Thursday.
More model stories here.