Carl Brown has a simple rule for his grandchildren when it comes to the collection of 25,000 toy cars he has amassed over 30-plus years of collecting.
“If you can reach it, you can play with it,” Brown said. “I don’t have a lot of rules for the cars — they are for playing. That’s the fun of them.”
Brown said his grandchildren love to visit the metal shell building at their homestead that houses his collection and is divided into specific rooms with shelving and cases for die-cast, plastic and other facsimile cars.
“Toy cars have been my hobby ever since I can remember. We lived near Fairview Park and I’d be there every day with my cars,” Brown recalled. “It took a break in high school and college; it was natural to come back when I had children of my own.”
Brown said his passion for his hobby was reignited after he married and started a family. And now the cars are enjoyed by a third generation of Browns.
“This place is basically full,” Brown said of his collection. “I want to display all that I have collected over the years.”
According to Brown, he acquires about 100 toy cars per month on average; about 1,200 per year. Brown has Matchbox cars, a brand from Great Britain started in 1953, and Hot Wheels, the American-made brand that was started in 1968. He has a display case of original 1960s Hot Wheels as you walk through the toy room, which also sports a race track with dozens of cars ready to race.
The walls are lined with hundreds of cars of all makes and models. Brown said his grandchildren — just like his children — will play a demolition derby and race the cars for hours on end.
The car room — as you leave the toy room — is where you’ll find the James Bond and the Chip Foose, a custom car builder, sections. Another section is the vehicles of Texaco, as Brown worked at a local station as a teen. He even has a set of the original vehicles that could only be acquired at a Texaco.
“These have a lot of childhood memories in them,” Brown mused of the Texaco toys.
Brown said he has cars ranging from 50 years old to less than a week old. As one looks from display to display, there is a Hollywood section with cars from movies and television shows like “Starsky and Hutch,” “The Partridge Family,” “Back to the Future,” “Grease,” “Bullitt” and various cartoon programs.
“One trivia note, most of these cars have the same mold: a 1946 Ford frame,” Brown explained. “They just paint it or decorate it appropriately for the movie or TV show.”
Some may be valuable, but none are rare, with the exception of those original 1968 Hot Wheels cars.
“With the passing of Burt Reynolds recently, the ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ cars have increased in popularity,” Brown said. “Every car here has a story.”
Brown said his cars are “just normal” and he doesn’t collect for their potential value. Other examples of sections include Coca-Cola, “American Graffiti” and the Mustang, among the makes and models of the U.S. car industry that also includes GTO, Firebirds, Trans Am and Camaros.
“I liked to play with them,” Brown explained. “Yeah, some are in the original packaging, but mostly, I opened them and played with them growing up. I keep all those — about 150 cars — I played with as a child together in an old Timex watch case. Those are some great memories.”
Brown has been asked a number of times what his favorite car is and said the answer is easy.
“It’s the Mustang,” he explained. “My favorite is the Shelby Cobra. They are legendary. I have thousands of them. Also, the model of my first car in high school is special too. It’s the 1969 Impala.”
Many ask Brown how he gets his cars. He has sent off for them from cereal boxes, gone to toy shows, bought them at retail stores such as TG&Y and Gibson’s and gotten some online as well.
“I got quite a few of the old Aurora cars from the store as a kid,” Brown explained. “Remember them? They were the big plastic ones — so fun!”
One of his prize cars is the one-twelfths scale Hot Wheels Corvette that is so detailed, Brown described it as unreal.
“This is the one we don’t play with,” he smiled.
In his building, it seems that the cars go on and on, including vehicles from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s; construction vehicles; miniature cars; perfume cars; logo Hot Wheels; and emergency vehicles. He has examples of every Corvette since its inception in 1953 and Tootsie Cars, which are hollow metal cars, among others.
“This is something I like,” Brown explained. “Some have hobbies like hunting or boating. I got this car interest early on as a kid and once I had sons, it just fit to continue it as an adult.”
According to Brown, collectors buy, sell and trade toy cars just as in other hobbies, such as comic books and coins.
“This is not for profit,” Brown said. “You have to really like the hobby to make it real. It’s a fun hobby and one to pass on to my grandchildren.”
The collection is so real that it was featured on “Texas Country Reporter” on various cable networks recently. Bob Phillips, the longtime host of the program, visited with Brown about his lifelong hobby.
“It was amazing,” Brown said. “My friends had submitted the idea to TCR. I was so surprised.”
As long as there are toy cars, Brown plans to continue his hobby. He doesn’t know what it will look like after another 30 years, but expects it will require an expansion.
“I will probably need another building,” he said with a smile.