Life is short, work is long. If you can turn what you love into what you do for a living, do it! Jim Thoren and Scott Dahlberg love cars. Thoren's father raced 3/4 midget racers, while Dahlberg would say almost anything to get his father to take him to the drag strip. Both loved building model cars. When they got too busy for that, they started buying 1:18 scale die-cast models to keep the scenery interesting.
The two men wound up in cars professionally. They worked in the same office at an auto body shop. Thoren trained as a mechanic but got tired of busting knuckles and bleeding at his job, so he went over to the paperwork side. One day, the office mates went out to a hobby shop over lunch to check out some model cars. They liked what they saw, but they could also think of great performance cars they didn't see available . . . like the Yenko Camaro.
They contacted a manufacturer and inquired about getting such a car made in 1:18 scale. The answer was yes. They put through an order and entered the die-cast car business. Their first example sold out quickly and they knew they were onto something. Customers encouraged their efforts, asking, "What are you going to make next?"
Initially, the business was a part-time venture alongside their day jobs. It quickly became apparent that this idea would need one of them full time. Thoren jumped ship to run Supercar Collectibles (www.Supercar1.com), while Dahlberg stayed at the body shop. Didn't take long before demand and revenues could support two full-timers. Their friend Steve Meyers, whose drag-racer father inspired him to be involved in cars, also came to work for them, as did fellow car fan and friend, James Kise.
All of the men are muscle car fans, so that has become a primary focus. But drag racing is a strong theme too, both from Meyers' father's influence and Dahlberg's experience on the track. He raced Mopars, like the '68 Charger R/T he bought at age 16, from the '70s into the early '90s. He was even a regional champion, running at tracks like Brainerd and Minnesota Dragways. Thoren also did some drag racing, but preferred car shows to drag strips. He won armloads of trophies with many different show cars over the years. What a pleasure it is today for the lifelong car fans to speak with their racing heroes as Supercar Collectibles releases scale models of these famous cars from the '60s and '70s.
Over their 11 years in the business, the collectors have seen impressive changes in their manufacturers' abilities, particularly in the level of detail. Thoren gets excited describing the many ways in which the miniatures mimic their full-scale counterparts. Today's examples have spark plug wires, fuel lines, emergency brake cables, fuzzy carpet, sliding and folding seats, spring-loaded scissor hood hinges, cloth seatbelts, trunk mats, spare tire and jack, and jack instructions fully written out in tiny type.
Supercar Collectibles issues about 10 to 12 new models per year. Some cars are made in lots of up to 2,500, though the business has had runs as small as 96. There have also been special versions, like a limited batch of Plymouth GTXs modified with primer and body filler, and sold as unrestored muscle cars.
The hobby-turned-job is going well - and those first Yenko Camaros that they sold for $59.95 now command $200 in the die-cast collector market. And it's something the crew loves. As with any successful business, it takes lots of work. Still, Thoren's attitude speaks for all of them: when he leaves for his job in the morning, he says, "Time to go play."