The longevity of Motor City USA is due to the efforts of three men, Alan Novak, Gene Parrill, and Jeff Thomas.More
The longevity of Motor City USA is due to the efforts of three men, Alan Novak, Gene Parrill, and Jeff Thomas.
Gene met Alan Novak in 1990 after he had retired from Xerox. Alan was looking for a partner for Motor City and Gene fitted the bill. At that time Alan had three people working for him besides himself. He had just released the 1955 Chevy and was working on the shoebox Ford (1949 to 1951). The Chrysler Town and Country was already out and was the talk of the world.
Pete Kenna had joined Alan in 1986, made patterns for the range and stayed with Alan regularly. However, when he launched his own Kenna models range he had to withdraw for a while. Their pattern maker at the time was Don Loos who had just moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Don was extremely skilled, especially in making the small parts such as rear view mirrors, and door handles. All his patterns were made out of brass. Latterly, in 1996, Alan asked Pete Kenna to join him again, and he made many patterns for the range, including all the woodies, hearses, and some 1:24 scale models.
They had a local firm that did all their casting up until 1997 when they brought in their own casting equipment and started doing their own casting. They gradually expanded to five people and added a second paint booth.
By the year 2000 Gene had grown tired of driving the 62 miles each way from Costa Mesa to North Hollywood and gave his 50% of the business back to Alan.
To create a truly international flavour to this story we need to look no further than Jeff Thomas. As a child Jeff lived in California, and recalls in particular visits from two elderly grey haired aunts from Germany. These ladies would regularly give Jeff presents of Matchbox 1-75 cars, and Jeff recalls with great fondness his first two, the 56 Trolleybus and 26 Cement Mixer. These and many other Matchbox vehicles still remain in Jeff’s collection to this day. To this excellent base he added Tootsietoys, including a late 1950s Plymouth. Whilst the Tootsietoys became battered and were repainted, the Matchbox cars were revered.
Collecting model cars had cemented itself in Jeff’s life, and, later aged 12 or 13, his family moved to New Jersey where he discovered that there were clubs for serious adult collectors of old toys. He chose to join these, and soon began writing articles about his collection and all aspects of his ‘passion’, the cars and the models themselves, for the clubs.
Such was his obsession with Matchbox that at age 15, Matchbox senior staff saw his articles, and not realising his age, invited him to visit the US facilities in Moonachie, NJ, and the factory in north London. Eventually he made the trip across the pond, also visiting Ray Bush, the editor of UK Matchbox Club. Before long he found himself working for Matchbox (US headquarters) in the summer holidays, and had become a member of three collectors clubs. Matchbox staff would at times encourage him to pass information to the clubs about upcoming products!
Now whilst the collecting of model cars has remained with him consistently, Jeff qualified as a pharmacist and has a passion for travel, as well. It was his travels around Europe which eventually led to his employment first at Schering and now Bayer, jobs which have allowed him to live in Germany, England, and France. He currently specialises in crop protection.
On one occasion Jeff recalls his ex-boss at Matchbox calling him and offering him a ticket to join him at the Nuremberg Trade Toy Fair. There he discovered serious model producers showing examples of 1:43 American cars, and fell in love with a Collector's Classics DeSoto. With excitement he researched the market to find more information on dealers in the USA and came across Brooklin Models, Conquest, Motor City USA, and others.
He began collecting the white metal US models seriously, and developed a close link with Gene Parrill, one of the founders of Motor City. Gene supported his collection by assisting with the supply of models to Germany, where Jeff was based. It was the high quality of Motor City products that particularly fascinated Jeff.
Alongside his profession, in 2007-8 he began to consider an idea of developing a production facility in Germany to supply collectors with a product to fill the gap he recognized in the market: Durham Classics, Motor City USA, Victory Models and others had effectively stopped producing. However, when it became clear that Alan Novak was planning to retire, the idea began to take on a new and different form.
A financial difficulty he experienced then turned out to be an opportunity. Jeff was being taxed in both France and Germany due to the mobile requirements of his job, and after three years of this he changed the arrangement, seeking a refund. When this came through, it was, he said, a case of ‘intaxication’ (euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to begin with), but it was sufficient to allow him the necessary ‘plus’ in liquidity to buy Motor City USA outright from Alan Novak. This was achieved in 2009.
The logistics of Motor City entailed many pattern makers, casters and builders in many different places, and Jeff has sought to rationalise this. He is very keen to not only maintain the high quality that Motor City was renowned for, but improve on it still further.
His first new release is to be the 1956 Dodge, already featured in the previous range. Jeff, however, has ensured that the pattern has been re-mastered to improve upon it still. An example of the new master is seen in the accompanying picture.Less
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