Recently, a customer in the Midwest reached out to us for advice on how to display a collection of 1:43-scale model cars. He was asking specifically for suggestions on what type of display case might work best for his particular situation. Embarrassingly, we did not have a ready answer. As we are an online-only shop at this point in our existence, we don't have any fixed displays, and our event vending equipment is of a portable, modular nature.
So, needing answers, we once again turned to the expert model car collecting community at Live and Let Diecast, one of the best user-driven hobby blogs on the Web. Like our customer, we were looking for specific products that we might recommend to interested parties, so we asked the LaLD commenters what they used to show off their prized collections. We got some answers to that particular question, but we also got something extra: the Live and Let Diecast community offered recommendations on not only storage devices, but also creative ideas on display themes, accent pieces, and general storage and security advice that we felt to be at least equally valuable to any brand-name suggestions. We assembled some of their responses into this guide on how to display model cars, and whether you're a veteran collector or are new to the hobby, there's certain to be something here to help you display your model cars in the best possible light...literally!
THE BASICS. If there was one unifying theme of the feedback we got from LaLDers, it was that the most noble goal of displaying model cars is to achieve harmony, both with the overall decor of the space, and with the cohabitants of said space. The point, as commenter Pilarless Coupe put it, is to avoid having a display that looks "like a model car parking lot." Whether the focal point of a room or simply an accent, the best model car displays blend seamlessly into the overall aesthetic of their surroundings instead of being discordant stand-alone statements.
STORAGE DEVICES. There are two schools of thought on what type of display unit to use for your model car collection, one supporting use of pre-fab display cases and other shelving systems, and the other advocating custom-built, diecast-specific devices. Among the former, a variety of products from IKEA were recommended. Most frequently mentioned was the Detolf glass display cabinet, though commenter Jedimario advised that it can be a bit unstable under shaky conditions (read: kids and dogs).
Another recommended IKEA case was the wall-mounted Nornas display case, used here to great effect by commenter Philipilihp. The Nornas holds six 1:18-scale cars in an airy, uncluttered fashion, and its light wood finish doesn't overwhelm the items within as would a darker stain.
For those with DIY skills (or at least a handy friend) a bespoke display case might be a better alternative, as they can be customized to suit a very specific space or display concept. Some of our favorite custom cases are those used by LaLD commenter Edu-Petrolhead, who took simple white box frames and added removable grids and acrylic faces to cut down on dust, creating a clean-but-stunning canvas to display an intriguing collection of model cars.
WRAPPED OR UNWRAPPED? One of the great debates in all of model car collecting is whether to display cars loose, under dust covers or in their original packaging. At Model Citizen, we refuse to take a stand on this issue...mostly because when it comes to our personal collection, we do all three! For those who feel compelled to choose, each method has its pros and cons.
For those who prefer to display their cars loose and uncovered, dust will always be an issue. If you can cope with that, open displays have one particular advantage as pointed out by LaLD commenter MustangFan: they allow for nearly unlimited flexibility in model staging. Cars can be displayed in a variety of positions, plus, open display lends itself better to mixed-scale collections.
Dust is less of a concern for the keep-'em-covered crowd, though you trade some flexibility in model arrangement. That said, there are certain advantages to closed-box model displays. Commenter Frosted the Boxy Car Guy points out that boxed models can be stacked, which is an attractive option when your display unit has fixed shelves that would otherwise give you lots of wasted vertical space.
LIGHTING, AESTHETICS, AND HAVING FUN. Model car collections tell a story. They speak to the personal tastes - passions, even - of their curators. To make that story more compelling, collectors should seek to display their cars in a way that is visually interesting. That starts with lighting; cars presented on shelves can often get lost in the shadows. Focusing a light source on your collection is essential. For display cases, we recommend the use of LED lights for their efficiency and clean, white glow. Here, LaLD commenter Section 38 has used LED rope to create a very festive atmosphere inside his display case, but single elements also work fine.
We do NOT recommend the use of those little halogen lights that sometimes come with pre-fab display cases. They're expensive to replace, and they throw off a lot of heat (which can cause derangement to resin-bodied model cars).
Apart from lighting, the surfaces on which model cars are displayed makes a big difference. We got multiple suggestions for the use of mirrored shelves or backing, which can add dimension to a display. Alternately, simple glass shelves are a great choice as they won't swallow your models visually.
Beyond lighting and shelving, though, the aesthetic possibilities for displaying your model car collection are pretty much endless. To help integrate your collection into a room as a whole, commenter Engineerrrrrrrrr suggests adding relevant artwork such as vintage racing posters into the decor.
Alternately, Carnut0913 uses model cars to enhance the look of a bookshelf that also contains actual books!
Immersive displays can go even further. Commenter Vdubyajohn deploys scale-model car transporters to display his cars for a whimsical touch, while Matchthebox has created wonderful dioramas to contextualize his collection.
A final, useful thought on creative displays comes from our friend Pillarless Coupe. If it's true that many of us approach the miniature car hobby as curators of our own personal museums, why not take inspiration from real-life car museums for our displays? There are some wonderfully designed spaces out there, from the sleekly futuristic Petersen Museum in Los Angeles to the historic art deco decor of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Museum in Indiana. In spaces like these, cars are only the beginning of the visual story. The depth provided by these settings is what makes them so compelling, even to people who wouldn't call themselves "car enthusiasts."
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT. Ultimately, how a collector chooses to display his/her model car collection is as much a matter of personal taste as their selection of the cars themselves. The vast majority of us have constraints, whether spatial, financial or otherwise, but with some forethought and creativity, we can each put together a model car display that communicates our passion in a uniquely compelling manner.
Our huge thanks goes out to the amazing commentariat at Live and Let Diecast for their input and for use of their photographs. Please visit their website to experience a thriving community of diecast model car enthusiasts!