IF THERE’S any debate about whether car nuts are born or created, we reckon it ends with the story of Josh Stebbing.
Eight years ago, Josh’s mum Melissa bought a Hot Wheels car at the supermarket for her son, then aged just two. Something about the 1:64-scale green Chevy El Camino seemed to click with the kid. “I started playing with them and then I got more and more,” Josh says. Now he has collected more than 3000 toy cars.
Melissa can’t fully explain the “natural attraction”, because there’s no overt automotive influence in the family, aside from one of her uncles who restores and modifies Falcon coupes. Neither has Melissa, a single parent, been showering her son with what equates to one model car per day over eight years.
With Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars costing about $3 each and the larger Disney Cars characters around $10 each, Josh is sitting on at least a new Mitsubishi Mirage’s worth. Josh is a lad of few words, but he’s a smart car shopper.
“If he does good things at school he’ll get a car,” Melissa says. “He’s just at the shops all the time, at the supermarket, he wants to go to car boot sales, op shops, garage sales, flea markets. Sometimes he’ll go to a garage sale and there’ll be a box of 20 cars for $5 or something.
“We’ve got a friend, older than I am, who was collecting cars when he was a kid. He gave Josh a box of about 30 Matchbox cars from the 1970s. Those are some special ones.
“He has a very big collection of Disney Cars; he’s got like 600 of them, although some of them are doubles. And he’s got a Cars character encyclopaedia, so he knows word for word which cars are from where.”
Josh estimates that about 60 percent of his cars are Hot Wheels, another 30 percent Disney and the rest Matchbox. For all the prevalence of the big-wheeled, flame-painted Hot Wheels, he admires the accuracy of the Matchbox ones.
Josh parks a lot of his cars in plastic tubs and on bookshelves when he’s not using them. “I build cities and I have garages and I drive the cars around in them,” he says. There’s also a motorsport edge, with circuit races held on the pool table and drag-racing down the playground slippery slide.
More bizarrely, he’s cultivating a scale automotive “body farm”, with models strategically left in different situations around their 13ha property in the Yarra Valley, east of Melbourne. Explains Melissa: “He’s got a junkyard where they all sit; he puts salt on some of them to watch them corrode more quickly, some are left in the pool…”
Josh isn’t far away from getting a real car. “I’d like a Chevy or something, from around the 1970s,” he says. “I like American muscle cars.”
And he has no doubts where all this is headed. “I want to be a mechanic. And I want to own a junkyard.”