Photos By Randy Wells
Rod Emory is a well-known builder of outlaw 356s. But his passion extends well beyond full-scale cars. All it takes is one trip to his brand new shop in North Hollywood to reveal a surprisingly comprehensive display of miniature car models spanning decades.
As Rod fingers some of his toy cars, he begins to tell the story of how it all began. Sure, his famous father Gary gave him some miniatures when he was a boy, but a whole ‘nother’ layer of collecting began when he became a father to son Zayne.
The family legacy began in the 1940s when Neil Emory, Zayne’s great-grandfather, became one of the first hot rodders to customize cars and explore salt flat racing on the west coast. Neil’s son Gary next applied those same ideas to Porsches, first in Orange County and then in McMinnville Oregon, with his son Rod doing the handcraftsmanship. Undoubtedly, Zayne was destined to be surrounded by automobilia.
Zayne Emory, now age 19, is a seasoned actor in Hollywood. But it’s playtime in NoHo today. He sits next to his dad, smiling as he recollects how the hobby began. When Zayne was just a toddler, Rod used to take him in search of toy models at the local hobby shop while his mom Amy ran errands. Before long, Zayne was hooked on small cars, too.
What they found in McMinnville and Lincoln City were the latest Hot Wheels and Minichamps models. Every now and then, a toy Porsche showed up. That kept them coming back in search of more discoveries on a monthly basis. That is, until Zayne went in search of his own identity and real cars.
So what happened to all those cars they collected way back when? Well, they got deposited in unmarked boxes stored in various closets. For all anyone knew, those toys were never to be seen again. After all, they were just for playtime. There was always a new model to take their place, and then there were all those real cars in the garage and workshop next door.
Recently, Rod and Zayne became aware of their toy collection’s importance, and they reopened the old boxes. What followed was a trip down memory lane and some new ideas on how to display them. Initially, Rod decided to just put a few of them on a simple shelf. However, after they moved to their present facility, they devised a more permanent solution. That’s where we find ourselves today.
Prominent among the collection on display is a vast array of Hot Wheels model cars. More than 500 in all. There are smaller and larger versions by other manufacturers in various scale model sizes of 1/128th, 1/64th, 1/32nd, 1/24th, 1/18th and 1/8th. There are slot cars that can run on an electric track. Additionally, there are cars in the shape of small cakes and pillows. A Lego model 911 GT3 RS sits in a corner. Surrounding these displays are real Porsche racecars.
On a rare day off, Rod and Zayne took time to sit down with us to share their story:
Rod Emory: There are only two models that I’ve kept from the beginning – somehow they survived my childhood. They’re Redline Hot Wheels models of a Porsche 917 and a ‘73 911 Carrera RS. The car that Zayne came home from the hospital in is very similar to this one – it was a short wheelbase 911 with RSR flares.
RS Magazine: Was it mostly Porsche models that you collected together?
Rod Emory: Well mostly, in addition to the hobby stores in Oregon, we would go to the L.A. Literature and Toy Show every year. I think the first time was when Zayne was less than a year old. It was 1999, and he was in my backpack. I would buy a couple of toy Porsches, give those to him, and that would keep him content for a while.
RS Magazine: What a lucky kid!
Rod Emory: Yes, well every time we would go to the swap meet, it would be like fifty or a hundred bucks. We started off with 1/64th scale Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. Then we collected 1/43rd scale stuff. I liked finding a deal, so we would drive to KB Toys in Lincoln City where we would find Porsche 996 and Boxster models cheap.
Zayne Emory: Those models were in my room forever.
RS Magazine: How were they arranged at that time?
Rod Emory: We had these little metal shelves in his bedroom. We had about 20 shelves, and all his Hot Wheels and Matchbox models were in a blue Hot Wheels case and a basket.
RS Magazine: How many of those do you think came from L.A. Lit Fair swap meets?
Rod Emory: Oh, maybe a quarter. The rest were purchased at stores like Target and Walmart. I remember we bought a couple of collections as well. A lady’s son, one of my dad’s old customers, had a collection of cars. When he passed away, she sold me her collection of stuff. We probably got a hundred cars there. Most of those were really tiny cars.
RS Magazine: Those look like little caricatures, like cartoons.
Rod Emory: Some of them would crash.
Zayne Emory: And some got taken to Grandpa’s.
Rod Emory: I don’t know how you crashed that one. I think you hit it with a rock.
Zayne Emory: I think I was making a movie.
RS Magazine: Maybe you were trying to do what dad was doing in the garage, and you just got a little too heavy-handed.
Rod Emory: Well, we did get a little heavy handed with this collection thanks to Tom Conway of Carquip, Kevin Jeannette of Gunnar Racing, and John Thomas of the Otis Chandler collection. We all became friends. I did some work for some of them and they gifted Zayne and me with a bunch of toy cars. Tom gave us whole bunch of 962s, Kevin brought us a collection of Gunnar Racing livery models, and then John contributed this whole row of 917s. Then a friend made me this model of #80, the first Porsche I ever built, an outlaw 1953 356.
RS Magazine: Wow! That was 1990, a long time ago! You were 16!
Rod Emory: This yellow one I had as a kid. This silver one was made in 1981. We took parts off this other one to build a copy of Dan Gurney’s Formula 1 car. It was like buying toys for adults. I wish we still had our derby cars, because Zayne and I built a pinewood derby car to race in.
RS Magazine: So which one is your favorite, Zayne?
Zayne Emory: When I was a kid, the ones that I played with the most were from a silver collection made by Porsche. They sat right above my bed, this 550, Porsche #1, and a Speedster.
RS Magazine: What’s great about this hobby is that every Porsche fan has some of these toy cars hanging around. On their desk, in a cabinet or closet somewhere, just to remind them of the marque’s history and the shape of the cars.
Rod Emory: We really didn’t know how many we had when we first started to display the cars. After we moved the boxes out of Oregon, we started to get an inkling. In our first North Hollywood shop we only had so much space. Once we moved to this location we could really unpack everything. Needless to say, we underestimated the size of our collection!
RS Magazine: I love the fact that you have the real deal Porsches right here next to the miniatures. That’s really unique.
Rod Emory: It’s just fun having them all out. Being able to see everything is great. Some are still in drawers, but they are easy to pull out. Some are bigger, like this 1/18 scale model, some are very expensive like the limited edition 1/8 scale 917, but most were purchased for very little money. They are each so cool in their own way.
There’s even talk of Hot Wheels producing an Emory Special. Now how neat would that be!
Images and Article Copyright 2018 Randy Wells. All Rights Reserved.
Editor’s Note: For those readers interested in scale models, understanding better how Mattel’s Hot Wheels determines the models it will make, and perhaps even having a hand in nominating new models, please see the following link: