It all began as a joke between a husband and wife.
Since then, one man’s collection of Hot Wheels cars has snowballed into an impressive and monstrously large display. Eric Bylewski, a 43-year-old North Ridgeville resident and father of two, has well over 10,000 die-cast Hot Wheels cars on display in his home. The majority of his collection is Mattel Hot Wheels, but he also has some Matchbox and other off-brand cars. The cars are on display, affixed with thumb tacks to the basement walls.
Bylewski recalled playing with Hot Wheels as a boy in the late 1970s and early ’80s, but he really didn’t collect them. He considered them to be toys. But he is quick to point out his age is appropriate for his massive collection because Hot Wheels first came on the market in 1968 – the year he was born.
“When I was a kid, I was always getting Hot Wheels for Christmas or my birthday, or I’d find them in my stocking and stuff like that,” he recalled. “But I was always fascinated by Hot Wheels.”
About 15 years ago, Bylewski’s wife, Kelly, who at that time was his girlfriend, asked what she could get him for his birthday, and he said he wanted a couple of new, full-size vehicles.
“I said, ‘You know, I’d like a pickup truck and maybe a Dodge Prowler,’” he recalled telling her. “So the little jokester and comedian that she is, she went out and bought me a Hot Wheels pickup truck and a Matchbox Dodge Prowler.”
Bylewski said the only other die-cast cars he had were toys from his youth, which were stored in a box in his parents’ attic. While examining the blister packs (packages in which Hot Wheels are sold), Bylewski noticed the cars his wife had bought him were labeled “1997, First Edition, 2 of 12.”
“I went out and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to see if I can’t find the other 11 of these cars,’” Bylewski remembered.
He did – and his collection picked up speed.
“I just started going to antique malls, and I started meeting people in stores and talking about collecting,” he said. “It just escalated and snowballed and got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
His die-cast car collection consists of mini, 1:18 and 1:64 scale vehicles. The standard 3-inch vehicle is 1:64 scale, Bylewski explained, and a 1:18 scale is bigger.
“If you were to take a real-sized car and line up 18 of these 1:18 scale cars, they would reach from end to end,” he said. “Just like 64 scales, if you lined up 64 Hot Wheels bumper-to-bumper on a particular car.”
Bylewski has traveled to die-cast car conventions in places as far away as New Mexico. He also trades and sells with other collectors. Recent flooding damaged his basement, but he said he didn’t lose anything, and there was only some damage to pieces of his collection.
He said when people visit his home and see his collection for the first time, they are in awe. Sometimes, people tell him he’s crazy.
“People will joke that I’m out of my mind, I’ve got a problem or I’m obsessive compulsive,” Bylewski laughed. “I just really enjoy collecting them. It’s something I fell in love with and got into.”
“I think it is so cool,” Kelly said of her husband’s pastime. “I think that when anybody can find a hobby or something they’re passionate about and that brings enjoyment to their life, it’s great. It’s really been an all-around, positive experience.”