Self-professed gearhead, Jeff Silver, has been a diecast collector all his life. As a kid, he was always enamored with miniature depictions of real-life vehicles. But Silver did not know he could turn a hobby into a very robust side hustle. “At my work for a Fortune 100 company, they needed a diecast model for a trade show giveaway,” Silver said. “Nobody knew who to contact, but I did, having already collected them.”

He sourced a thousand trucks and sold out at the show. A week later, another division within the company heard about the promotion and called for their own truck models. A lightbulb went off in his head. With his wife as president, they founded Awesome Diecast in Boca Raton, Florida. They started making trucks for about 150 divisions around the country. Like Apple Computer, “that’s how it started, out of our garage,” he said.

A trip to another trade show allowed Silver to make other trucking contacts. One of them was the Old Dominion trucking company. “We always made a few extras,” he said. “Through a small website in 2002, collectors started buying and other companies started ordering from us.” They quickly outgrew the garage, moving to their first warehouse, which was around 500 square feet. Today, they occupy over 5,000 square feet.

The Bus Business

2015 was the year things took off with the founding of Iconic Replicas. Greyhound Bus Lines (“Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us”) approached them for a 1930s Mack BK Greyhound bus. It was a bus Silver was familiar with because his great uncle, Robert Silver, “drove the dog” from Montreal to New York City for many years.

The trouble was computer files of antique vehicles were scarce. “I had to measure, photograph, and make our own CAD (computer-aided design) files. We built a thousand buses, selling out in a couple of weeks. Corgi was the only other company making buses for the American market and then they just tapered off.

Success was common to both Silver men. The elder continued with Greyhound for 35 years, becoming one of the company’s vice presidents. Today, Iconic Replicas is one of the largest bus model makers in the world. “Retail is important, but the real bread and butter is with our manufacturing,” said the younger Silver.

Constant Growth

Their retail business expanded with cars, trucks, military and aviation models in different scales. “We are passionate about diecast and I try to offer things I would collect,” said Silver. Hemmings noticed a lack of stock car models in the store. “NASCAR in 1/24th scale is declining,” he said. “We are offered collections all the time from people wanting to unload them.” Sadly, today’s hot driver may be tomorrow’s loser, so they chose not to do that. “We’re very selective,” he continued. “We follow some of the Formula 1 drivers, which are pretty hot for six or eight months, and of course next year, when someone else wins (not named Max), we’ll stock that guy, too.” (Eds: He does sell Max Verstappen models, too)

“I have always tried to be a little bit different from other diecast stores,” said Silver. “I stock many European and Japanese models. I’d search eBay for obscure items and buy 10 of them and have things no other distributor would have. Whether I’m in Argentina or Berlin or Kuala Lumpur, for a diecast expo, I look for items my competitors aren’t aware of or don’t bring in. I’ll try just about anything to see how it grows from there.”

Start Them Out Small

Encouraging young collectors is also key. “We added Hot Wheels, because many customers didn’t have funds to drop $25 on a single model. But they can buy some Hot Wheels for a few dollars,” he said. The company gained traction from that. But as they grow up, those buyers have been moving to the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) models like Kaido House, Inno64 and MiniGT. “That’s the beginning. Next time, they come in and spend $40 or more for larger models. Then you have a collector for life,” said Silver.

One of their customers would spend $5,000 a pop. He had six warehouses full of diecast models located in the West Palm Beach area. When he passed away, the company got possession of this collection. It took a 53-foot trailer to gather them all up. A portion of the proceeds of the sale went to support several charities the collector supported. He had no real descendants so he was worried it would go to waste.

Improvements In Diecast Modeling

The ability to replicate the actual vehicle in miniature is amazing. In some scales, you can’t tell the difference. They are so highly detailed with accurate interiors and fit-and-finish better than anything from the past. The pricing is better too, yielding better, less expensive models.

“Everything we make is limited edition. Once we sell out, it’s gone, and we will never make the same model twice. A best-seller is Squad 51 and Engine 51 made for the 50th Anniversary of the Emergency TV show. Those are unique vehicles to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The tooling cost up to $30,000 each.

The idea is to make it look like a museum piece that you are proud of, want to display and show off as a piece of art. That’s the thinking, that it’s a real collectible and not a toy.

A Passion Play

For Silver, the passion became a job. “Still, 23 years later, I am surprised at how passionate I remain when I start with a sheet of paper, and months later end up with a completed model on the desk. That’s what continues to push me to do this. I think we are making our mark. Further on down the road, who knows what I will be making but I’m sure I will be making something.

2024-02-10T18:17:38Z dg43tfdfdgfd