Restoring Large Cars Leads To Large Die-Cast Collection
Photography by Josh Clason for Petrolicious
Doug Whalley owns and runs Doug’s Diversified Specialties, a paint and body shop in Torrance, California. He also has quite the die-cast car collection, so we determined we’d better check it out. We headed down to Torrance a couple of weeks ago to visit Doug’s shop and photograph some of his collection. Doug is the nicest guy in the world—he showed us around and even serenaded us with some piano tunes while we photographed his place.
Q: How did you get started with your business?
A: I started working at the Torrance Airport in 1971 for Barron Aircraft where I striped and painted airplanes. It was my very first job, and I worked there for thirteen years. At the time I left the job, I had been doing just about everything but write the checks; I hired, fired, bought materials, and basically ran the shop. I wanted to buy the shop from the owner, but he wasn’t looking to sell, so I started my own business working strictly with automotives rather than aircrafts. I bought a small 1,000-square-foot place, and now I’m in a 2,500-square foot shop with a new spray booth and a lift.
Q: Why did you first become interested in cars?
A: I kind of just grew up with it. I started loving mini bikes and motorcycles, and then I got into cars. I began doing stripes and graphics in my garage—I was always doing projects in my garage while I was still working at the airport.
Q: How did you get into collecting die-cast models?
A: About ten years ago, one of my customers gave me a couple of his cars and collectors items when he was leaving the country: a Ferrari race car, a ticket to Monte Carlo, as well as a pit pass. After that I started buying a couple of models here and there. When I had about 30 or 40 cars displayed in a case at the front of my shop, a former car dearler friend of mine (who I grew up next door to and used to play little league with back in the late ’60s and early ’70s) saw my collection and said, “I really like the way you have your cars displayed. Do you mind if I add a few to your collection?” I asked him how many, and he said, “I have no idea. They belonged to my brother who recently passed away, and I want them to be kept in good condition, but I don’t have anything to do with them.”
He gave me about 600 cars!
Q: Can you describe your collection?
A: I have a lot of Franklin Mint and Danbury Mint cars. I have some really, really nice cars and some that are your average run of the mill. I’ve got all sizes from micro miniature to 1/64, 1/32, 24 gauge and 18 gauge. The nice ones are all in the 1/18-1/24 range.
I’ve got a lot of Richard Petty cars, about 45 Hot Wheels, and I have one from the Dale Earnhardt collection (the #3 car). I’ve got some signed by John Force, a current dragster guy, and I’ve got a George-Barris-autographed car too, the Dukes of Hazard car with the Confederate flag on the door. I have quite a few exotic cars too; my favorite of these is the Citroën GT. I have about 10 funny cars as well.
Q: Which is your favorite of the bunch?
A: The ’69 Super Bee model, because I have such an attachment to the Super Bee that I mentioned in the previous question.
I also love te Daytona ’69 with the Charger body, long wing, and long pointed nose. Richard Petty used to use one of these as his race car when he dominated back in ’70s. This type of car will be the next one I build for myself (or a Superbird).
Q: Are there any particular die-cast models you’re looking to add to your collection?
A: I’m always looking for good vintage Mopar.
Q: Are you still adding cars to the collection?
A: Yes, but I’m not as fervent about it as I used to be; I’d have to buy more cabinets to hold them? If I added another six-by-six-foot cabinet, it would be filled immediately.
Q: Have you ever sold any of your collection?
A: I’ve never sold any of them, even though some people have tried to twist my arm.
Q: Do you own any full-size vintage cars?
A: At the moment I have an ’85 El Camino. The car itself isn’t worth a lot of money, but it has a really expensive paint job. I also have a ’72 El Camino and a ’62 Bel Air sitting out back that need restoration or at least a happy owner who’s willing to spend a lo tof money to make them right.
Q: How long have you owned your El Camino?
A: Going on three years. I’ll probably keep this car forever and do a few more modifications to it. I need to do the interior soon. Right now it’s blue, and it hasn’t been updated to match the black, red, and gold exterior that I made to match my company’s colors. This car is my daily driver.
Q: Do you work on your own cars yourself?
A:I have enough friends who do mechanical work, so I hire them and don’t have to get greasy, although I can if I need to.
Q: Where do you most enjoy driving your El Camino?
A: To car shows. During the summer I go to Ruby’s every Friday night down in Redondo Beach, but this car show doesn’t go through the winter, so I have to suffer until spring comes again.
There was a time that I took a 1968 Dodge Super Bee Big Block 383 down to the car show. The car didn’t belong to me—I just did the paint job for it. I had permission from the owner to take it to car shows. In fact, it was his suggestion.
Q: You mentioned you’re coming up on your 22nd wedding anniversary. Does your wife enjoy vintage cars as well?
A: She likes them enough to help take care of my business. She does the bookkeeping for Doug’s Diversified Specialties. I don’t do numbers—I’m the artist doing the styles and graphics.
Q: You have a piano in your lobby. Do you play often?
A: I play a lot, but I can’t read music with the dyslexia that I have, so I learned to play without reading music. I love the music industry; if I weren’t into cars, I’d be into music, but there are a lot of starving artists, so I’d rather do what I do here at my shop so I can earn steady money.
I started playing the guitar when I was 12 or 13, but with all the work I’ve done over the years, I developed some nerve damage in my left hand, so I can only play for a few minutes before going numb. It’s easier to play the piano.
I actually have a group of guys, who play some local jazz shows at the Seabird Lounge in Long Beach that come play sometimes, the Damon Rentie Quintet. They set up and rehearse their new material in my showroom, since I have a grand piano here. It’s like I have my own private jazz club.