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Internal Compulsion: Model Car Maker Andy Mathews

Building Miniature Cars From More Than 3,000 Handmade Pieces, Model Maker Andy Mathews Is Obsessed with Detail
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 2)

Sometimes Mathews' passion for details becomes too much for even him to handle. "Some days I'm really in a groove," he says. "And then there are other days when I'm so overwhelmed trying to figure something out that my brain is literally scrambled. I need to pick up the phone and hunt down the right people. A lot of people who would say, 'Forget it.' You know, the corporate mentality: 'Farm it out. Let him do it.' People say to me, 'You're so lucky, you always get this information.'"

In reality, luck has little to do with it. Mathews follows details like a detective following a lead. That usually means $600-a-month phone bills, air tickets around the world and sleepless nights. "I'm 37 years old and I feel like I'm a hundred," he says. On his trip to England in October, he'd return to his hotel room past midnight and get 3 a.m. wake-up calls. "One night I missed my train coming back and spent $250 on a cab ride."

Jefferson once said, "I'm a great believer in luck; I find the harder I work the more I have of it." The same can be said of Andy Mathews.

If his obsession for perfecting autos seems a bit extreme to Americans, it is considered less so across the Atlantic. Formula One is the only true world championship of auto racing, with 16 races in 16 countries throughout the year. There may be a Grand Prix of Britain, a Grand Prix of Germany, Spain or Canada, and the drivers are from all over the world, too. "So it really is a world championship. Unlike Nascar or even Indy car," says Mathews. "Technologically, the Formula Ones are the most advanced cars in the world, bar none. Loyalty to the sport is unbelievable. Fans will talk about cars and drivers back to the 1930s."

Many of Mathews' customers are in the grip of that fervor. "I've dealt with about 50 different people, but I have a set number who just buy over and over and over," he says. "They love the craftsmanship. I have customers who are fans recapturing their youth, so they buy the cars because they love the drivers, they love the team. I have others who are doctors and surgeons and they love to look at the detail."

"I just like Lotus and [1965 Indy and Formula One champion] Jimmy Clark material," says Dr. Leon, an Ohio-based collector of Mathews' models, who declined to give his full name for this article. He has bought a Lotus 49, which Mathews delivered in April 1996. "Then I ordered the next four, a Williams 14-B, a Ferrari, a Tyrrell Ford and a Lotus 72. If it's years before I get them, it's still fun to wait. You can't rush this thing; it's not a mass-production, assembly line craft."

Leon now has two Lotuses--a model in his home and a real one in the garage. To hear him talk, he gets as much joy from the model as he does from the real thing. "I can't imagine anyone taking as much pain as Andy does," he says. "There was a gathering of model builders before the Indy 500 a year ago. There was no model even remotely close to what Andy does. He's told me about his painting process; if the weather doesn't look right, he won't paint anything. The details and authenticity and correctness in his work are staggering.

"Last summer I was in Atlanta for the annual Lotus gathering," Leon recalls. "I asked Andy if I could take the Lotus model there, but he wouldn't hear of it. 'You can't take it. Don't move it,' he said. It's still sitting in the glass case. It's never been touched. It's like he has strict rules and I must abide. He treats it like the wealth of the East Indies."

But there is no complaint in Leon's voice. "When I show a friend a picture of the car, they don't believe it's a model. They think it's a real car. Not a day goes by that I don't look at it."

So Mathews' reputation is as firm as a track surface. But he must keep on building. "I have contracts on about 20 pieces right now," he says. "I'm set for a few years."

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