Steven Virkus parks more than 50,000 toy cars.
Woodbury’s Steven Virkus didn’t tap the brakes when his Hot Wheels collection sped past the 100 mark; he stepped on the gas. When it hit 1,000, he flipped a nitro switch. He accelerated past 10,000 and flew by 40,000. Today, his collection stands at more than 50,000.
“I’m attracted to shiny things,” Virkus says. That only half explains it. “It’s not a passion; it’s an obsession,” he says.
The die-cast scale-model toy cars, made by Mattel Inc., were first introduced on May 18, 1968. Now, there are 800 different models and 11,000 variations. Production, since inception, numbers more than four billion.
Virkus started collecting in his youth, Chevrolet Corvettes at first and then Chevrolet Camaros. “I should have collected all of it,” he says—and wishes.
The original Sweet 16—the first 16 vehicles introduced in Hot Wheels’ first year—was the first of the Red Line Series, which featured tires with a red pinstripe on their sides. Sweet 16 models included the Beatnik Bandit, Custom El Dorado, Custom Camaro, Custom Corvette, Custom Fleetside, Deora, Custom Mustang, Custom T-Bird, Hot Heap, Ford J-Car, Custom Cougar, Custom Firebird, Custom Barracuda, Python, Silhouette and Custom Volkswagen.
Virkus owns them all, including multiples. “Red Lines are the most collectible,” Virkus says. “You used to be able to find them at estate sales, but now everyone knows what they’re worth.”
“During COVID-19, and as people came into the hobby, prices skyrocketed,” he says.
Hobby vs. Investment
Virkus’ collection increases in number almost daily as he accepts a constant parade of deliveries. He buys from all over the world.
“I’m not sure if it’s hobby or an investment, but it works,” Virkus says, while standing in front of a display that fills a room. One wall is loaded with singles. Ferraris have their own section, as do the Corvettes, Ford GT40s and Dairy Deliveries. Another wall features cars parked in original packaging.
Cars in original unopened packaging are preferable (read: more collectible) to unpackaged cars. The most collectible cars in limited editions are the cars with the lowest numbers.
“Lower the better,” Virkus says. “I have Nos. 1 and 2 in an IROC-Z edition.”
He also has the No. 1 Gulf Camaro car. “I paid $5,000 for that one, and it took me 10 years to find it,” Virkus says. When asked about the most expensive car in his collection, he mentions a ’55 Gasser valued at $12,000.
Check that. He has a one-of-a-kind, custom-painted Hot Wheels 2021 Gulf Corvette. He also has a matching, custom-painted, full-sized (read: a real car) Chevrolet C8 Corvette with Gulf Oil livery.
Plus a full-sized Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. He could paint it to match the Mustang GT in his Hot Wheels collection, but he hasn’t, at least not yet. “My wife wants me to leave it as is, so she can drive it,” Virkus says. If you haven’t guessed, Virkus is one of those go big or go home guys. So yes, he’d rather paint it.
Buy and (Not) Sell
With prices skyrocketing, Virkus would stand to make a hefty profit if he sold off parts his collection. Not only hasn’t he done that, but he also doesn’t plan to do that.
“There’s a reason I call my Facebook page ‘Hot[Wheel] Hoarders,’” Virkus says, noting the private page has more than 18,000 members.
To be fair, Virkus does part with cars. He generously gives cars to causes he cares about. His donations are raffled, with proceeds going to the organization, and he’s also been known to gift cars to other collectors.
In March at a ceremony in Las Vegas, Virkus was recognized as a Hall of Honor Presidential Award inductee. (Note: Keanu Reeves and Shaquille O’Neil received the same awards.) The Hall of Honor was created by industry leaders and influencers who understand and appreciate the toy collecting community.
On its Facebook page, the Hall notes: “Steven tirelessly gives back to the Hot Wheel hobby. He is always embracing children with over the top ROAKS [random acts of kindness] which make him an incredible asset to the community.”
While honored, Virkus said the attention made him uncomfortable. “I’m a giver, not a receiver,” he says.
Virkus isn’t ready to stop collecting any time soon. “If I took a break, I’d start buying real cars,” he says.
Virkus’ three daughters play with the cars on tracks. With 8-year-old twins and a 9-year-old, they like it. Someday, the collection will be theirs. “If they want to sell it, they’ll sell,” Virkus says. “I won’t.”
Full speed ahead? “I know why I buy them,” Virkus says. “I buy them because I like them. What I don’t [know] is why I buy so many of the same ones.” His display includes a row of 10 identical cars in unopened packages. They’re worth $1,500 apiece. He paid $25 each. Is that why?