Norfolk man collects, personalizes Hot Wheels
Kent Von Kampen’s interest in Hot Wheels started when he was a child.
That’s when the Norfolk man first started collecting the toys — given his love of cars — getting more into the hobby as he entered high school.
But what made him continue to collect and eventually customize Hot Wheels was the stress relief that came with it.
Von Kampen served in the U.S. Navy, working at the Pentagon. So, being a toy hobbyist and collector was a way for him to unwind.
“It was a great stress relief from the military, and that’s where the customization came into play,” said Von Kampen, who now works at Elkhorn Valley Bank in Norfolk. “It was fun, and then seeing other people’s reactions to the cars that I created.”
At this stage, Von Kampen customizes — on average — four or five cars a month. He said he gravitates toward the brands Dodge, Ferrari and Datsun.
A collectors club he was a part of in Baltimore called Charm City helped him find his way in the hobby and narrow down what he likes to work on.
While there’s no Hot Wheels collectors club in Nebraska, Von Kampen stays connected to his Baltimore group and active in the toy show circuit in Nebraska, where he’ll buy, sell and trade with other collectors. He’s looking forward to going to the Hot Wheels annual Collectors Nationals in Dallas in April.
“The big thing is I want to see how other people react,” he said. “There are other people who are far more talented than me, but I’m happy showing and then seeing what other people do.”
Von Kampen’s favorite piece so far is a Toyota, which came together by accident. He was trying to blend pink and black on the body of the car while he lived in Alexandria, Va.
But bad lighting left him thinking, “Oh, this isn’t good.” But when he took a second look the next day, he was surprised at how the colors had merged well together.
He’s also proud of a Chevy Nova he created for a father and son in Norfolk.
“They wanted dark forest green with white rowley stripes and that came back pretty much the way we wanted it to,” Von Kampen said. “I mean, the father was almost in tears because he was so happy with it.”
Over the years, Von Kampen’s personal Hot Wheels collection, while still growing, has reached between 2,500 and 3,000.
Since right now it’s generally too cold to paint — which Von Kampen does in his garage — Von Kampen will do base and wheel swaps during this time of year.
“My thing is I’m known for using wheels that you wouldn’t think should go on a car,” he said. “As an example, this Ford pickup truck, the wheels on it are meant for a Japanese sports car, but I put them on a mid-’50s American truck. People are like, ‘That doesn’t make sense,’ but when they look at it and they see it on the pictures they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that works.’ ”
That’s maybe the biggest thing that Von Kampen’s learned — imagination is your only limit. Also, it’s all about trial and error. And, to him, that means anyone can get involved if they have the interest.
“This is a great hobby for someone to get started in if they’re a car person and they want to make new friends around the country and around the world,” Von Kampen said. “It’s very addicting at times, too. But I’ve had a great time.”