When he was finally old enough to buy his first big car, a 1949 Oldsmobile convertible, his model-building experience came in handy when he tore apart the car and reassembled it for fun. To get more horsepower, Johnson's automotive projects became more ambitious. "This was back before you could just buy a muscle car off the lot," Johnson says. "We had fun taking the motor out of one car and putting it in another, where it didn't belong."
Then he began building and racing stock cars at racetracks such as the old Kansas City Speedway. Racing always excited Johnson, but he says he always had more fun building the cars than racing them. Then an accident abruptly ended his racing days.
Johnson still works on big cars and scale models with equal enthusiasm. And he's a dedicated member of the Kansas City Slammers model car club. The monthly meetings start with model talk but almost always end with stories about bygone days of cruising and drag racing. Johnson describes his peers as "adults who aren't ashamed to let people know we play with toys."
The Slammers sponsor an exhibit of scale automobile replicas at the Toy and Miniature Museum, with which Johnson hopes to catch the eyes and imaginations of old and new model makers. The display features nearly 300 scaled-down cars by 30 local builders. The centerpiece of the collection is the 4-foot long scale car frame with working parts, including a motor, a transmission and brakes. "It's so detailed -- it's beautiful," Johnson says.