By Art Carey
For The Inquirer
Charlie Mallon has a thing about Corvettes.
Actually, by last count, more than 2,200 things.
So many things that in May, Mallon was officially certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest collection of Chevrolet memorabilia.
“It’s different. Why not?” Mallon says of his collection. “Some guys play golf; I do this. Everyone collects something. I’m sure other people have more than I do, and I’m certain that some day the record will be broken.”
The bulk of Mallon’s collection consists of miniature cars, ranging in size from an inch to two feet. Most are loose and fill several plastic tote containers. But he also has scores of cars in their original packages. Each is different in some particular way.
In what he calls his Corvette Hall of Fame, in the basement of his house on the outskirts of Downingtown, there are three display cases that feature some of Mallon’s more interesting items.
There are Corvettes with the logos of NFL and Major League Baseball teams, of Coca-Cola and Pep Boys. There’s a Richie Ashburn Phillies Corvette, Jeff Corvette from the movie Cars, a Corvette from a Transformers movie, jacked-up “monster” Corvettes, and miniature Corvettes that pay homage to the likes of Elvis, Austin Powers, John Belushi, Donald Duck, Troy Aikman, LeAnn Rimes, Penn State, Tony the Tiger, and Betty Boop.
The collection also includes Corvette coffee mugs, shot glasses, hats, clothing, posters, signs, video games, a flag, a clock, a snow globe paperweight, even a Corvette-shaped eraser. Mallon’s various Corvettes are made from metal, plastic, wood, and crystal.
His largest Corvette souvenir, however, is the real thing. In his garage under cover is his pride and joy, a LeMans-blue 400-horsepower 2005 Corvette that he bought in 2006 from F.C. Kerbeck in Atlantic City, the world’s largest Corvette dealer.
For 12 years before that, Mallon owned a head-turning ’65 Corvette coupe. He adored the style of the car but appreciates the reliability and creature comforts of the more contemporary Corvette he drives now.
A “car guy” to the core, Mallon, 54, is an auto industry consultant who helps dealerships improve their service departments. “I’m in a car place every day,” he says. His job involves plenty of travel, which permits him to visit lots of toy stores.
He found a “very unique” gold ’53 Corvette at a Kmart near Philadelphia International Airport. He has bought many of his miniature cars for a dollar or two at flea markets and car shows, such as the big Corvette gathering at Carlisle, Pa., this month.
Mallon’s grandfather sold Plymouths and DeSotos in Boston. The car gene skipped his father, but his mother encouraged his interest. A treasured photo shows him on a Corvette pedal car at age 2, and his mother says that by the time he was 3 he could distinguish Corvettes from other cars.
By the time he was 10, Mallon, who grew up in Devon, was working at a local gas station, sweeping floors, cleaning windows, learning the rudiments of auto mechanics by observation. Corvettes continued to entrance him.
“The style is the biggest thing,” Mallon says. “I like the shape and look of the Corvette. Lots of cars go fast, but the Corvette is different because it handles so well. It has a fiberglass body and is a limited-production two-seater sports car, a truly American sports car. There’s a mystique to it, and it’s a blast to drive.”
For his 14th birthday, his mother gave Mallon four toy Corvettes, which he displayed on his bookcase. The collection had been launched. By the time Mallon was 16 and able to drive, the bookcase was full of cars. When he got married in 1988, he had 133 cars, and, as a wedding present, his sympathetic wife, Gina, gave him a wooden display case.
As he traveled nationally for work, Mallon would always brings gifts home for the family, including “little cars for me.” By the late ’90?s, when Mallon was in his 40s, his Corvette collection numbered 754 cars. “I kept a handwritten account of all my cars,” says Mallon, who has a degree in accounting and finance from Drexel University. “I never thought I would get to a thousand.”
By last November, Mallon had accumulated more than 2,000 Corvette items. Guinness officials didn’t have a category for the largest collection of Corvette memorabilia but agreed to create one. (Corvettes are made by Chevrolet in Bowling Green, Ky.)
There were plenty of requirements, including displaying all the items in a public space. Fortunately, the principal of Downingtown West High School was enthusiastic and offered Mallon use of the gymnasium. With the help of a “small army” of volunteers, Mallon’s collection was arrayed on the gym floor.
The collection had to be photographed and videotaped and viewed by expert witnesses. Mallon enlisted a museum curator, the Chevrolet zone manager, and a member of the Corvette club. Meanwhile, a certified public accountant counted the Corvette items. No two could be alike, and there were 2,181 altogether, a total certified by a notary public.
“It was an awesome display,” says Dan Ahearn, the Chevrolet zone manager. “Chevrolet has a huge following, and the loyalty of Corvette fans is huge. There are a lot of diehard Chevrolet enthusiasts out there, and I’ve seen a number of displays but none to the degree of Charlie’s. He started at a young age and stayed at it.”
Not surprisingly, the collection continues to grow. It now stands at 2,205, and Mallon has no plans to stop.
“The real fun is the chase for something new and unique,” he says. Nowadays, Mallon keeps track of his extensive collection via an Excel spreadsheet on his computer. He knows the first car he acquired and the last. Recently, his daughter, Emily, 22, found a pink plastic Barbie Corvette and bought it for her father for a couple of bucks at a flea market. (A while back, she also made him a Corvette-themed blanket and a couple of throw pillows.)
His son, Andy, 17, shares his father’s passion for Corvettes and will accompany him to the Corvette museum, also in Bowling Green, during their tour of prospective colleges.
As for Mallon’s wife, she has learned to become a friend of her husband’s enthusiasms. She gave him a small plaque for his display case that proclaims “I Still Play with Cars,” and the other day she was wearing a polo shirt with the word Corvette on the front.
“He sucked me in,” Gina Mallon says. “I’m not a car aficionado, but I have to be interested because he’s so interested. It can get a little crazy, because every time we put up a new shelf he wants to cover it with Corvettes, but I try to keep it under control. They can’t be everywhere. Besides, he lets me have my collection, which is cows. The deal is, I get the first floor and he gets the basement.”