Cars, memorabilia nab the spotlight in walkout

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Like many Dream Cruise devotees, Bill Oddonetto is a bona fide car buff. Just one look around the spacious basement of the Oxford home he shares with his wife, Karen, reveals hundreds of model cars and other auto memorabilia displayed in a number of creative ways. “It’s a labor of love,” he says.

Still, his fascination didn’t start in the Motor City. Originally from Phoenix, Bill would eventually land in San Diego where he met Karen. While working for Costco, he became enamored with the model cars they sold during the holiday season and a collection was born. “That’s what got me going and it just blossomed,” he says.

“When we moved to Detroit, I got kind of serious about it because I was exposed to more cars,” says Bill, who has been collecting them for 25 years.

His wife, the oldest of eight, is a Michigan native whose father worked for General Motors. “Going to the auto show was the best day ever. We went every year and I always enjoyed it,” says Karen, who works as a consultant in the automotive industry.

Though the collecting part is Bill’s passion, he credits Karen with knowing as much about cars as he does. “She can always identify them when we’re driving around,” he says.

Car park

While the basement in their previous home also featured his collections, the 2,400-square-foot walkout in their newly acquired ranch-style residence provides even more display space. “The house was downsized, but the basement was upsized,” says Karen.

There are plenty of opportunities for his playful arrangements. “It’s almost like a room with no walls. That’s why I like an open concept,” says Bill who counts vintage cameras and neon signs among his many collections.

As Karen explains, “His pieces dictate the space and how he displays things.”

For instance, vintage bicycles hang from the ceiling along with stained glass panels. “We have this vertical space; that’s the ticket,” says Bill. “I like hanging things. That kind of defines the space.”

The exposed ceiling really appealed to Bill. “I love that loft look,” says the avid collector, who added distinctive details like a crown molding shelf that wraps around the room to showcase his model cars.

While he refers to the arrangement as random, Karen remarks that the cars vary by color and style as well as size and shape, like a convertible tucked below the ductwork. “It all comes together like a puzzle,” she says.

All together now

His extensive collection, which includes more than 400 model cars and about 50 motorcycles, features a number of whimsical vignettes like the one with a Dodge Ram pickup made of steel from the Walter P. Chrysler Museum that has since closed.

A Hank Hill figure from the animated “King of the Hill” TV series stands outside the passenger door while a miniature bike sits in the back of the pickup. “It’s such a well-made model. It’s the detail that’s amazing,” says Bill of the unique find that’s among his favorites.

On the walls, the assortment includes everything from a replica of a Woodward street sign to vintage reproduction signage with a car theme. License plate maps show one of the U.S. and another in the shape of Michigan, while muscle car clocks mark the hour with the sound of engines from featured vehicles.

Wood shelves hold Bill’s Volkswagen collection in honor of his beloved ’66 Volkswagen bus that will soon cruise Woodward. There is even a VW bus he built from a LEGO set that’s displayed in a Lucite box.

Because the couple bought one of the first Smart cars in Michigan, which they have since sold, there’s also a Smart car theme in an area of the basement where police cruisers fill a nearby table.

Artfully arranged automobiles with open hoods fill a cabinet made from the end sections of an old entertainment center. The model cars from different eras are propped on plate holders and other display stands.

A bow-front china cabinet from an antiques store contains more pieces from his collection. “I had several ideas for it, but it ended up being all cars because I have so many of them and they fit so well,” he says.

Finders keepers

It may be his background in retail that makes Bill so resourceful at finding and placing his prized possessions. In addition, there’s a story behind each piece, many of which have come from estate sales. “It’s kind of eclectic down here. If I like it, it’s going in,” he says.

Though it broke his heart to dismantle all the displays in the basement of their previous home, the new one turned out even better. “I’m pretty pleased,” says Bill, who spent more than four months carefully curating his collections.

Many of the objects are paired with organizers from the Container Store, where he once worked. “I have that eye for detail that’s a little off,” he says. Karen adds, “He just makes it interesting.”

The enticing environment creates a unique experience not only because of the fun finds, but the painstaking process of making them shine. “It’s something to talk about, something that catches your eye,” he says.

Although Bill no longer adds much to his collections he still dreams up displays for the pieces he has gathered through the years, like the ledges that were recently installed above the doors. “I put more cars up there,” says Bill, who filled one with vehicles featured in films like “Ghostbusters,” “Back to the Future” and “Batman.” “These are things that I love. It makes me happy.”

So does the basement where he finds himself spending more time than ever before. There, comfortable furnishings from their former home provide plenty of places to relax and enjoy the special surroundings. “It’s like a sanctuary,” says Bill, who is now retired. “It’s still magical to me. I’ll sit down here with the dogs. It’s a very calming place.”

Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at

Dream Cruise

The 23rd Annual Woodward Dream Cruise will be held between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday. It takes place along a 16-mile stretch on historical Woodward Avenue through nine host communities including Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Pontiac and Royal Oak.