Martin Heukeshoven is a model maker like no other. He is a true artist, and model cars just happen to be his chosen medium.

By Jonathan Ward

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We all know the adage, “Sing like nobody’s listening, dance like nobody’s watching, love like you’ve never been hurt, and work like you don’t need the money.” And sure, we should all live by those rules. The world would be a happier place if we did. Hell, it would be better even if we picked just one of those rules and stayed true to it. From personal experience, I can attest to the importance of loving what you do. I am fortunate enough to have been able to stay true to my beliefs and experience success while adhering to those principles. I wake up each day excited to go to work and live my dream.

Now meet Martin Heukeshoven. Although he’d been building mod-els since he was a young boy, the German found his niche in the 1990s with more natural, timeworn finishes. Back then, he was a pre-press photo retoucher, but his heart wasn’t in his work. To satisfy his need to create, Heukeshoven started building furniture, using items he unearthed from his family farmhouse. Sometimes, the gems he found required intensely creative solutions in order to match new surfaces to the original distressed finishes that he was hoping to highlight and preserve. This proved to be a welcome challenge, and Heukeshoven would spend hours upon hours honing and fine-tuning his skills.

One day, Heukeshoven decided to apply his developing skill set to building model cars. His idea was to create models that captured the “as found” condition of the ultimate vintage barn finds of which all car geeks (present company included) dream—cars with missing fenders, with rust and dents; cars with springs poking through the leather seats, vintage maps in the door pockets, long-deteriorated flat tires. It turned out Heukeshoven had a knack for that type of thing—and that there were collectors at the ready, soon clamoring to buy his creations.

Today, Heukeshoven has completed more than 30 such sculptures, each one more awe-inspiring than the next. Some are crafted in a diorama setting, as if wrecked in a ditch during some old-time car race, or abandoned in a garage and left to rot for decades. Every detail is so hyper-realistic that the models stand alone as unique pieces of art in their own right. And Heukeshoven’s artistic vision knows no limit. The tiniest embellishment is carefully thought through and meticulously executed. He cuts no corners and makes no sacrifices.

Heukeshoven approaches each project as if he were a custom-hot-rod builder, starting with a raw shape and then cutting, trimming, and modifying to perfection. Most of the pieces he builds are commissions, but occasionally he becomes so possessed by the need to create a particular model that he spends months working on it; in many cases, these “orphaned” art pieces sell for far more than the commissioned ones.

Making a model is so labor intensive that it often takes Heuke-shoven up to five months of focused, daily work to complete a project, which is generally between two to three feet in length. The cost ranges from $18,000 to $28,000, depending on size and detail, and he requires at least a year to bring a project to completion.

Heukeshoven finds that earlier cars tend to be the easiest to craft because simpler, more linear forms predominate. Large, commercial vehicles introduce even more time-sucking challenges in the form of the tools, parts, and debris that need to be fabricated for the interior to optimize realism.

The artist has been invited to display his work at some of the most prestigious art and automotive shows in the world. In fact, I first met him at the Pebble Beach RetroAuto show a few years ago, and his work affects me to this day. Eventually, I hope to be in a—ahem—financial position to commission him to build a piece for me. Perhaps a Lancia Stratos abandoned in some rally long ago.

If you have the financial where-withal to approach Heuke-shoven, you’d better make sure you present him with a compelling idea. He often turns down potential clients if their vision fails to entice him. In fact, he was asked recently to craft an Excalibur circa 1982 (think of the stereotypical Miami cocaine-dealer kit, complete with fur coat and feathered purple hat). He graciously passed on the opportunity, elaborating in private, “How can I? Even the original car is a manifestation of bad taste.”

To me, that is the sign of a true artist: someone who is not afraid to say no to a commission; someone who measures a project by its merit, not by money; someone who sets a standard for his art and safeguards it. We all can learn from Heukeshoven—and we should all be as fortunate as to love what we do.

From the June 2015 issue of Penthouse