Meet the men, who travel the world, scour nondescript stores and keep a hawk-like watch online, all to procure some of the world’s greatest cars in miniature
Two grown men pore over a sleek, blue, three-inch long car, fascinated. Hari Shreyas points to the miniature engine that sits beneath its diecast hood: “Look at the detailing. Look at the metal buckles on the seat belts, the nylon fibre seats, the little red fire extinguisher, the side exhaust that is a distinguishing factor of this particular model.” The car they are admiring is an exact miniature of the iconic Shelby 427 Cobra, that used to rule American roads back in the 1960s. It is built to a 1/64 scale, meaning it is 1/64th the size of the actual car, based on licensed specifications provided by the manufacturer.
Chennai-based Hari, an IT employee, has three Shelby 427 Cobras: a 1/64, a 1/32 and a 1/18. They are the pride of his thousands-strong miniature car collection. “I lost count after hitting the 2,000 mark two years ago,” he says. His friend Sulai, an independent filmmaker, has a smaller collection for now, having begun fairly recently. Nevertheless, Sulai’s collection is also one to be proud of. “One of my favourites is a purple Chevy Bel Air Gasser with a green hood. It is a 1955 model: the RLC version sold in India for ₹ 20,000,” says Sulai.
- Miniature Ferraris, particularly in the trademark red, have increased in value ever since the brand’s licence with Hot Wheels expired in 2014, since there have been no new Ferrari miniatures made since
- Mystery Machines, which used to sell for ₹69 at toy stores, are now acquired by collectors at around ₹500 each
- Hot Wheels also came out with a collectible ‘wheelie chair’, based on the chair used by a US-based, wheelchair-bound extreme sports athlete and model
RLC refers to Red Line Club cars — exclusive, limited edition miniatures brought out by car manufacturers solely for serious collectors. It is a term used commonly among Sulai and Hari’s ilk: a community of avid miniature car collectors spread over Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Coimbatore, Tirunelveli, Ahmedabad and other cities.
Though the community has a strong, active presence in each of the places, members insist that location isn’t much of a factor. Most of the interactions, discussions and acquisitions happen online. One of the most active fora in recent times is Diecast Hub India, which has about 1,000 active members from around the country. Not only is it a Facebook platform, but it has also managed to facilitate monthly meetings in three cities so far: Pune, Mumbai and Chennai.
Kunal Shah, a Mumbai-based newspaper employee who founded Diecast Hub India, says the appeal here basically boils down to boys and their toys.
“Each car has a different history, a different story, a different configuration. So does each collection,” he says. Which is part of the reason that he has kept the meetups theme-based. “The last meetup was based on the Fast and The Furious theme. People who had models associated with the car franchise, showed them off and spoke about them.”
Fandoms like these have an appeal of their own for collectors. Sulai, for example, has three different 1/64 models of Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine — “each model has a different tyre pattern” — while Kunal has 25. Which is perhaps why Hot Wheels, one of the biggest manufacturers of scale models, saw it fit to tie up with Comic Con Mumbai and Delhi, and put up some collectors’ models for display. It was an exhilarating experience for these collectors, but nothing compared to the Hot Wheels Conventions that take place in the US.
Eshwar Suresh Naidu should know: he spends his days shuttling between Bengaluru, Tirunelveli and Washington DC. “Hot Wheels has two annual events: a convention and a collector’s meet. They usually happen on the West Coast, since most of the community is settled in California. But there was a convention in Washington in 2010: it was three days long and saw at least 1,000 people attending each day,” says the student pursuing a PhD in Cell Science. What’s so special about these conventions? The rock stars of the miniature car world, the actual designers who create these intricate models, show up to interact with collectors. “Some collector’s models are also sold exclusively at the event: you can’t acquire it unless you are there.”
Though events of such a scale are not expected to be organised in India any time soon, at least Hot Wheels has the country on its radar, and is aware of a collectors’ base here. Other major makers like Kyosho, B Burango, Mystore and Johnny Lighting are still more or less out of reach, and have to be sourced from overseas. “We are working to bring some designers to India,” says Sulai. Till that happens, there is plenty to look forward to as far as the joy of collecting is concerned. Hot Wheels alone, for instance, brings out miniatures of three types — RLCs, the all-metal and rubber-tyred Premiums, and main line cars which are produced in hundreds per year. And then there are the Treasure Hunt (TH) models that are one among 50, and the Super THs that are one out of 900.
It is the excitement of finding hidden gems like these that keep the men digging online, in swanky toy stores, and even in old abandoned ones. Hari recalls the time he found a veritable treasure trove in a nondescript little toy store in Udaipur. “I make it a point to visit toy shops in every place I travel to. This one had a sackful of old toy cars that they dumped in front of me,” he grins. Needless to say, this hobby is also an added bonus for the children of these collectors — most of them buy a stash for their sons and daughters, with a promise that father’s cars would be left untouched.
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