The years have flown by, but the thought of my first visit to Cyrus Dhabhar’s house, in the Parsi Colony of Mumbai’s Dadar neighbourhood, still reminds me of two things — the delectable dhansak and caramel rice cooked by his mother, and the sight of a scale model car collection like nothing I’d ever seen before. His expansive living room comprised two big showcases that were home to some of the most amazing automotive replicas, and he kept enthralling all his dinner guests by springing more of these out from his bedroom.
Today, my former colleague’s collection has easily crossed four figures, with some new shipments expected in the coming weeks as well. But the petrolhead has matured as a collector, with time. “It’s not only about the numbers for me anymore. I’d buy everything whenever I had the money previously, but now I’m more mindful with my choices. I’m even selling some of them these days, within the scale model collectors’ community,” he says.
Scale model collecting has its own set of nuances. My Bawa friend tells me that the 1:64 scale Hot Wheels miniatures are the most popular ones in the world, mostly because they are available for as little as Rs 100. For connoisseurs, though, the 1:43 is the preferred choice in the West, while collectors in India have a liking for the 1:18 size. Being the most hobby-oriented market for the discerning collector, with its after-market support kits, Japan is fond of the 1:24 scale. The 1:12, however, remains the most premium of them all, with only a limited number of models available globally, and at prices not everyone can afford.
This obsession with cars and models began at a fairly early age for Dhabhar, when his grandmother gave him a red Toyota Celica GT-Four. “The first noteworthy car I got was five years later. It was a diecast metal 1:18 Ferrari Testarossa that was shipped from Hyderabad. But the actual collection started around 10 years ago, and it grew during my time studying in London. Within the space of 12 months, I’d collected a total of 110 cars, most of which were 1:18s. With some phenomenal models available for £3-5, the flea markets there are a paradise for people like me.”
While the idea of owning this veritable florilegium of cars might sound fascinating, Dhabhar cautions that it doesn’t come easy. “Once, I was flying in from London with almost a dozen models for my drawing room collection in India, and I got stopped by the customs officials at the Mumbai airport. All my luggage was emptied out and the cars were put out on a slab, for everyone to see. But it was all within the regulated norms, and I ultimately convinced them to let me go. The entire process took around eight hours, and out of all the people that had come to receive me, only my parents and girlfriend managed to wait outside the airport till the end of it,” he laughed.
Based out of Delhi now, Dhabhar buys most of his cars from a store called Automania in Mumbai, alongside a handful of them on every automotive trip to Europe. He is also fond of CK Model Cars in Germany, just like many others of his ilk in the country. The most prized possessions in his collection are his Ferraris (the 612, the 599 and the 360 Spyder made by the Japanese company Versus, which got swept away by the 2011 tsunami), all bought online. With the after-market modifications, these cars are worth between $1500 and $2000, according to him.
Ask him about how much this hobby means to him, and he gets more romantic than he does while devouring the seekh kebabs from our favourite eatery in Byculla, Sarvi. “It’s been an extremely integral part of growing up. You can’t afford to buy real cars, but you can at least save up to buy these ones,” he said, and added, “I used to dissect these models just to figure out how the steering or the wheels worked. So as an automobile journalist, it has worked both ways. I know my cars, that’s why I take so much interest in models, and also because I’ve grown up with these models, it has helped me understand the cars better.”
Despite the increasing cost of these cars, which inflate from anywhere between two to five times, and the maintenance required (mostly dusting, using special brushes and microfiber cloth) being ‘a pain in the ass,’ Dhabhar still believes that everyone needs a hobby, if nothing than to marvel at the sheer craftsmanship involved in making some of these models. And to make things even better, he’s finally set to tie the knot with someone who also loves his hobby. “I’m going to get two lovely new cars from my fiancé,” he signed off, with the excitement of a scale-model collector who knows he’s reached Boss level.