Motoring has come a long way since the first time people saw the Benz Motorwagen rolling down the streets of Germany. With over a century of innovation in engineering and design, the expanses of motoring stretch from automobiles that have been build for literally every purpose that could possibly exist. In its vastness, motoring has inculcated a culture, a highly specialised creed who spend their entire lifetimes reminiscing the countless legends of motoring past, while being overwhelmed by what is in store for them in the future. While some might want to traverse deserts endlessly for days in search of the ultimate honour and glory, others, like us prefer documenting their journeys and celebrating their emotions with the world. In this soup of piston-powered-culture, there are a select few who are dedicated collectors of memoirs. They are the ones who collect the greatest hits of motoring, in their most realistic, yet miniaturised version possible. I, of course, am talking about diecast cars and their expansive and ever-growing world. To get my head wrapped around something as vast as the history of automobiles itself, I had to speak to someone who has been curating his own physical encyclopedia of diecast model cars.
Mr. Adil Jal Darukhanawala is not someone who has been spoken about for the first time. A pioneer of automotive reporting and journalism for almost four decades, Adil has been the editor of India’s most prolific automotive magazines such as, Bike India (of Bike UK), Car India (of Car UK) and Overdrive before initiating the boom of automotive websites in the country. Adil is also currently the Editor of Fast Bikes India (of Fast Bikes UK) as well as the Editor at Large at Evo India (of Evo UK). Over the years that he has persistently documented his experiences in motoring (which are so vast we can’t even begin covering them all here), Adil has been a devoted collector of diecast model cars. His collection today stands at and incredible 10,000 diecast scale models that continues to grow, while including some rarest collectors model cars such; like an extremely rare Formula Nippon car that was driven by Michael Schumacher briefly during the early 1990s. Another jewel in Adil’s collection is a rare diecast model of a 1948 Ferrari 125 F1, the Italian’s first Formula One car. Only 50 scale models of the car were hand built specifically to be sold at the 1990 Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
With more than 4-decades of collecting model cars, Adil is one of the biggest collectors not just in the country but also around the world. Talking to him about his diecast model car collection, for me, went beyond the world of miniature car models. It was a deep dive into motoring culture, the heroes and their incredible feats that brought us the modern machines we revel today. One thing was clear though … to truly understand the art of collecting diecast cars, we have to start from the very beginning.
History of the Model Car
The history of scale model cars is almost as old as the automobile itself. While many credit Frank Hornby of Meccano for creating the first scale model car in 1901, it was actually the French company CR (named after its founder Charles Rossignol) who created the first motorcar scale models at the end of the 19th century. The cars created by CR were rudimentary models unlike today’s diecast cars and were created by stamping tin plates together (since welding wasn’t invented back then). While Charles Rossignol’s CR did create the first car scale models, it was in fact Englishman Frank Hornby who popularised the idea with Mecanno and then later with the Dinky Toys, one of Europe’s first diecast car marques. While on the other side of the Atlantic, the Dowst & Shure brothers started making toys under the brand Tootsie in 1909.
The initial push for scale model cars came as toys for kids specially since the build quality of most pre-war scale models weren’t so great. It wasn’t after the World Wars when the process of creating casts from a purer alloy of Zinc, now known as die casting started creating more precise and detailed scaled-down replicas of famous cars. The more realistic models where more than mere toys, quickly becoming more valuable to collectors as important pieces of automotive history. Today, diecast car models range from the latest supercars to century-old, rare collectors automobiles that existed much before Henry Ford put together the production line for his Model T.
Types of Car Scale Models
Scale model cars can be broadly classified in two categories – Plastic injection moulded and Diecast car models. While both the processes are fairly similar, the difference is mainly in the raw material used to create the final product; ie. the use of plastic in injection moulding (such as in Hot Wheels) while an alloy of zinc known as Zamak (zinc with small quantities of copper and aluminium) used in the process of die casting. Diecast model cars bear higher levels of detail since they can be machined further after being taken out of the cast, while injection moulded cars have a more toy-ish appearance. Being made of metal, diecast car models last longer too. Diecast car models can also be easily fitted with glass and plastic components like windows and working suspensions, offering more functionality and hence creating a more complex and realistic car model.
How To Collect Diecast Cars
In many ways, diecast car models are equivalent to fine mechanical timepieces. Just like how the value and rarity of a mechanical watch increases with the number of complications it has, a diecast car’s value and rarity increases with the number of moving parts it has. Some of the more expensive diecast model cars feature functioning parts such as a moving set of suspensions, steering, doors, mirrors and openable bonnet and boot. The size of the scale model also plays an important role in determining the value of the diecast car model. Generally, the larger the size of the model car, the more its value. For example, 1:18 diecast cars would be more valuable than 1:43 scale cars. While most common manufacturers give out licences to manufacture diecast car models to several vendors, some companies like Bugatti and Ferrari keep their licensing more exclusive, making their diecast vehicles valued higher than others.
When thinking about collecting diecast model cars, one has to be clear about what their intent is before even purchasing their very first car. Adil categorises car collectors in two broad categories; the ones who purchase diecast model cars with the intention of selling them later when their value is higher, and the other who collect model cars for what they represent to motoring. The first kind are less collectors, more investors, who treat diecast toys as a long-term business opportunity. They keep their model cars in their original packaging, being careful not to damage them and reduce their value.
Adil is of the second kind. He collects diecast model cars with a purpose of remembering what its full-scale original brought to motoring. None of Adil’s 10,000 cars are kept in a box. Instead, they are all neatly displayed across the walls of his study rooms, organised by type, models, manufacturer or historic pedigree that they represent.
For being a true collector, one has to understand what the original machine represented. Collecting diecast car models is curating the best moments in motoring in a miniature form. Amongst the many cars that Adil has, one of the most inspiring set was the collection of all the cars that won the Le Mans since the event was first held in 1932. I will come back to this incredible collection in a followup post with lots of photos very soon.
What To Collect?
With over 100-years of automotive history, it quickly becomes overwhelming for someone new to model cars to understand where to start. While most newcomers to diecast vehicles generally end up buying the latest, flashiest cars at random, it is always better to being with a plan. One such theme that Adil followed for his diecast car collection was to collect all the Formula One Ferrari cars since the first World Championship held in 1950. I would someday love to have a collection of every Lancia that ever went racing. If I ever begin, I would know that one day I would have such pride in owning a full set of the machines who’s development history filled with passion and speed, while never bothering about what its all for. It would take a while, surely, but it would be something to marvel at.
While it might be easy to get carried away in the world of model car collecting, one must consider between choosing size and space. Eventually, when one reaches a point to be classified as a seasoned model car collector, the dilemma of running out of space start to become real. While the standards differ from country to country, 1:18 diecast cars are experiencing a downward trend in recent years due to their larger footprint that inevitably causes storage problems. Smaller diecast car models with sizes ranging from 1:24 to 1:43 are more manageable while holding high levels of details due to modern die casting techniques. Certain companies like Franklyn Mint only produce 1:24 scale diecast cars, which is also the default standard for USA. On the other side of the pond, the British have settled down with 1:43 as standard after experimenting with the 1:32 scale for some time.
Diecast cars aren’t just mere toys. They address an era in motoring that brought in innovative ideas that eventually evolved into what we all drive today. For this reason, the art of collecting diecast cars is not something one can get around in a few days, or a few years. In fact, it is a continuous search that takes one on a journey back in time to savour their most heartwarming moments in the most detailed, miniaturised form.