A 1946 Dodge was jacked up on bricks in a yard outside Coimbatore. Used for transporting milk, it had been trashed by its owner. Eshwar S Naidu, a vintage car collector, bought it and had it restored. “But it would not start. Finally, the owner came and touched it and Herbie-like, the car spluttered into action. Later, we discovered, it had something to do with its fluid transmission system. But right then, it seemed so supernatural,” narrates Eshwar.
A collector of wheels, scaled-down models and vintage automobiles, Eshwar’s impressive collection of more than 6,000 diecast cars are kept in his houses in Bengaluru, Thirvananthapuram and at a relative’s house in the US.
Out of a bright red, circular tin box spills out 30 to 40 hotwheel cars, all in working condition and with their paintwork intact. Thirty-two-year-old Eshwar becomes a child when he displays his precious collection, right from the time he used to collect diecast cars from the age of six or seven. Never did he play fast and furious games with them. “As a result, all them are in mint condition,” he says, with each Hotwheels car kept in individual plastic zip lock bags.
Five leather suitcases at his house in Swati Nagar, near the SAP camp at Peroorkada, reveal an Aladdin’s cave of of Hotwheels, Johny Lightening, Matchbox and more, all in their individual blister packing.
“I realised that serious collectors insist on the box or the carton in which such cars are sold. So, now I don’t break them open at all,” he says, showing off his collection of dinky cars, all scaled down in the ratio of 1:64 the size of the original makes. He also has cars that are scaled down in the 1:18 ratio, showing a model of a stylish Ford Thunderbird on a stand.
- A red-coloured fire engine, which was made in the US, has a fireman who descends a ladder while a model of Apollo has a spaceman who steps out of the vehicle to take a few careful steps outside before he steps back into the spaceship.
- A Hot Wheels convention is held every year in different cities in the US. A special edition of few convention cars is released on the occasion. Eshwar has many of the convention cars with him.
- Every mainline edition of Hot Wheels has a few Super Treasure Hunt (STH) cars that are different from the others, which is highly sought-after by collectors and is snapped up as soon as a new collection is brought out.
- At Syle Plus and Giggles, for instance, as soon as a new collection comes up, the STH cars are picked up almost immediately. “It is uncanny,” rues Eshwar.
- One of Eshwar’s favourites is a red tin bus that was made in India in the sixties. He bought it at a sale in the US. Among the Hot Wheels cars, his choice is the ‘gassers’,
- Hot Wheels models of customised, bespoke cars that were made in the US.
- Each vintage car in his collection has a story that Eshwar narrates. He explains how he found the car, located its owner and how he went about restoring it. Eshwar sold his first two vintage cars.Now, he has a 1946 Dodge fluid drive, a Ford 1935 V8 convertible, a 1958 Chevy Belaire that belonged to a very famous household in Chennai, an Ambassador Mark II and a few scooters and a bicycle.
Eshwar became the owner of a vintage car at the age of 16 and soon he became the youngest member of the Vintage and Classic Car Club of Karnataka with six vintage automobiles of his own.
“While going for hockey matches in Bengaluru, I used to notice this old car near our ground that had been junked by its owner. Finally, I traced its owner and my father agreed to buy the car for me after my Boards,” recalls Eshwar.
Once he got his first vintage car, he read up everything he could find on restoring the car. “It gave me a focus and accentuated my interest in engineering and academics,” says Eshwar, an aircraft maintenance engineer. However, he found that restoring the car would need a specialised garage and so he entrusted it to a professional who worked on the 1935-make Plymouth. His next acquisition was a 1927-make Baby Austin.
He also resumed collecting dinky cars and tin toy cars from all over India and abroad. One of the more recent ones is a neat working model of a petrol outlet that he bagged on a trip to Turkey. Setting it up with care on a rug, he operates it with a key and presto! An entire street comes alive, buzzing with cars and buses moving smoothly along the roads and the gas station.
Eshwar and his wife, Rohini, an artist and arts educator, had begun collecting antiques when Eshwar was posted in Madurai. Eventually, they came to know agents in Karaikudi who would alert them when they came to know about the kind of pieces the couple might be interested in.
He says that as soon as word gets around of a tin car or automobile in good condition, there are collectors eager to snap it up. “It is a small world of collectors. Ideally, everyone should be eager to share and learn. But there are unhealthy rivalries too. It is all trust and personal connections that are important,” explains Eshwar.
On each trip to the US, Eshwar scours flea markets and garage sales to buy tin cars and Hotwheels collectibles. To ensure that the collectibles are authentic, Eshwar insists on the model coming with its own cardboard box or packing.
The toughest job is to take care of his collection. So every month, the couple does a thorough dusting of every piece they own.
Eshwar and Rohini dream of opening an interactive toy museum in Bengaluru. “Soon we will come up with the blueprint for it. We were inspired by Oyuncak toy museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Our plan is to display my collection and Rohini’s collection of dolls and toys from all over the world, including her superb collection of golu dolls. The museum will have an interactive space for activities such as needlework, craft, painting and so on,” explains Eshwar.