Pursuit of Happiness

Car-ry on, collector

Avant-garde designer Dilip Chhabria loves scale models as much as the real thing

Soumik Kar

Unlike his wife and kids, Dilip Chhabria hates going to the movies. He thinks they are long and dull, unless, of course, there’s a hot car chase happening. But of late, he has been accompanying his family, quite frequently, to PVR Gold Class in New Delhi’s Select City Mall, the only theatre he will agree to visit, mind you. And why’s that? The automotive connoisseur who has been redesigning mass market cars into bespoke wonders under his DC Design brand since 1993 chuckles, “Haven’t you seen the store next door?” Of course it had to have something to do with cars, this shop retailing miniature scale models of automobiles. DC, as most people know Chhabria, collects the little pretties passionately. 

Chhabria, who has re-designed over 600 cars over his flamboyant career, including a super-avatar of the humble Ambassador, owns 215 authentic scale models of great cars. He originally had them across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and his hometown, Pune, and surprised himself when he brought them together at his Andheri office for Outlook Business. His desk turned into a rare parking lot for more than 180 cars, stationed neatly, edge-to-edge, some customised especially for him, no repeats. Scale models come with their own quirks: a Tata Nano looks bigger than a Volkswagen Polo, and a Fortuner is smaller than the working scale model of Ferrari’s Formula One race car. “This is the first time I have seen my entire collection together, and to be honest, I am as thrilled as I am when I buy a new car,” exults a child-like Chhabria, the automan who also offers design and prototyping services to OEMs and counts Aston Martin, Renault and GM among his clients. 

DC admits that his grand passion consumes approximately ₹1 lakh every month, and he shops for scale models from around the world — the UK, China, Japan, Australia, Germany, and his favourite destination, the US. “In a single visit to the US, I spend approximately $1,000-2,000 [on scale models],” says the miniature car collector whose professional credentials now include refurbishing aircraft interiors. 

It’s been a long and exciting run. DC’s first car was a toy he got as a 2-year-old from a local balloonwala for four annas (25 paise). That “obsessively passionate boy”, as he calls himself, went on to make a garland of such cars and put it around his neck. The real deal happened 16 years later, in 1971. “I had gone to Europe with four of my friends when for the first time in my life, I saw a store dedicated to miniature cars,” he says, adding sheepishly, “I went gaga and spent all the money I had on them.” Niche stores and websites have not only made it easier to buy but pick up exciting information, the grist for a collector’s mill. The flip side: “The more the options, the more I spend.”  

Oddly enough, the unflagging collector cannot remember the first scale model he bought though he doesn’t face any such difficulty with his latest additions — a Mercedes 500K, a Bugatti Atlantic and a Bugatti 57SC. The last is the dearest. “All three are vintage cars,” he explains. “I have been buying more vintage cars recently,” he trails off as his phone rings.