He’s the managing director of one of the biggest tile and sanitaryware producers in the country, the Somany Group. But he’s kept a boyhood passion alive, and turned it into a serious hobby. “As a child in Hyderabad, I was always fond of aeromodelling, as were my dad and uncle, so I took it from there,” says Abhishek Somany. His fondness for matchbox cars at the age of five grew into the formidable die-cast and handmade car model collection that he has today, with 600-odd cars finding pride of place at his Delhi home, his office in Noida, and his factory in Haryana (“wherever I’m allowed the space,” he says).
“I collect cars from a particular time period, much the way an art collector will define his collection to say the Bengal School or the Baroda School,” says Abhishek. “For me, it’s European cars from 1893-1940 and American cars between 1893-1970 that tickle my fancy. After the ’60s and ’70s, all cars look the same anyway.”
The cars come in various scales, so the technical term for them is ‘scale die-cast models’, explains Abhishek. A scale of 1:24 means that the car is 24 times smaller than the actual model. He also has models in 1:18 or 1:12 scales, and even the much bigger ones that are 1:8. His prized possession is his Bentley Blower that is a 1:8 model, and a Delahaye. “I have a host of Rolls-Royces from 1903 to 1925, which are smaller,” he says. Abhishek bought his first die-cast car at the age of 16 during a trip to Germany with his dad – a Mercedes-Benz SSK.
And where does he get his models from? “You get them from mints around the world,” says Abhishek. “Most have closed down, but there are still people out there who hand make these models, so you can either get them off the shelf or order them – sometimes you’re waiting a year to get your delivery.” The mints are mostly to be found in Germany, UK, and Italy, and some of the top ones are: Franklin Mint, Danbury Mint, CMC (Classic Model Cars) from the US, and Amalgam from the UK. “Mine is a serious collection, so the process of researching what you want to order next – the colour, upholstery – is more fun that acquiring the piece,” he says. “Once you have it, you’re on to the next one.” He usually buys around 5-6 models a year. Internationally, it’s a very serious hobby, but in India, Abhishek doesn’t know of any fellow collectors, and remains connected to other hobbyists around the world via a special website.
And eBay and Amazon are brimming with the die-cast models, where resellers want to put their models for sale. “These can range from $15,000 to the cheapest at €200-300, which most of mine cost,” says Abhishek. “You can also bargain on eBay.” We particularly love the Duesenberg, with its open boot and its miniature contents. “These are scaled models so every little part is scaled, from the fan belt in the engine to the radiator – that’s what makes them special,” he says. And although the cars have gone up in value, for example his first purchase, the Mercedes-Benz SSK, bought at €100, is now worth 30 times that, he doesn’t see his collection as an investment. “They will obviously pass on to my children, but I’m not sure anyone is so fond of them,” he says. “When she married me, my wife thought I was nuts, and still thinks I’m nuts.”
And what’s the ultimate piece he would like to own? “There is a book called the The Impossible Collection of Cars, of the 100 most exceptional cars of the 20th century,” says Abhishek. “No one person can buy these 100 cars in their lifetime, because whoever has them is not selling. I am trying to get hold of 100 of those models in my collection in miniature form.” He says he’s already on number 21. “I have a long way to go.” The ride continues.