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Architect’s chase for diecast cars lies in creating stories

Wu Tzu Chiang, a director at DP Architects, enjoys the thrill of the hunt.

There are diecast car collectors who will enthuse about the provenance of each piece, the manufacturer, which era it was made in, the technology behind its construction, where it was made… Wu Tzu Chiang isn’t one of them. Some might say that he isn’t a very “serious” collector – he doesn’t track price trends diligently and admits to having forgotten pieces stashed away somewhere. “I don’t even have an inventory book, and have, on occasions, unknowingly bought pieces that I already own and end up with repeat models,” he says with a chuckle. “I try not to get sucked too deep into the pursuit. Collecting car models – as with my other hobbies of collecting Iron Man action figures and Star Wars paraphernalia – is purely for enjoyment. There is no point in getting stressed or overwhelmed by it.”

Scene setting

The architect with a love for minute details procures simply by instinct: “I started collecting after chancing upon a diecast car shop in Beijing five years ago. The level of fine detailing intrigued me so much that I bought about six or seven at once!” And so began a new hobby for Wu. “I go for cars that appeal to me with their shape and form, their lines.” Pointing to a 1:18 scale model of a curvaceous vintage Bentley, he enthuses: “Such as this car – it is so grandiose and evocative of old Hollywood glamour.”

He might amass verticals of certain makes, say, the Porsche 901 or the Austin Mini: “I have four different models of minis bought on three occasions. While the pieces are nice on their own, it is gathering a range of the same model that gives me satisfaction.” He also has a soft spot for the models of iconic vintage cars – especially those which his father owned, or that he grew up lusting after – but is also ready to drop a pretty penny on a scale model of a car model that he doesn’t recognise – as long as its aesthetics appeal to him.

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Wu certainly isn’t pedantic about what he adds to his collection, containing about 100 pieces (though we would put the number closer to 200, looking at the display along the walls of his office at DP Architects). Yet there is a method behind his seemingly random buying style. The display of his five year-old collection – spanning 1:43 matchbox pieces of vintage vehicles to 1:12 models of Formula One racing machines – might feature the usual scenes of mechanics in overalls crowding around a car at a pitstop.

But look closer and you will notice unusual little tableaux as well: A Bob Marley in denim overalls, head-banging beside a metallic blue vintage saloon; a Captain Haddock miniature looking poised for action by an Shelby Cobra 289 and Boba Fett looking like a proud owner of a Porsche 356 A Coupe. “The cars on their own are just static pieces,” says Wu. “As such, I never seek to buy an ‘important piece’, but always look at procuring models that can add to a tableaux.”

 

  • LEGO TECHNIC 8458 SILVER CHAMPION


    LEGO TECHNIC 8458 SILVER CHAMPION

    The Lego Technic model that is 1:8 in scale is the largest in Wu’s collection. “Space constraint is a real concern, so I don’t go for the bigger models. I don’t usually go for the matchboxes either as they are too small for me to fully appreciate the details.”

 

The practical collector

Wu has a folder on his phone named “cars to buy”, but he isn’t in a hurry to check off items on the list. He goes out on side excursions during his weekly work trips overseas – be it Indonesia, China or Japan – sometimes extending a day to trawl through second- hand toy shops. Wu might also incorporate a spree during his family holidays around the world. “Frankly, it is not difficult to find anything – just about everything is available online. All you need to do is pay for it. But where is the thrill in that? I take my time to find them at good prices,” says Wu, who shares that his pieces are usually bought for under a thousand dollars.

Not one to queue overnight to buy collector’s items only to flip it, Wu says that he has no intention of liquidating his collection, which he estimates to be currently worth about $50,000 to $80,000. “My son grew up surrounded by my collection, and even though he is not a collector, he promised to take care of it when I am gone, so I won’t sell it,” shares Wu. “I simply enjoy being with my collections.”

(Related: Collectors alert: Jaguar’s going to produce 25 of the iconic D-type Classic)