“I don’t know why,” says Aamir Ashfaq, “but I’m really attracted to cars and I feel extremely happy when I’m in my toy-car showroom.”
What makes his story unique is that Aamir is not a ten-year-old who is indulging a passing hobby for four-wheeled playthings. Aamir is an unassuming, functional, employed 39-year-old, and if you were to look at him once, you could never tell that he harbours an intense passion for collecting toy cars.
Based in Lahore, Aamir has managed to collect 4,189 model cars over the course of 31 years. He started collecting cars when he was only eight years old, and since then has spent one hour every day with his cars. He even has a sort of ritual — every day, he’ll pick up a different toy car, place it in the palm of his hand, and savour the moment.
Aamir houses his cars in a purpose-built room. His collection includes cars that have been imported from all around the world. Whether it is 1907’s Peugeot or a Pocher model of a Mercedes-Benz SSK, Aamir has it all.
“It may be childish,” admits Aamir, “but I never feel odd living with my cars. When I was young, toys always had a special place in my heart, and I really liked trains and airplanes too. In fact when I was very young, my parents tried to get me more interested in trains and airplanes… but I always came back to my first passion, cars.”
Aamir’s pursuit may not have gone far enough to earn him a world record, but such a collection is still unique in Pakistan. Over the years, Aamir has managed to collect model cars linked to famous personalities — he has a model of the limousine that John F Kennedy was assassinated in, and he has cars modeled after the wheels that James Bond, Mr Bean, and Batman would choose to drive. He also has a collection of 78 luxury cars, including a Bugatti, a 1974 Rolls Royce, custom-made Hummers, Maybachs and a Mercedes from 1907.
“Each of my cars has a history,” says Aamir. “Memories may fade with time… but these cars take me back to moments in the past. When I hold a car in the palm of my hand, I remember things I had forgotten about the past, and this gives me immense joy. In fact, I can’t explain it in words.”
American vehicles have always tempted Aamir, so model cars of famous brands like Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, Plymouth, Dodge feature very prominently in his display. British, Italian, French, German, Japanese, European automobile models are also part of the extensive collection. His collection is not restricted only to die-cast modern cars, but also includes antiques, nascars, dinkies, and matchbox cars. You name it — he thrusts it into your hands with a flourish.
For Aamir, every car is equally important. When he gets his hands on a new car to add to the collection, he first sleeps with it under his pillow before placing it lovingly on the shelves.
To date, the collection has cost Aamir about Rs500,000. He hasn’t been the only one contributing to the cost: his parents, and his relatives who live abroad are more than eager to indulge his passion. “It was quite difficult to collect a large number of die-cast cars in Pakistan because of their non-availability. The last hawker I saw was around in the late eighties. It is very unfortunate that in Lahore, there is not a single shop where I can buy toy cars… so I have to rely on my relatives who are based outside Pakistan.”
Aamir, who also has three lovely daughters, insists that his toy cars do not interfere with domestic bliss. He insists that despite it all, he is a simple man with simple pleasures. “I have no big dreams… I just want to collect cars,” he says. “My love for cars never bothered my family because I know how to balance my time between both.”
“In fact,” he adds, “this room [in which he houses his cars] is like my fourth child… and my three daughters help me manage it, so it brings us closer.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 29th, 2011.