A hobbyist’s 14-year passion project gives him the sense of fulfillment we all seek to find

More than a hobby

Fifty-eight-year-old hobbyist and collector Mohammad Ruslan Hussein @ Ruslan Tagan finds fulfillment in his collection. From his diecast car models, restored car, action figures and denim pieces, the retiree’s face shines with pride every time he gets the chance to speak about his finds.

A seven-year journey

The proud owner of a fully-restored Toyota Celica TA27, 1973, Ruslan shares that the entire process took him seven years. He first saw the Celica when he was in secondary school, and set his sights on owning it. “It’s very very difficult to get. In 2007, a friend said he saw a Celica in an old furniture factory in Puchong. So I went to take a look. At that time, it was covered in thick dust. I approached the owner and asked him if he would sell it.” The original owner initially planned to refurbish it for himself but at the time, he also needed the money to get married. Thus, Ruslan got lucky and quickly purchased the car. That same year, he began looking into the restoration process. “I sent the car to the restoration centre and it was quite hard to get the parts, but I managed to get them all. I sourced for parts from Japan, for collectors who sold them to me, and looked for some parts locally.”

$!More than a hobby

Describing the procedure, Ruslan explained that they scraped the paint off the car until the metal was exposed, sandblasted it, removed all parts and wiring down to the shell before moving on to the bodywork. The restorers then began the painstaking process of putting everything back together piece by piece. After seven long years, the project was completed.

“I feel like it is akin to the struggle of climbing a hill – it’s difficult, but when you get up there, the view is fantastic,” he said of the restoration process.

“Now, I use this car as my breakfast car. Every morning, I drive it out. I do not drive it like a regular car because I’m worried people might steal the trimmings – it’s very precious to me.”

Every time he drives the car out, there are people who show his car some form of admiration, be it by taking photos or by showing him a thumbs up. “I am really proud of it. I am really happy,” he reiterates.

However, it was not just a shopper’s impulse that drove Ruslan to purchase the car. “When I bought it, I had it in mind that if I bought a new car, the value would depreciate. On the other hand, the value of this restored car would increase. Also, not many own this car. When I’m on the road, I’m probably the only one driving it. I want to have what not many can have,” he chuckled.

He is also in the midst of restoring a 1964 Mercedes Batman 220S. “That will take quite some time to complete,” he shared.

While others invest in property or shares, Ruslan says he would rather invest in classic cars.

$!More than a hobby

Not just toys

Moving on to his collection of diecast cars, the dedicated collector shared that he still holds a little more than 10 pieces belonging to his father. “The tyres have melted off so I’m in the midst of looking for the parts now. I already got them resprayed,” he said with a slight hint of regret, adding that he should have left the colours as they were to showcase the patina of the models.

“When I was small, I saw my dad owning Dinky’s diecast car models, which were made in England. I liked playing with those cars. When I grew older, I played with Matchbox cars (now Hot Wheels) and I began my own collection”.

When asked how he decides which cars to collect, Ruslan said he looks for iconic pieces from selected car makers in countries renowned in the automotive industry when he travels. Illustrating his point, he explained that he collected Ferrari models from Italy, Mercedes models from Germany, and Jaguar models from England. There are several other models from Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, to name a few. Some pieces could not be found locally, and he fondly recalls visiting physical stores in different countries and carrying these precious models home in his hand luggage because he was afraid of any damage that might occur otherwise.

“It’s different now - people can order these things online,” he shared. “With my action figures and diecast car collection, my house feels like a toy store sometimes,” he laughed, estimating he now owns over 100 units. “The first 1:18 scale model that I got was a Ferrari. I bought it for RM60 in 1993. Now, some of my pieces are worth more than RM1,000. Now, I can sell off my Mercedes collection for RM 50,000. But if I were to sell it off and get that money, what are the odds that I can ever own these items again?” the dedicated collector said, drawing his joy from knowing that he is the owner of a limited item that is unique to him only.

“The most interesting model to collect is the Mercedes line, because of the interesting design, look and feel. Each model is quite distinctive as well, unlike the Ferrari ones, which look similar.” The Mercedes Batman diecast car is his favourite, as it is the exact model of the car that he is currently restoring. “To me, cars, especially like Mercedes, are a statement,” he says. “It does not necessarily have to be brand new or expensive. It is an icon”. When it comes to upkeep and maintenance, Ruslan says he cleans his collection with makeup brushes. As for storage, the diecast models have to be kept away from direct sunlight and cannot be kept stagnant so he takes the cars out and moves them around from time to time.

$!More than a hobby

An escape

His love for his assortment of treasures clearly shine through when asked how important this passion project is to him. “In life, especially during the working years, you go to the office day in and day out so you need something to take your mind away from work. That is why you need a hobby. This is my escape and it has grown into an investment”.

Being a homely individual, Ruslan finds contentment from being surrounded by the assortment of models he has at home. “I think I would be empty without this,” he muses. “Every night before I sleep, I look at my collection and can fall soundly asleep.”

“These are memories to me, and the items will last forever. I really hope that whatever I have in my collection will be appreciated by my children,” the father of two concludes. Taking a final look at the carefully curated collection, it is not difficult to understand why these items are so precious – the models hold irreplaceable memories of experiences for this passionate hobbyist.