For those of us who were once little boys, there’s a memory which is inextricable from our first experience of playing with a toy car. We’d likely have seen the real thing before the miniature version, so, that tactile sensation of feeling its contours, opening doors (where possible) and gauging the authenticity of its detail, remain life-long imagery.
Elvin Chew believes in constantly reliving that moment. But, in his case, his purchases eventually amounted to the installation of a museum.
Dream Big World houses a curious collection of toy/model cars, model aviation and miniature replica cities. It is located on one of Ipoh’s most fabled roads, Concubine Lane. Amidst the tourist attractions there, somewhere in the middle of the lane, a brand new sign catches the eye … Toy Car Museum, fetchingly juxtaposed against a backdrop of pre-war buildings.
Chew’s original plan for Dream Big World was a conventional one – selling model kits and toy cars, just retail merchandising … something sustainable.
“Then I thought of turning it into a museum, and also selling models, a two-in-one sort of place. With the magazines and books I’ve collected, I’ve succeeded in introducing an educational element as well,” explained the founder and manager of the museum.
By Klang Valley standards, Perak’s capital may have been viewed as a sleepy hollow in the last few decades. However, interest in the once-rich tin-mining hub has been reignited recently, courtesy of the many colonial buildings in the old town area getting face-lifts and repurposing jobs.
“This whole area has been revamped and is now a tourist attraction,” concurred the 40-year-old.
The lot was once a bookstore, and the wallet-friendly rent spurred him to do something for his home state by starting this SME, which opened last December.
The toys housed in Dream Big World are all part of Chew’s own collection, amassed from the time he was a kid, purchases made possible by savings from pocket money.
“I used money I got as birthday presents and ang pow,” he intimated. His mum may not have been elated he was spending money on toys, but she was at least pleased he was a good kid (an only child) who didn’t mix with bad company, stayed at home, and the worst he got up to was building model kits.
Back in the 1980s, when a number of emporiums (they weren’t called malls or shopping complexes then) stood tall, the likes of Beauty, Crescendo, Angel, Ipoh Garden Plaza, and of course, the venerable duo of Super Kinta and Yik Foong, all serving Ipoh’s community, Chew poked his head into the toy sections of all these places to get his eager mitts on the wares of the day.
With online retail and auction sites now in full bloom, purchasing methods have evolved, with Chew reaching out to hobby stores in Japan for his fix. He still travels to buy toys, making at least two trips to Hong Kong yearly.
At Dream Big World, his prized possessions include models from the makers of Ferrari, Mercedes, BMW, Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Lamborghini. The museum comprises a cornucopia of the best of the auto industry, and what is quickly apparent is Chew’s attention to detail in having as many models as possible within each car make.
“I have almost the entire fleet of Lamborghini cars. I’ve always prioritised two things: historical value, which amounts to the significance of a car; and, aesthetic value, meaning its popularity. I’ve always targeted completing each range of a car brand.”
Authenticity is key, and Chew is always meticulous: “I focus on toy cars that look as real as possible … stuff with a museum feel.”
The cars in the museum are immaculate, looking like they rolled off the assembly line yesterday, hence, no restoration work has been necessary.
“I used to play with the toys when I was younger, but as I got older, I built model kits and placed them on display thereafter, which is how I’ve kept them in great condition,” Chew explained.
More than 500 cars, worth around RM500,000, are contained in this fascinating museum, and while he loves them all, some stand out.
For instance, his RM10,000 resin model La Ferrari is the apple of his eye. Only 30 were made, and his is serial numbered at No.11. At the time of this interview, he was expecting the imminent arrival of a Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6, the German car maker’s largest SUV to date.
Anyone wishing to traverse this road of a make-believe world should arm themselves with the right knowledge, he cautions. “You have to have a basic interest in cars. Start by reading up and knowing the history, models and evolution. Find out more with every purchase,” he said, sharing his accrued wisdom.
He was also forthcoming with some simple do’s and don’ts: “Look for something you like and don’t be too ambitious. Don’t go for something too high-end. Start with a current series, because you’ll only need to pay market price. That gets your collection going at least, then later, by all means, go for older models.”
Automotive obsessions aside, Dream Big World also has an aviation section, with a variety of airliners on display, from the Boeing and Airbus stables, among others. There’s also a section with miniature cities, all of which contribute to the educational element, which Chew is actively promoting, especially being the child of teacher parents. A trip to the museum caters to a visitor learning about car engine operation, physics, history, geography and his own special area of interest – rotary engines.
The mechanical engineer may have the greatest fascination for coveted automobiles, but when it comes to his personal choice of wheels, a Perodua Kenari and an old Mazda 323 do just fine.
“I’m a Point A to Point B kind of guy,” he said, beaming.
And with a RM5 price of admission for adults and RM3 for kids (three to 12 years old), Dream Big World has made itself quite a must-see attraction in Ipoh.
Fly-catcher? Finger wrestler? Air trumpeter? If you have a unique, out-of-this world, wacky hobby or passion that you’d like to share, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “Hobbies” in the subject box.