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For diecast collectors around the world southeast Asia, namely the city-state of Hong Kong, has always been that mythical mecca of miniature cars.
Living in Hong Kong for a summer, I decided on a whim to visit every diecast store in the city and neighboring areas. So I set off on my quest, armed with a very slow 2007 vintage Blackberry for navigation and a partially outdated list of stores. Finding the shops themselves took very little effort, or at least finding the buildings they were housed in was easy. But then I remembered that since all the shop owners were fluent in English, I could just ask them to show me their best model cars.
And that was it, though I still allow for the possibility that a lot of stores stashed the good stuff to be hawked online, once the appearance of a shortage for any one item would arise. The myth of finding model cars in Hong Kong from decades back turned out to be just that, a myth. The local collectors were also seemingly unimpressed with all the racing models by Minichamps, and instead focused on buying things like large 1:18 scale models of everyday cars fom the 90s, like the Mercedes-Benz W124 sedan, or the Volvo 850R. Another major myth turned out to be that the model cars would be laughably cheap, to the point where you could sweep dozens of cars into a suitcase.
If you’re ever dealt a 3-day layover in Hong Kong during what was supposed to be a short hop from Cleveland to Kansas City in your Kennedy-era MD-80 which still reeks of stale Winstons,  and you want to scope out some model cars or giant insects (or both), might I suggest simply visiting one location in Kowloon, the area of Dundas and Nathan Road in Mong Kok. But better yet, don’t buy anything there and just take in the sights and sounds of the city. As I wandered through the neon-lit streets of Kowloon at night, I half expected to find Bill Murray just standing and staring passively into some storefront window with a sour expression on his face, as if he’d seen all this before. Next time, try Shanghai, where you can find stores with nearly a million USD in inventory on display, including the giant GT-40s, fresh in the box…or, better yet, try the back alleys in Nanjing, where one small dusty toy shop had some many older diecast, I had to buy another suitcase.
I did go to Shanghai, went to about half a dozen stores there, didn't see too much really. Well, its good to know I am not the only Ramey that does this when I go to other countries. Of course these were new toys at the time (mid 1980s), so it wasn't a challenge like your toy hunt. If you find yourself in southeast Michigan, you must stop Pasteiner's Auto Zone in Birmingham, MI.
Wow, I wouldn't know where to start, but what really caught my eye is the F-8 Crusader. Indeed, unfortunately the internet has pretty much killed the sort of experience you're looking for.
This is the story we have all been waiting for, after you had spread one and another teaser in earlier diecast posts. To be honest, if you get to know one of the bigger eBay sellers from eastern Europe, which I haven't been able to do but some of my friends haves, I heard you can get stuff in bulk without them nickel and diming you with western shipping fees and western pricing.
Most have tons of inventory from 4 years back that they cant shift domestically by retail, so they're charging triple the street price on eBay. I got my diecasts from a Russian guy in Grand Rapids for a while but I think he is not longer in business. There is a store that stocks up on a lot of expensive diecast cars in Wanchai, located in the upper floor in mall of the CC Wu Building .
I need to get back soon (more American than Hong Konger, but still) – my daughter needs some sweet KMB die-cast buses. That bus display, I recall, was in a model bus and souvenir shop in one of the historical buildings in Central, not too far from city hall and statue square if I recall correctly.
Btw, if I'd want station wagons in metall or wood or maybe even plastic for my nine month old boy to play with, where and what am I looking for? It is the place where they are made, and it was always said to be best place in the world to find scale models. Since they were all listed in the phonebook as well as lists compiled by diecast aficionados, finding them was easy enough (except for the ones that moved years ago and now hosted stores selling insects the size of guinea pigs). In a box that someone had clearly been using as a cricket ball on the deck of a postal cargo ship during its month-long voyage to North America. I also had to contend with the fact that my Cantonese reading skills were limited only to numbers. Very few collectors on the US actually stockpile cars in this scale, because very few manufacturers make models that would actually interest American collectors.

Most of the shops seemed to be located in Kowloon, a district just across the bay from the Wan Chai area of Hong Kong where I was living at the time.
But locating the right floor and area of a building occassionally required some trial and error, as I had to navigate through mazes hosting dozens of other shops and smells you don’t want to experience. Perhaps they had even risen to the art of creating artificial shortages by buying up upwards of 50% of production of a limited edition model and then withholding it from sale for months at a time, creating a deficit. And that raises the question of just whom Minichamps is stamping out all these racing cars for, year after year. Since hobby shops that carry diecast cars don’t really exist in our part of the world, I would surmise that eBay has really only raised the interest in the hobby. There are at least half a dozen shops there, selling everything from RC cars to model airplanes to street cars in any scale. Not the touristy sights that people flock to, but walk the streets and parks of the city without any goal aside from passing the time. I’d slowly walk up alongside, and we would stare into the same storefront for a minute or two.
Business was not going well as the shopkeeper was smoking outside and lights were off inside to save electricity costs (I assume). When I was a kid growing up in Australia, my dad worked for Garuda, the Indonesian national airline, and because of this I got to travel frequently. Most of the models were of older Japanese vehicles, so it's pretty clear those trips and the toys I came home with are responsible for my love of Japanese nostalgic cars.
I really want to get into the collector hobby, but haven't been simultaneously overwhelmed by online retailers and underwhelmed by their stock. While I was in Taipei, I asked my cab driver to take me to a place that sells diecast cars. Their eastern euro series alone are up to 350 cars or something like that, with new stuff every couple weeks.
But what they really wanna do is let it go like 10-20 cars at a time in a big box to a western buyer who pays them by Paypal. They may be a little more pedestrian and low end than the specialty die cast shops but for an amateur or starter they'll be OK and the prices usually lower.
I lived a block away from Hopewell, and those streets opp Hopewell are actually where I picked up most of the Tomica 1:64 cars, like the Corolla above.
Excellent giant robot selection there, but the cars were pricey and not particularly varied. The model is mint and the box is very near mint with some minor marks on the clear plastic case but it is no worse than any new stock which has been on display in a shop for a while.
The model is mint with the original near mint box including the limited edition certificate and all other paperwork. But just how well would the diecast meccas they square up to their legends, and what treasures might lurk there?
But navigating Hong Kong was never a problem thanks to the fact that a lot of the signs are in English, and because of the availability of Google maps on my phone. So what they spend on model cars tends to reflect their commitment to any one particular scale model, and often this means just a random domestic car from the 1950s for five to seven bucks. While Wan Chai is a sleepy apartment and hotel district bordering the financial center, littered with expat bars and pricey real estate, Kowloon was without a doubt the inspiration for the city depicted in Blade Runner, and essentially exists as such in real life.
Most of the diecast stores I found lived in grimy Japanese-style arcade malls, right next to other Nerdistan haunts like video game shops, action figure shops, and pet shops featuring beetles the size of rats straight out of The Wrath of Khan or Dune. The shop owner would size me up, slowly extinguish his cigarette, and then gently nod and wink at me, motioning me to follow him the back of the shop. And that makes sense in retrospect, as there is always the pressure to keep the newest things in stock and always keep up with trends. In fact, both for selection and price, they were about par with the internet, ignoring for a moment the reality that many of the stores on eBay are actually operated out in these very shops in Kowloon. If there was a huge decline in the number of physical stores in Hong Kong, it certainly didn’t appear that way. They’re great for impulse buys or loading up on gifts, and the mere sight of a thousand model cars lined up in a window is amazing. I guarantee it will be more memorable than spending your time rushing from one tourist trap to another, and a much more real way to experience the city. Its so easy now that any shop with a few thousand bucks just gets on the horn to HK where the design teams are, and manufacturing facilities out in the mainland are cranking out stuff days later.

He excitedly told me he'll take me to this wonderful place that Michael Jackson took some of his young friends recently when he was there for a concert. Unfortunately I live in a apartment and have no intention of buying a house to store these beauties after a nasty divorce.
Contacting them is pointless cause theyre so decentralized, and they won't waste time retailing you stuff cause they have regional distribution contracts with DeAgostini which sells cars along with magazines at newspaper kiosks. Stories abounded about shops filled to the ceiling with thousands upon thousands of cars, enough to make otherwise rational men sell their camera gear with the film still inside and get on the horn to their friends back home to ask for loans, making up stories about being in the hospital and needing money for surgery after food poisoning.
Anything beyond generally will not make sense for this type of purchaser, so that rules out the availability of anything but the cheapest 1:43 cars from Minichamps. Actual car dealerships are about the only places one can find a limited selection of 1:18 scale models for sale, and needless to say they tend to be from a single marque. Over the decades Hong Kong’s construction companies have perfected the art of building 40 story apartment buildings that occupy the same footprint as a 2-bedroom suburban home in Minneapolis. Other shops set themselves up in slightly more swank locales, down the street from high end clothing boutiques and department stores.
We would then walk through a dark hallway, past a room filled entirely with cigarette smoke where old men would be playing Chinese checkers or placing bets on giant insect fights, past a dead-looking protocol droid from Jabba’s palace, and then the shop owner would a flick a light switch on the wall and a bookcase would slide open. So finding models of Audis made by Schabak or Solido in the late 80s simply wasn’t going to happen. But those liveried Porsches certainly weren’t the cars that the local collectors were buying.
A couple times I stumbled on the very cars that I had seen on eBay months or even years ago, like a green BMW E38 L7 ministretch in 1:43. The details on these cars put many 1:43 cars to shame, and among other elements they feature photoetched trunklid badges that can barely be read with the naked eye.
No trip to Singapore was complete without my parents taking me to some type of toy or department store to load up on Tomicas and other model and toy cars. There's so many people out there who just buy up everything in sight and immediately advertise it in their eBay shop at an hilarious mark-up.
There are missteps sometimes when manufacturers get creative and end up making stuff that didn't exist, like some stretch Rolls cars, seemingly sculpting cars without photos to back them up. If you have seen The Fifth Element then you have essentially seen modern Kowloon or Hong Kong. The locations of the diecast shops varied, but they inevitably neighbored stores filled with giant anime robots and action figures.
But the stores were overflowing with hundreds upon hundreds of new releases by Minichamps, and for the past few years this meant yet another Porsche 911 racer in some new racing livery. This disturbingly futuristic level of detailing was achieved in larger scales like 1:43 only fifteen years ago. I have fuzzy recollections of going into multi-level shopping centers with all kinds of stores, just like you described, in search of a small hobby shop where I'd get to pick out a few cars to take home with me. I guess there is a few rare ones in there like a tucker which I don't know how rare the diecast version is as opposed to the real one. It all seems like I am too late to the diecast-hobby to be anything but eating the crumbs from a table that has been cleared.
I could easily order in bulk, just need to avoid the 25% VAT upon import to make this go round. Or being held for ransom by vicious Hong Kong salarymen and their administrative assistants turned kidnappers. Even though Kowloon has become somewhat gentrified since the bad old days of Borg Cube-like structures like the Kowloon Walled City, it still retained a distinctly Blade Runner aesthetic that only exists in Japan’s electronics districts. And that is actually how it turned out every time I asked them if they had any old diecast from the 80s and 90s. And that simple fact right there defeated the myth of ready availability of rarities from years ago. About the only thing one would save in buying model cars in person would be shipping costs, which are surprisingly modest out of Hong Kong, unlike some closer locales (I am looking at you, UK). These turned out to be infectious to the point that two cars weren’t enough, and I ended up coming back for more of them every few days.

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