I can’t remember when I fell in love.
But from the moment I was given my first four-wheeled toys, I’ve simply loved cars.
60 years on, sadly, I think the affair is over. But we’ll come to that later.
My favourite toys were always cars. Any childhood drawing challenge was always answered with a design for a car. I even won a back-of-the-cereal-box competition for a ‘car of the future’ with one of my designs. I can still remember the shape with its gull wing doors and swooping aerodynamic lines. I would have been very disappointed to learn that the real car of the future would be a giant cereal box on wheels, AKA the SUV.
My (1st!) prize was a miniature ‘Matchbox’ version of a Scalextric car racing set. It was very basic but had one benefit – your existing Matchbox cars could be used on the track. I was the proud owner to the lead two beauties from the artwork below. Experts amongst you will recognise an Iso Grifo and a Ferrari 250GT – both were beautifully finished and affordable, unlike their real life counterparts.
This fantasy-affirming experience fed my original life ambition to become a car designer. Sadly it was not to be.
As a child, I owned a sizeable collection of model cars from Matchbox, Corgi and Dinky. They were always models to me and never just toys. My all-time favourite had to be the original James Bond Aston Martin DB5 – which was unaccountably produced in metallic gold – unlike the silver car in the films. But it had all the amazing features – machines guns and bullet proof shield – that a super spy needed.
Like most owners of this bestselling model, I spent a lot of time looking for the ‘baddy’ lost from his rightful place in the passenger ejector seat. Mothers across the land would have to do a weekly autopsy of their hoover bags, combing through the entrails of vacuum cleaner bags just to find him.
I don’t have any cars left from my collection. But they would have been worth little today had I still got them. The reason? No, I hadn’t wrecked them racing across primary school playgrounds. So they weren’t damaged at all. The fact was I just couldn’t resist customising my models with flashy paint jobs, fatter wheels and extra chrome components. I loved doing this, but collectors hate it. For them originality is everything. They don’t see them as toys to play with, but as an ‘investment class’.
If your own models are in the loft, unmarked and in their original boxes, then a look on ebay to see what they are worth now. You might be pleasantly surprised. But if you really played with them, best not bother.
I went from buying model cars to constructing them – usually from the wonderfully detailed plastic kits that came from Japan in the late 60s and 70s. Just as the British car industry was blown away by the likes of Toyota, Nissan and Honda, the very same thing happened to Airfix when Tamiya came to town.
A typical Airfix kit was of a family car, small and with almost no chromed parts or even rubber tyres. You had to paint it and the results never looked remotely like the illustrations. In contrast, the Tamiya Formula 1 cars were in gorgeous 1/12 scale, exquisitely detailed, and featured working suspension and steering. They needn’t need painting to look and feel real.
Again, I was unable to resist customising my models to get them even closer to the real thing. Yes I know, I really should have been devoting more of my time to growing up – and finding a girlfriend.
Next time – the run up to learning to drive real cars at last…