TOYING WITH TEMPTATION – CHILDHOOD NOSTALGIA

Fancy a Triumph TR2 for £425, a Lotus Elan S2 for £450 or a Supercar for £90? Is there a catch? Well, yes a small one. The small catch is, they are very small. And with the Supercar, its small and a fake!

A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I went to a toy collectors fair at the NEC in Birmingham. We are not toy collectors and have no serious interest other than being big kids and liking a bit of childhood nostalgia. It was a wonderful opportunity to say repeatedly “I used to have one of those” or “I always wanted one of those but only ever got a satsuma and a lump of coal for Christmas”. The latter was said more often than the former (maybe without the bit about satsumas and coal) but it was toy nostalgia heaven. Model railways, Airfix kits, Star Wars toys, the whole gamut of Gerry Anderson related toys (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Stingray etc), Lego, Action Man, tin toys, boxed games and plenty of random stuff. However, the biggest category by far was diecast model cars. Thousands upon thousands of them.

Some of the prices were staggering – generally inversely proportional to their size. Take the Lotus Elan for £450. Apparently, the average weight of a small matchbox-sized toy car is 35g. If real Lotus Elan S2s were sold by weight at the same rate (i.e. £450 per 35g) they would cost around £8.8 million. Ultimate proof for your sceptical spouse that, pound for pound, a real classic car is an absolute must-have bargain compared to a toy car. The Supercar I referred to is an early Gerry Anderson TV creation. The model and box in the photo below are both reproductions and were selling for £90. The stallholder said that a genuine boxed original would go for about £500.

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Supercar piloted by Mike Mercury. Thirty nine episodes of Supercar were made between 1961 and 1962. Slightly before my time.
Here are a few more highlights and photos:-

Most Expensive (that I noticed!): This was a model car but not as glamorous as those mentioned above. It was a very small Corgi Ford Zephyr Motorway Patrol Car going for £495. I strongly suspect there were far more expensive things at the fair. You could pay extra to get in early and the big ticket items were probably snapped up by serious collectors before the hoi polloi like us arrived. We saw one bloke walking back to the car park before normal opening time with a massive Millennium Falcon under his arm.

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£495 Ford Zephyr extreme left. £450 Lotus Elan S2 fifth from left in white.
Personal Nostalgia Trip: As a kid, Lego and Airfix kits occupied most of my time spent indoors. Lego back then consisted of standard bricks and you designed your own models. To younger readers that may sound strange. I only saw one stall at the fair selling old boxes of those standard bricks together with an old electric motor set (a big blue block that you could plug four wheels into) which I also had. Did anyone else frequently try building the biggest tower possible with all their bricks? Move on a few years and I became addicted to Airfix model kits – mainly World War II aircraft. I built loads. As well as building the models, I love the artwork on the boxes. Many new Airfix kits sold today still use the artwork from donkeys years ago but with gun flashes and explosions air brushed out. Bit pathetic. The really nostalgic bit for me was seeing the old series 1 Airfix kits (the smallest and easiest) which were sold in clear plastic bags stapled shut at the top with the folded instructions. I used to buy those for 19p each. No, I am not quite old enough to have paid in old money.

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Real Lego. Electric motor kit is top right.

 

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Airfix kits … wanted to buy them all. Except the Heinkel H177 Greif because I’ve still got one in its box, part built in the attic.
Most Unexpected. Reproduction boxes for model cars appear to be big business! Never knew that before. There were at least two large stalls selling them. To be honest, you could tell the difference. The artwork is scanned from an original so it has a sort of photocopied look close up. A reproduction box complete with inner cardboard structure for a Dinky Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle cost £19. Just so you know.

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This was part of a huge display of reproduction boxes. Loads of films and TV series represented here – even The Herbs!! See how many you remember.
Most Bizarre/Random: This is a tie between a boxed Jerry Garcia action figure and a Paint Your Own Dalek set. No hang, the Jerry Garcia figure wins. At least there is something obvious to do with two small white plaster Daleks and collection of paints. But a Jerry Garcia action figure? (In case you’re not aware he was the leader of American rock group, The Grateful Dead. And yes, Ben and Jerry’s borrowed most of his name for their popular Cherry Garcia flavour). So could you get a whole series of rock legend action figures? Maybe you could combine them to make your own super group. Buy Jimmy Page as well and you could have Led Dead (or Grateful Zeppelin).

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No photo of Jerry Garcia I’m afraid but here’s a brilliant Stingray toy. Stingray: “Anything can happen in the next half hour”. Except Aqua Marina singing “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside”.

Rarest: Children.  It was a toy fair and there were no children. Well, maybe one or two who were there under sufferance or to humour their sad parents.

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Only big kids like us at the fair.
So, the big question you are all dying to ask! Was I tempted into buying anything? Well I would love to have bought loads of old Airfix kits just to look at the boxes. But of course I wasn’t allowed (and, I admit, space-wise it would be a bit impractical). So, as a compromise, I bought a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle featuring a display of Airfix kits of different eras for a modest £3. Normally, the only time we do jigsaw puzzles is when we stay in a holiday cottage and it’s raining (so we have done quite a few over the years). Holiday cottages in the UK invariably have a selection of old 999 piece puzzles (one piece is always missing) – usually of Polperro or Mousehole, even if you’re on holiday in Scotland. That evening, we started the Airfix puzzle about fifteen minutes before we were going to watch something on telly. About an hour later, we were repeating at regular intervals: “We really should stop now…”. Addictive!

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Airfix Through The Ages – my modest purchase.
Colin

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THE SPECTRUM OF GERMAN GIANTS – BMW, AUDI & MERCEDES ESTATES

Delivering an Audi A6 Avant 2.0TDi last week completed my driving CV as far as large, executive German estate cars is concerned (I had already driven the Mercedes E220d estate and BMW 520d Touring). All two litre diesels with 190hp or so and automatic gearboxes. So how was the Audi? In short, it was classy, comfortable and a very refined motorway cruiser (apparently it has “acoustic glazing”). It is marginally more refined than the Mercedes and perhaps more noticeably so than the BMW but in the great scheme of things they are all quiet and comfortable compared to many (mostly cheaper) cars.

All three cars have smart, high quality interiors with the Mercedes being the most extravagant and futuristic. Mercedes even give you a choice of two controllers for your “infotainment” system. On the console between the seats, a touchpad affair curves up and over the alternative rotary dial. For some reason the whole arrangement reminds me of the USS Starship Enterprise. The Audi’s dashboard is more down to earth and understated although it does have the novelty of a touchscreen that pops up out of the dashboard upon start up and which tucks itself away at the journey’s end. On a spectrum from classy understatement (Audi) to space age tech (Mercedes), the BMW is probably in between.

Whichever criterion you use to compare these three cars, you are generally talking about narrow margins. Except when it comes to weight where there is a significant difference between the lightest (BMW) and heaviest (Mercedes). The lighter weight boosts BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” claims and the 5-series does feel as if it “fits” around you more than the Audi and Mercedes do.  Serious motoring journalists will tell you that the BMW is more of a driver’s car. But if you are not interested in tearing round corners as fast as possible, the Audi will get you up and down the country more comfortably and more quietly. And the Mercedes will carry more golf bats/garden rubbish/flat pack furniture/mothers-in-law in the boot than the other two. For such large cars, you should get impressive fuel economy on a long, steady motorway journey – 55 to 60mpg. I have managed this in both the Audi and Mercedes, but have not had a comparable journey in the BMW.

The advantage of the Audi for some (those who don’t care about having a “driver’s car”), will be front wheel drive. In extreme weather conditions, the Audi should be more sure-footed due to better traction with the engine turning the front wheels. In snow, Audi drivers will definitely feel a bit smugger than their BMW and Mercedes counterparts. Rear wheel drive cars can be a bit hopeless in the white stuff. Unless, of course, BMW and Mercedes drivers drive their cars backwards when it snows, thus converting them temporarily to front wheel drive. And why not? In these days of reversing cameras (which all three cars have), you can see where you are going on the touchscreen in front of you without having to look over your shoulder. Once you have got used to the rear wheel steering, you will be able to wipe the smug smiles off the faces of Audi drivers.

Of course the idea of facing backwards in a car and seeing where you are going via a TV screen is not unprecedented. In Gerry Anderson’s puppet-based science fiction TV series, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (produced in the late 1960s), Spectrum agents were doing this in their 8 ton, 200mph Spectrum Pursuit Vehicles. In fact the SPV had no windows at all. Dispensing with glass and having driver and passengers face rearwards were important safety features. Captain Scarlet was frequently having to plunge his SPV through hay bales, barriers and five bar gates in Spectrum’s battle to save Earth from those dastardly aliens from Mars, the Mysterons. Like every other self-respecting 10 year old growing up in the mid 1970s, I had the Dinky version of this very cool car (or rather, primary armoured interceptor ground vehicle). This model car and the Corgi James Bond Aston Martin DB5 are probably the greatest ever die cast model cars. In the UK. In my opinion. Discuss.

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I was going to include a photo of the Audi A6 but, fine car as it is, the SPV is more exciting to look at.
The Dinky model imitated the “real” SPV by having a rocket that fired from underneath an opening bonnet, caterpillar tracks that dropped down at the back and, by pushing a button on top of the car, the side door slid out and lowered a miniature Captain Scarlet to the ground. Actually, the door pinged out at a rate of knots and dropped the good Captain like a small stone in very jangly fashion. Now those caterpillar tracks would be a great addition to the Merc and BMW for dealing with any tiresome snow………

In Gerry Anderson’s television world, SPVs were hidden around the globe in disguised buildings so that they could be quickly accessed by Spectrum agents. Now what a barn find one of these beasts would be! By the way, if you watched Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons as a kid, did you realise that the puppets were never seen to walk? I didn’t! I only found that out many years later. They cleverly managed to get the young viewer so absorbed in the story and other action that this minor detail went unnoticed. Gerry Anderson’s puppets were seen to walk in the earlier Thunderbirds but that was thought to be too unrealistic.

So which of the above cars is the best? If you found the odd £37 to 39k down the side of the sofa, which should you buy? Well, I’m not going to tell you. That’s because they are all very good. Which of these you would choose depends on what you want from your large executive estate and where on the sporting-luxury spectrum you want to be.  If you want to hammer round corners and really feel a part of your car, you would choose the BMW. For those who want the most overtly luxurious and high tech of the three and/or the maximum golf bat carrying ability, it’s the Mercedes. The Audi is for the person who likes classy understatement and getting on with life quietly, very quietly.

And which one would I have? Well, that’s easy. The SPV of course.

Anorak’s Corner:

Audi 6 Avant SE Executive 20.TDi S Tronic: 0-60mph, 8.5 seconds/190bhp/combined mpg, 64.2/boot (rear seats up) 565 litres.

BMW 520d Touring SE automatic: 7.8 seconds/190bhp/65.6mpg/560 litres.

Mercedes E220d Estate SE 9G-Tronic: 7.7 seconds/194bhp/67.3mpg/640 litres.

Colin