CMM Archives - a blast from the past!

Jack Tempest's Collectors Corner is a popular feature, dealing with automobilia, models, all apsects of transport ephemera. This particular article is from CMM No 80, December 95.


MOTOR CARS DEMAND plenty of space to collect, bubble cars take less, but model bubble cars are happy enough with a place in a show cabinet. The latter are much less expensive to buy, though certain examples can be surprisingly expensive for their size.

The Golden Age of the bubble car was the 1950-60s, a time when everyone wanted to turn mobile but hadn't a lot of money to throw about. The popular choice of the day was a motor scooter - or a three-wheeler bubble car that was economical to run and taxed as a motorcycle.

Some nifty little vehicles were produced for this market and even the great BMW organisation chipped in with its "Isetta", a Heinkel look-alike. Heinkel and Messerschmitt began to bombard Britain with their micro-cars after strafing us with their warplanes only a few years earlier.

The Messerschmitt was a powerful little machine that vaguely resembled the company's notorious opponent to our Hurricanes and Spitfires. Its occupants travelled tandem, unlike the other bubble cars of the period, which generally offered side-by-side seating.Bubble Car Models Picture

Later Messerschmitt introduced a four-wheeler version, the TG 500 "Tiger". This was a much speedier vehicle - a sort of mini-racing car. Top speeds of over 70 mph were possible against the three-wheeler KR 200's 40-45 mph. The "Tiger" did not sell well in the UK because it was taxed at the more expensive four-wheeled motor vehicle rate.

Its higher price was against it too, at just over £650 it could hardly compete with the new Austin Mini that was launched in 1959 at the lower price of only £425! End of story!

Surviving bubble cars are now museum pieces that many enthusiasts enjoy showing off at classic car rallies and other similar events. They have an enthusiastic following and are fascinating relics of a bygone era.

Toy scooters and micro-cars of this period have also become very collectable indeed. The early examples issued by the Japanese firm of Bandai are particularly sought after and invariably carry high prices. Rarity is the reason for this, of course. Some collectors like to have at least one example of the "real thing".

Like David Castelete, for instance, who lives in Wendover. David acquired a real Messerschmitt "Tiger" and then decided to start looking out for models of bubble cars in general - and motor scooters of the same time, too.

"I have about 200 models of all makes of bubble cars in my collection, some 60 or so of which are made from tinplate," he explained, "the tinplate varieties are, I think, more impressive than the examples made from plastic. However I buy them whatever the material they are made from."

"Scooters of the same period also appeal to me," he continued, "they offered quite good weather protection for the riders and were usually owned by would-be car drivers - people who would not be too impressed by the mechanics of the motor-cycle. Like the bubble cars examples are scarce - the most realistic example in my collection is a clockwork German "Bella" scooter from Tipp & Co. with a driver that can actually give a hand signal."

"I like any of these vehicles, bubble cars mainly and any other micro-cars with small engines up to about 800 cc," added David, "One item that I have never been able to find during all my travels is an example of the Bandai Messerschmitt Roadster - I would dearly love to have one of these to put in my collection."

David's friend, Phil Ward, who lives in the Midlands at Hinckley, is also a bubble car fan and has decided to produce a resin model of the roadster version of the Messerschmitt TG 200 himself. Many small "one-man" concerns have realised the interest in the scooters and mini-cars of the '50s and have started producing models, usually from diecast metal.

Phil's models are around 7" in length and represent a roadster version of the four-wheeler "Tiger" with roadster screen and a small roll-away hood folded back to the rear of its cabin. David is helping promote the model and has recently made a successful trip to Germany where he found, as may well be expected, a great interest in the model.


Jim Peacop collects real motor cars and his collection, like Topsy, just grew and grew until he had little alternative but to find a place to put all his cars and associated items on public view. A disused water softening plant provided the necessary accommodation for the enterprise and, in 1971 the Mouldsworth Motor Museum came into being.

Over 60 cars of all ages are squeezed into the confines of the art-deco designed 1930s building on the edge of the village of Mouldsworth in Cheshire, some six miles from Chester. There are also old motorcycles - pedal cycles too - crammed into the building's confines alongside bygone vehicles by Triumph, MG, Sunbeam, Ferrari, Morris, Riley, Jaguar, Austin, Lotus, and Wolseley.

"The oldest car here is a 1900s veteran," said Jim,"there is a 1923 Bullnose Morris and, from the same year, a Wolseley. The most extraordinary car in the museum is probably the Morris Minor with no more than 4,373 on the clock. It was owned by a man who took it out once a week when he went to church on a Sunday!"

Scattered around are pedal cars, Dinky Toys, car mascots, badges, old petrol cans, a car-shaped teapot, spares, foot pumps, old tools, jacks, enamel advertising signs, lamps, and motoring trivia of all kinds. There is a special display of steering wheels of all kinds and these are mounted as part of Jim's "hands on" scheme for making children welcome. School parties are always welcomed and Jim makes sure that there is plenty to keep them interested.

There is a corner that Jim has turned into a replica of a 1920-30s garage. It is packed full of the sort of things that would have once been found in such a place - even a sign saying "Minimum Labour Charge 10/-" (50p in today's parlance! Sounds cheap if you are unaware that in those times a bank manager earned £5 a week, a tradesman little more than £2 per week.) Petrol was just 1/3d (about 6p) per gallon.

Jim was born in Blackpool but now has settled in nearby Frodsham. He has artistic talents and is head of graphic design at the local college. He once worked as a cartoonist for Rolls-Royce. He opens his museum on Sundays from March to the end of November (12 midday to 5 pm) and Wednesdays too through July and August (1 pm to 5 pm). Up-to-date information can be had by phoning 01928-731781.

Its is a handy place to visit when either the Chester or the Frodsham swapmeets are taking place.

One event that made a successful first appearance was John Burton's "British International Collectors Far" at the Donington Park Exhibition Centre. The second event took place last month, but too late for a report to appear in these columns. John, who also presents antique fairs around the country, had no doubts that the second show would flourish too, with all the 500 stalls being taken.

Traders of a great variety of collectables will offer such wares as advertising items, transport memorabilia, ephemera of all kinds, railwayana, toys, dolls, militaria, breweriana, and enamel signs!

Now for a touch of nostalgia. I recently came across a programme for the very first appearance of the Grand Transport Extravaganza at the Crich Tramway Museum in Derbyshire, an event I attended myself sometime in the 1970s.

Besides the museum's trams there were plenty of steam traction engines, motor vehicles (including a couple of the old Paris buses), a bioscope situated in the Steam Fair with dancing girls to entice visitors indoors to see a silent film of Queen Victoria's Funeral, and a wonderful collectors' fleamarket.

Undated, the programme reminded me that the Rt. Hon. George A. Brown, MP formally declared the event open and gave a long-winded speech suggesting that he be was an expert on vintage trams. The famous Prague tram that got out of Czechoslovakia just before the Russian Occupation was also officially handed over to the museum.

It was one of the best of the Crich Extravaganzas series that were to follow annually, but no longer exist. A good thing to come out of the event was that this show was visited by Jock Farquharson who decided that the Scots could put on an equally good event and returned home to start the Scottish Transport Extravaganza at Glamis Castle, with the backing of the Strathmore Vintage Car Club, of which he was then chairman.

Alas, the Crich Grand Transport Extravaganza is no more - but its Scottish counterpart still makes its successful yearly appearances!

Jack Tempest

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Most recent revision 27 December 1998 12:50:52 GMT - Copyright © 1996-2003 CMM Publications. Illustrations by ©Dave Iddon. All Rights Reserved.