Tin-plate toys stir memories

IN BBC 1's Antique's Roadshowprogramme recently, one of those covetable tin-plate Alfa Romeo racing cars turned up. Full marks for the presenter who described correctly that it was a P2, and pointed out the quick-release fillers, the (incorrect) outside handbrake, the wire wheels with what she didn't quite describe as knock-off nuts, etc. I recall these 18in-long, 31b 6oz Alfas as costing 35/, (In deference to Bassett-Lowke, I won't call them scale models.)

There were also smaller tin-plate replicas of 7.5 twoseater and 11.4 four-seater Citroens which the makers of the real cars sold for 10/6d and 15/- respectively, as a publicity move, from 1924. And very good they were. My pocket money never ran to a P2, but I went, aged 11, as soon as possible, with my mother to the Citroen showrooms in Devonshire House, Piccadilly. The immaculate salesman came forward, asking, "Which can I show you, Madam, a tourer or a saloon?" "My son wants a clockwork Citroen," said my mother. The deflated salesperson got a ladder, climbed to a shelf full of cardboard boxes, and called down, "Does he want the two or four-seater?"

Consulted, I decided the former was the more attractive, so even that mite of his sales commission was depleted!

I also recall seeing in Wolseley's London showrooms a fine model of a Wolseley 10. My mother, requested to buy it for me, was told, "Madam, that is a scale model; you could have two real 10s for what it cost us..." My Citroen, and a 14/40 Delage with battery searchlight, have long since gone, but I do have a larger 37.2 Hispano Suiza tourer.

The present Alfa's owner had had his P2 for something like 70 years and had never known that there was a clockwork motor in its tail. As a child he'd propelled it by sitting on it and using his feet, which had slightly damaged it. Even so, it was estimated as being worth £1200-£1500.

They were sold by Hamleys and Gamages, etc, and made as an advertising move by Alfa Romeo, Michelin and the Excelsior Shock-absorber companies in concert.