Passing through Stratford-on-Avon, a town of beautiful river vistas, that ugly slab of Memorial Theatre, a small Picture Gallery and many Shakespearian mementoes (as a comparatively impecunious writer myself, I’ll bet the Bard is earning more for his town than he ever saw himself), with parking problems and a dearth of public conveniences, typical torrential August rain drove me into the Tiatsa Model Car Museum in Ely Street.
The thing is a bit of a hotch-potch, the main displays set out in small illuminated showcases with appropriate backgrounds. These displays go from 1 to 72, depicting transport history, in models of course, from horses to ballistic missiles. In between come such displays as the “London-Brighton Rally”—which cannot mean the Veteran Car Run as the models in this case are of 1908 and 1911 Rolls-Royce, 1902 Cadillac, 1911 Clement-Bayard, 1907 Lanchester, and a fine 5-6-in, long model of a Citroën 5 c.v., rather optimistically labelled 1917. Similar “stunt” displays include “Early Racing in Italy” with those Itala, big Lancia, Isotta-Fraschini and similar models, plus something labelled a “Sizaire-Naudine”; “Italian Rally, 1899”; “Veterans at Campden Town, 1900” (shouldn’t it be Camden Town?); “Cannes,” with Facel Vega, G.P. Bugatti, etc., containing girl passengers in scanty swim-suits, looking more comfortable seated than dangling from the rear window of some suburban full-size saloon; and “Nice,” displaying Peugeot and Simca models of 1952-62.
Berliet lorry models of 1944-60 depict “Normandy,” ” Paris” is used to show a big variety of Renault miniatures of 1907-62, and there is a big bunch of assorted-size Citroëns from 1920-62 under the label “Parisienne.” The weakness lies, not in any lack of initiative, but in the use of proprietary miniatures and toys, so that scales vary in the same display. This is particularly noticeable in the showcase labelled “Stately Homes,” in which sixteen Rolls-Royce miniatures are exhibited (do visitors to stately homes never use any other brand of motor car?), but the 1911 R.-R. and others seem to have either shrunk in the English rain or shrivelled up in the stately-home sun, or both. One Rolls-Royce has a loud-speaker on its roof. Why?
Fiat replicas, from a rare 509 saloon to a big model of the turbine coupe, represent “Rome,” there is a scene in which a big ancient General Omnibus which has just shed its conductor under its back wheel is shown in the company of a blower-4 1/2 Bentley and the Lord Mayor’s Coach—the penny has dropped, it’s the Lord Mayor’s Show—there are Monte Carlo Rally, farm and circus displays, and a ghastly road accident scene, all rather childish. Very crude but interesting Seat, Skoda and others provide the “Valencia, 1924-60” material and there is an impressive range of military vehicles and guns, proprietary models but well displayed. There are battle scenes, a large model of the 1894 Marcus petrol car, a smaller one of the inevitable Cugnot steam carriage. The showcases are offset by photographs of historic cars, supplied by Rolls-Royce, Rover, Austin, Mercedes-Benz and Armstrong Siddeley. The last model vehicle exhibit is a space car of 1970!
The real disappointment stems from the use of miniatures to depict stunt scenes, instead of displaying them for their own sake. Admittedly some fine proprietary Revell kit-models, as of the 4-engined Challenger Land Speed Record car, some fine American Ford and “hot-rod” models to a generous scale, not all accurately dated where the B-Fords are concerned, similar Buick and Pontiac models, etc., are on show, together with a dubious 1914 model-T Ford and a 1920 racing Duesenberg with very big wheels.
There are, however, no historic models like the tin-plate Hispano-Suiza tourer and 11.4 Citroën saloon that I have in my own amateur “museum,” no clockwork P2 Alfa Romeo, not even a Meccano chassis, and not a single working model to enliven the place. I note that railway engines, rolling stock, car and club badges have already intruded. There is also a model of the “Spirit of St. Louis” monoplane and a very early biplane model. Otherwise, the display is one of modern fabrics. (But what does the Fiat Register know of the Edwardian Fiat brake, under a tarpaulin, that stands in the entrance to the Museum?) Those who are interested in the evolution of the model car are not catered for, and perhaps there is scope for a miniatures’ museum on these lines somewhere else.
If you want to see which proprietary miniatures are missing from your own collection, or get out of the rain, the Tiatsa Museum (open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.), at 2s. adults, 1s. children, is possibly worthwhile. But it is all rather amateur, if painstaking, and no catalogue is issued—if one is produced, Tibor Reich, who owns this collection of some 3,500 car models, should watch the spelling.—W. B.