Boys, Toys and Automobiles in Sussex

A Kingsbury tinplate model of Sir Henry Segrave’s Golden Arrow land speed record car

Here in West Sussex, many of the thriving collectors’ fields are informed by childhood passions. The land speed record attempts were particularly evocative for those growing up between and just after the First and Second World Wars.

Toovey’s toys specialist Chris Gale and consultant Gordon Gardiner enjoy a Gunthermann tinplate model of Sir Malcom Campbell's Bluebird land speed record car at Toovey’s Christmas specialist auction of collectors’ toys on 3rd December

“I remember watching Donald Campbell demonstrating his Bluebird CN7 land speed record car at Goodwood motor racing circuit, Sussex, in July 1960,” recalls Toovey’s consultant toys specialist Gordon Gardiner with customary enthusiasm. Competition for the world land speed record was particularly strong during the inter-war years, as a select group of courageous gentlemen drivers pushed themselves and their cars to the edge of endurance. Among these drivers were men like Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell, Donald Campbell’s father. These successive attempts to become the fastest men on land were celebrated in a mood of patriotism and national pride. Their bravery and achievements inspired a generation of boys. Our interest in their triumphs continues to fuel our appetite for toys and paper collectables relating to the pursuit of speed.

A black and white photograph of Sir Henry Segrave in his 4 litre V12 Sunbeam land speed record car.

It is always great fun to stray into Toovey’s toys department. Our toys specialist Chris Gale is seen here with Gordon Gardiner enjoying a tinplate clockwork model of Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird land speed record car by the German firm Gunthermann. German tinplate toys and trains from this period were made to high standards and are much sought-after by today’s collectors. In view of Gunthermann’s reputation for quality, I ask Gordon why this one does not bear their name and is just marked ‘Foreign’, rather than ‘German’. He replies, “There was a resistance to buying German-made toys after the Great War, so they marked this one simply as foreign to avoid any stigma.” I comment on the condition of this car, which to my eye seems to be remarkably good for its date. Gordon responds, “Most toy land speed record cars were well used by their original owners, so they are often quite play-worn but this one is better than most.” I always warm to the term ‘play-worn’. In all our other specialist departments, problems of condition are often noted as faults, but in the toys department things are play-worn, a fond metaphor for the passage of time and wear. “Nevertheless,” Chris interjects, “it is this model’s rarity and the fact that it still has its original box, albeit torn and incomplete, which led to its remarkable hammer price of £1100 in our Christmas toy sale.”

Chris reminds me of the Kingsbury tinplate keyless-clockwork model land speed record car which his department sold for £650 a couple of years ago. He says, “This is a popular model of the Golden Arrow record-breaker which was driven by Henry Segrave in 1929.”

A menu for a banquet in honour of Sir Malcolm Campbell following his land speed record at Bonneville Flats in September 1935

Interest in land speed record-breakers is strong in other collectors’ areas as well. Take, for example, the menu for a banquet in honour of Sir Malcolm Campbell, ‘as a tribute to his achievement in setting up the New Land Speed Record of 301.129mph at Bonneville Flats, Utah, USA’. It is dated September 24th 1935 and has a bas-relief photograph cover depicting Sir Malcolm. The black and white photograph also illustrated here shows Sir Henry Segrave at the wheel of his 4 litre V12 Sunbeam, which broke the land speed record at 152.33mph in 1926. The card mount is signed in ink by Segrave and other key members of the record-breaking team. Both lots were sold in specialist paper collectables auctions, headed by Nicholas Toovey, for £100 and £300 respectively.

Returning to Toovey’s toys department, I am interested to know what it is about old toys which delight collectors. “Part of it is fulfilling childhood dreams,” says Chris, “but it is also about their interests – particular vehicles, for example, or a certain historical period.” He continues with a smile, “Toy collectors are really generous with their knowledge and their enthusiasm, which is contagious.” I agree. Collecting is often about the acquisition and sharing of knowledge but it is also about community and sharing interests with fellow enthusiasts. After all, lively minds make open hearts!

Chris Gale and Gordon Gardiner are already gearing up for their spring toy auction, which will be held on 25th March 2014. Nicholas Toovey’s next paper collectables auction will be on 22nd April 2014. All are delighted to share their specialist interests with you and offer advice. They can be contacted at Toovey’s Spring Gardens salerooms at Washington.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 11th December 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

John Young: Gentleman Racer, Collector & Enthusiast

John Young racing his MG TC at Goodwood 1949
John Young in his MG TC at Goodwood 1951

The Sussex Downs have only just finished reverberating to the exuberant sound of racing cars and motorcycles at Goodwood Festival of Speed. Racing cars delight the senses with a cacophony of sound, the smell of racing oil and tyres and the spectacle of speed and colour. This week I am with my great friend John Young, a man whose life has been closely bound up with the fortunes of motor racing and automobiles. A works driver for the Connaught team in the 1950s, with drives at many of the great motor racing circuits and races, John Young is part of that glamorous and courageous cohort of racing drivers in the years after the Second World War.

When he left Dulwich College, John joined the R.A.F. “I wanted to fly a Spitfire,” he says, “but there were too many pilots just after the war for me to get a look in, so I left and joined the family firm, Rose and Young. We were agents for Mercedes-Benz.” He continues, “My father always wanted to race but my mother would never have let him. I was mad keen on cars when I was young and so he encouraged me.” John has always had a passion for glamour and speed and he is still mad keen about cars, having collected and owned some of the world’s most iconic automobiles. John’s enthusiasm has not diminished over the years. “I’ve still got my 1955 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing,” he says excitedly. The silver Gullwing is particularly special, the world’s first true supercar and in beautiful, original condition.

John Young racing his Healy Silverstone Chassis D20
John Young racing his Healy Silverstone Chassis D20 at Goodwood 1952

His first experience of speed came when he was taken to an airfield where Roy Salvadori was testing a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica. John explains, “Roy came tearing to a halt beside where we were standing, asking for a passenger to balance the car and I volunteered!” This marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Roy Salvadori was an exceptional driver, winning at Le Mans in 1959 for Aston Martin and driving in more than fifty Formula One races. I ask John if he ever raced at Le Mans; he replies, “My mate Maurice Charles asked me to drive with him in his Jaguar D-type at Le Mans but he turned it over before I’d had a turn.”

John Young racing
John Young racing in the 1955 Goodwood Nine Hour Endurance Race in his Lotus-Connaught
John Young in his Ford Anglia on the XXVIme Monte Carlo Rally 1956

John Young raced at Goodwood, Silverstone and many of the famous circuits of his era. “We raced everything in those days,” he remarks. “I entered the Monte Carlo Rally with John Coombs and Roy Salvadori in a Ford Anglia and did the rally again with Graham Hill in a Riley 1.5. Even in my day, motor racing was becoming much more commercialized, but I started in an MG TC that my father bought me, which I raced at Goodwood. I then drove a Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, which Coombs prepared for me.” Always the gentleman racer, in 1955 John was taken on as the works driver to the Connaught team. In 1956 he raced for them at Aintree alongside Mike Hawthorn, Roy Salvadori, Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss, who won the B.A.R.C. Grand Prix event in a privately entered 250F Maserati. “I owned a 250F Maserati Grand Prix car,” John says nonchalantly, a grin crossing his face. “I used it in the Brighton Speed Trials in the 1960s before I sold it to Fangio for his South American museum. Fangio was an extraordinary driver.”

John Young and Graham Hill in a Riley 1.5
John Young and Graham Hill in a Riley 1.5 on the XXVIIme Monte Carlo Rally 1958

In 1955 John raced in the Goodwood Nine Hours Endurance Race in a Lotus-Connaught, seen here. His co-driver was John Coombs, who, like John Young, also had a successful garage business and was instrumental in developing and persuading Jaguar to build a lightweight E-type to compete with the 250GTO Ferrari. “We were going well in the Connaught and racing into the evening,” John explains, “until Coombs came in saying his hands were cold and borrowed my gloves. Shortly after that he turned it over but, thank God, he was alright!”

John Young 250F Maserati 1960s
John Young in his 250F Maserati at the Brighton Speed Trials in the 1960s

John Young was offered a drive in a Connaught at the 1955 Dundrod TT in Ireland with a talented young driver Bill Smith. John recounts the story of the race. “We tossed-up to decide who would drive first. He won the toss but was killed at Deer’s Leap during that first stint.” John is still clearly affected by the memory of this loss. Two other drivers lost their lives at Dundrod in 1955. With such high safety standards in modern motor racing, it is hard to reflect on how dangerous the sport was in those post-war years. Philosophically John remarks, “You have no fear when you’re young and we had a good time in those days. It was exciting – the racing, the camaraderie, the travelling and the pretty girls!”

I ask John if he has raced since and he answers, “I gave up motor racing in the 1950s and took up boats – did a few things like the Fastnet Race – but I have done some classic car events like the 1988 Mille Miglia Revival in an Alfa Romeo 2.6, which I drove with John Coombs.”

John Young, co-driver to his friend John Coombs in a 2.6 Alfa Romeo in the 1988 Mille Miglia Revival

As I leave, I ask him why he doesn’t live in Monaco with his peers and he gestures towards the South Downs and replies, “Oh, I’ve had yachts down there but I love England. Look at that view – why would you want to be anywhere else!” His delight in sharing a story and his enthusiasm are balanced by his self-effacing modesty. A generous man, John Young epitomises the best of his era: a gentleman racer, a collector and an enthusiast with a deep love of life, cars and the Sussex countryside.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 17th July 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.