Pedal Power: Meeting the man with the most pedal cars

26 March 2019
pedal-power-2-10331.jpg Phil Collins enjoying the creative side of his hobby.
We meet the man who holds the record for owning the most pedal cars.
Pedal Power: Meeting the man with the most pedal cars Images

We meet the man who holds the record for owning the most pedal cars.

How many Collectors Club of Great Britain readers have childhood memories of pedalling a shiny car around their back gardens or along the pavement? Pedal cars have been around as long as motor cars – and even before them, as some lucky Victorian children would have had pedal horses and even pedal prams to play with back in the day.

Collector, Phil Collins knows all about pedal cars. He’s the Guinness Book of World Records holder for his collection of individual pedal cars, with 440 pedal vehicles that date from the mid 1800s right up to present day. On top of that he also has motorised children’s cars, totalling around 580 cars altogether plus dolls, prams, tinplate and old wooden toys.

Up until the beginning of this year, former racehorse jockey, Phil had his amazing hoard of pedal cars on view in his museum in Northiam, East Sussex. However, a desire to spend more time with his family, and to travel, has now seen Phil close the museum to the public as he tries to find a buyer for his historic collection.

 “I’m hoping to find someone who will buy the cars as a collection,” said Phil. “I won’t be selling them off individually because this collection could never be put back together again. But if a buyer doesn’t come forward they’ll be going back into storage, as they’ve been for many years.”

The museum itself is a former flour mill, built by Charles Bannister in 1910 as a gas operated flour mill originally using methane from their own cows. Over the years it’s had many uses including being a restaurant. Phil obtained the building in 2009 and along with two friends set about turning it into a museum for his amazing collection of toys.

“Everything had to be measured and worked out before we could put anything in,” said Phil. “It took us a year to build and put together.”

It’s difficult to know where to start to explore Phil’s fantastic gathering of collectables, as there are eye catching, nostalgic old toys everywhere you look. Toys made by all the early toy manufacturers such as the Lines brothers who became Tri-ang; Leeway Toys (for girls and boys) a part of the firm Patterson Edwards who had traded since 1892, the Leeway trade mark being registered in 1955;  pedal cars made by French company Eureka and a host of others from different parts of the world.

Phil’s collection isn’t just pedal cars, he has pedal boats, pedal tractors, pedal buses, pedal trains, pedal scooters – all kinds of pedal powered toys and sitting alongside are non pedal vehicles driven by 5 hp engines or battery.

Prices for some of the cars for their time showed them to be real luxury toys. If you were lucky enough to have been given a Rolls Royce Cornish pedal car in 1935 it would have cost your parents £37 – a small fortune in those days.

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Amongst Phil’s collection are J40 and Pathfinder pedal cars made at the Austin Junior Car Factory set up in 1949 by the Government on a not for profit basis providing employment for disabled coal miners. They were built just like the real thing with working headlights, Dunlop tyres, chrome bumpers and leather interiors. They were priced at the time £27 plus £6 purchase tax. The equivalent of three to four weeks’ wages for the average man. In all 32,098 were produced, finally ceasing production in 1971.’

There were cheaper pedal cars on the market. You could buy a red Lotus sports car for around £3 but for an extra 2/6d you could have the additional extra of a push button to make it sound like a racing car. Another of Phil’s displays had a military theme with pedal jeeps and armoured cars. Phil pointed out however, that the metal armoured car should never have been made. “In the war there was a shortage of metal, so for this vehicle to be made for a child from metal was very unusual. It was obviously made on the orders of someone very high ranking.”

Phil has been collecting for 35 years, and he told the CCofGB how it all started. “It began after I was forced to take things easy after an accident and a nine month stay in hospital. I used to be involved with big cars and I was a jockey in the late ‘60s. Having to take it a bit easy I started looking at toy cars and got interested in their history.

“Toy cars have been around since the real thing, being made from wood to start with, then metal sheeting over the wood, leading to aluminium and steel. The Lines Brothers made pedal cars as well as other wooden toys in the early part of the 20th century. They eventually had their own saw mill, so were self sufficient. They went on to become Tri-ang, continually expanding and evolving until they became one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world.”

After getting hooked and drawn in by the history of the pedal car, Phil bought his very first one 35 years ago, which was a 36 inch long E type Jaguar. He gradually built up his collection from taking on cars that had been thrown out. He said: “The majority of stuff came from the dustbin man and the tip. People would just throw their toys out. But it’s all changed in the last ten years. Since the TV programmes on antiques and collectables, people don’t chuck things away. They know what’s of value, so hang onto it.”

Some of his pedal toys date back to the 1800s, such as an English straw-stuffed horse that worked by twisting its ears. Then there’s a French horse and cart made between 1890-1910 that was steered by its reins and pedalled to drive it forward. There’s an 1870 Rocket, hand propelled with a seat that moves forward and back like a rowing boat.

Other areas of his collection feature pedal cars that were made to compliment the real full sized car, whether for sale to the customer or for the showroom. Such as the 1928 Bugatti 35B made  as a model before going into production for real. And the Bentley Super Charge 1934 made by Bentley as a promotional toy in British Racing Green with pneumatic tyres. A Morris 1000 of which only 50 were made for showrooms. And a Renault Dion Bouton. Anyone buying one at the turn of the last century also got a child’s version.

Phil’s collection has come from all over the world, for example a rare pedal driven bubble car which he got from Peru; a camper van from Canada. He went to Belgium to buy one car – and came back with four! It was a fantastic experience to see such a host of wonderful old pedal cars, each one with it’s own story to tell. Phil says he hasn’t a particular favourite as there’s just too many to choose from, but for chugging around his farm he has a Model T Ford with a 5hp engine – not pedal driven, you might note!