Great enjoyment from restoring little boys’ toys during lockdown

There’s a historic gender issue which Roamer is wary of discussing (fear of being politically-incorrect!) but last Friday’s childhood nostalgia from Ballymoney toy restorer Michael Gilmore probably inspired more male reminiscences than female!

Friday, 30th April 2021, 6:00 am
Before: A 1960s Corgi Commer Milk Float

To put it simply - in days of yore, when little boys weren’t kicking football or tussling, they were ‘vroom vrooming’ toy cars on the footpath - the Dinky and Corgi classics that Michael now restores in immaculate detail.

Meanwhile, little girls of times past who weren’t reading Bunty or teetering precariously on mummy’s high-heels were chanting rhymes while leaping in tempo with the ‘swish swishing’ of fast-revolving skipping-ropes.

Apologies to those with fond memories of the latter but today’s is another boys’ page!

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After: The 1960s Corgi Commer Milk Float restored

Furloughed by Covid-19, Michael Gilmore told Roamer “I’m so glad I’ve had this hobby to focus on during lockdown.”

While he admits he’s “long past 40, even 50, years old” Michael may be restoring old toys but he stresses, “these aren’t toys. They’re antiques. What I do is restore, upcycle, recycle and customize classic Dinky and Corgi toys from the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s.”

He loves “learning the craft and making a mess.”

Nor is he an avid collector - most of his toys are given away as presents or mementos.

Mecanno founder Frank Hornby, inventor and manufacturer of the Hornby Dublo Train Set

“I make them as a hobby,” Michael enthused, “because I like making them.”

He provided some ‘before and after’ photographs of his handiwork last Friday - there’s more here today - and he admitted that his hobby is “about days gone by and fond childhood memories. I probably have more Dinky cars now from the 60s than I had when I was a kid.”

So how did it all start back then?

He used to get toys for Christmas and birthdays - “I went to the Whitehouse in Portrush with my granny up to the mid-1970s. They’d a great selection there.”

Such is his enthusiasm for model-making he was invited to give public talks pre-lockdown and showed people how to do toy conversions.

He’ll be lecturing and demonstrating again when Covid-19 regulations allow, meanwhile he says, “I’ve developed my creativity, improved and learned new skills, and provided myself with a focus. I upcycle and recycle oul rubbish and I make ornaments that give myself and others a great deal of pleasure.”

He’ll outline the basic processes here in a moment, but if anyone wants more detailed information or advice about toy restoration or conversion, Michael is more than happy for News Letter readers to e-mail him at [email protected]

Regarding the pandemic, things may be easing a little but he’s absolutely convinced that “hobbies during the past year have been vital to the sanity of many people.”

Pre-dating other popular toy cars like Corgi and Matchbox, Dinky Toys was the brand name for a range of miniature metal vehicles produced initially by Meccano Ltd., established in 1908 by Frank Hornby, inventor and manufacturer of the legendary Hornby Dublo train set.

Dinky toys were made in the Meccano factory in Binns Road, Liverpool, from 1934 to 1979, and later in other plants around the world.

The company also manufactured ships, aircraft, military vehicles and TV and film related models.

Intriguingly, production was halted during WWII allowing the Liverpool factory to produce items for the war effort.

Michael says he enjoys watching antique shows on TV like the Repair Shop, Money for Nothing, Wheeler Dealers, Bangers and Cash “and all those kinds of crafty, nostalgic, car things.”

More than occasionally, antique programmes focus on “mint-boxed old Dinkys and Corgis which can be worth a fortune” Michael told me, adding, “I work at the other end of the spectrum. I get hold of the wrecks, the bangers and the scrappers...and bring them back to life.”

A Dinky lorry made in the early 1950s achieved a world record price in a UK auction recently, going going gone for a mere £12,000 including commission.

It originally cost 19/6d - nineteen shillings and sixpence!

Michael has never toyed with prices like that but the “most complex and expensive rebuild” he’s done was a “Lady Penelope Fab One from Thunderbirds. A big six-wheeler Rolls Royce in the TV show” he added.

He’s restored several of these.

“They were the most difficult. The very fragile, plastic parts are often missing,” he explained “and the firing mechanisms for harpoons and missiles are often missing too.”

He sourced lost parts, second-hand, on the web, such as “springs and suspension systems” and the end result was “a very intricate and complex machine.”

Last Friday Michael told us about the equipment and materials he uses.

Contact him for more information if you’re interested, but here’s an outline of how he actually restores his toys, a hobby that’s definitely not for unsupervised youngsters.

Michael always wears gloves and safety glasses at his modeller’s bench.

Plan and understand what needs to be done; disassemble “and don’t lose any parts in the process”; strip paint down to bare metal; thoroughly clean replacement parts; prime with spray primer before undercoating; apply top coat, lacquer, reassemble and “if you haven’t already done so, paint on lights, bumpers, door handles and any other detail.”

Leave it to dry “and then sit back and enjoy!” says Michael, “you have restored new life to a neglected or forgotten favourite toy. These look fabulous on any shelf or desk.”

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