talked to Tony Barclay-Walker about Automobilia Planet, a company
and website he set-up to merchandise all varieties of automobilia
and motoring collectables and ephemera.
DIGGER: How are you Tony?
TONY: Hectic. We have builders in and theyíre working on several
DIGGER: Make sure they put up dust curtains otherwise youíll
be covered in dust for months. Well, letís rattle through the
questions, shall we? Can you tell us about the background to the
TONY: Automobilia Planet started when I was talking to somebody and
they said ďOh, youíve got a lot of car badges, Iíd like to buy
some.Ē And that was the initial start point. Itís just escalated
since then. Without sounding blasť, itís typical of me because
now I donít run it, itís running me. Weíve turned into a world
leader and IĎm driven by that.
DIGGER: Youíre not like Reggie Perrin, are you? Once it gets
successful then you want it all to implode so that you can start
TONY: No. I like to get to the top of the mountain and stay there
and think thatís it.
DIGGER: I notice there are one or two smaller players in
automobilia who seem to be running their businesses from their
TONY: The thing about automobilia is that itís a part of social
history and itís non-repeatable shall we say? So thereís a lot
of it around and there are some people with deceased estates or
collectors who want to streamline their collection and it starts to
circulate. But not so much now, because people are hanging onto them
DIGGER: Whatís your collecting passion?
TONY: Iíve got many passions, but if you asked me what intrigues
and interests me, anything thatís quirky or different but
certainly I have a massive passion for car badges. And mascots and
motor racing ephemera of the earlier stages of motor racing.
DIGGER: Have you ever got involved Ė I mean driving an F1 or
one of those experience days?
TONY: (Laughs) I havenít had the luxury or the madness of driving
an F1, but I have done a bit of club racing in the past and some
testing in a very limited capacity. I managed to terrify myself. I
console myself by occasionally driving some of my own horseless
carriages on a test day for my own amusement. I donít think Iím
qualified to be a racing driver.
DIGGER: Thereís a huge range of items on the website. Where
would be the best place to start be if someone was looking for a
present for a car enthusiast?
TONY: The best thingÖ I get asked this quite often, I always say
that if you want to buy a present for somebody then obviously you
know this person. So youíve got to find out what he or she is
particularly interested in. It might be an E-Type Jaguar or they
might have an Alvis car or an Aston. Or they have a passion for
collecting pin badges, car badges, racing programmes. Also youíve
got to find out what they have and havenít got.
DIGGER: Itís difficult to do that. Iím very easy to buy for
and have several interests and passions but people never know what
Iíve already got.
TONY: What usually happens and we get a lot of this, particularly
from ladies; They put up with their husbands or partners being
petrol-heads and they basically know what lights them up. And they
come onto the site and see something. For example, Iíve just sold,
last week, a Saddler teapot, and Saddlerís a very good pottery
name. Itís a teapot thatís made to look like a retro racing car
and it was in extremely good condition and theyíre difficult to
find. This lady bought it for her husband as a birthday present and
she wrote a lovely letter to me saying ďYouíve made an old man
very happy.Ē Weíre only talking about £90 here, but he
was over the moon. Youíve got to find out what they want and marry
the two things up.
DIGGER: Do a little bit of research and a little bit of
TONY: Yes. Then, obviously, the best thing to do is to have a word
with somebody like me who knows about these things who can guide you
through the maze and suggest whatís a good idea and what isnít.
DIGGER: What are the rare and more expensive items, what are the
best value and what in your view are the best investments?
TONY: In these turbulent fiscal times that we live in, frankly to
have money in the bank you might as well just plaster the walls with
it, itís absolutely useless. But tangible assets, and Iíve
noticed this when we attend auctions, people are genuinely wanting
to invest into tangible items. Itís almost like feudal days
ďIíve got seven cows.Ē Well now theyíve got seven vintage
cars or seven items of automobilia.
DIGGER: Itís good because they were talking about this
phenomenon before but it wasnít really happening. Now it is.
TONY: For sure, in my opinion good investments which are always rock
solid, should we say Ďmainline and hardcoreí, are car badges.
Theyíre always a good investment as they escalate in value and
hold their price very well, providing they are good. Condition is
everything in this business. And authenticity. Reproductions -
youíve just got to absolutely avoid them like the plague and be
warned there is a lot of it about, particularly coming in from
China. And some if itís so good, to the untrained eye you think
youíve got the right thing, whereas when you take it to an expert
theyíll take one look at it and say ďItís worth a ham
DIGGER: Thatís a drawback of the web.
TONY: Yes, the big trouble with the web is you canít feel the
stuff and thatís why our photographs are pretty concise and also
we do describe things to the best of our ability. And, more
importantly, if there are any minor flaws or whatever then we bring
that to peopleís attention immediately. But when youíre dealing
with a car badge that say is eighty years old; So, itís either
been in a cabinet and thus it will be fine or itís been hurled
through the atmosphere so itís going to have some patina. But you
can tell these sorts of things. Mascots, again, are absolutely
fabulous investments, particularly the rarer ones. They hold their
value and increase massively, especially the stamped mascots. We
sold quite a lot of exclusive mascots and to get over £1,000 is not
out of the question. But automobilia is such a wide spectrum and we
try to cover what we can. As a small example, Le Mans programmes Ė
I saw one the other day and it was quite a rare 24 Hour Le Mans one,
I think it was 1952/3/4. I canít quite remember. This French
gentleman had it for sale at £250 which, quite frankly, was what it
was worth. But a modern programme would cost you maybe £10 - £15.
The older and the more known an event is, itís absolutely going to
increase it in value. I have a big saying Ė ďIf itís good,
itís gone.Ē And ďFind me another one.Ē Ė these pieces were
not produced en-masse so youíre buying a piece of social history
and condition is everything. Itís the same with antiques and
itís the same with automobilia Ė a good collector knows good
condition means the value is considerably increased. You could give
me £2,000 now and say ďTony, go and buy me some marvellous
badges.Ē And I might come back with six or seven that are really
fantastic and Iíd just say ďIíll tell you what to do, lock
them in a cupboard and in five yearís time who knows? Itís going
to be a lot though!Ē
Digger: How long have you been in the business?
TONY: Iíve been interested in motor racing ever since I was eight
when I saw Jim Clarke win in the Lotus at Aintree when my mother and
father took me. Itís been in my blood since, in fact I met Jim and
Graham Hill at the Blossomís Hotel after the race.
DIGGER: Thatís a memory. One article I have in the pipeline
for Retrosellers is the impressive record that British drivers and
teams have in motor racing. Weíve had a lot of fantastic
personalities over the years.
TONY: Fantastic personalities like Mike Hawthorne, Jimmy Clarke,
Jackie Stewart who I know reasonably well and he is just the most
magnificent ambassador of the sport.
DIGGER: His family had a garage, didnít they?
TONY: Yes, in Scotland. His mother always refused to accept that he
was a racing driver. I send him and Lady Helen stuff that I donít
need because she has a massive scrapbook collection and heís kind
enough to autograph a few things for me. Jackieís done extremely
well and such a nice person. He was in a period of racing that was
very difficult because it went from an era of death cars to safety
cars. He was responsible for bringing the safety element to the fore
when his very close friend Francoise Cevert tragically was killed in
a horrible accident.
DIGGER: The drivers effectively went on strike didnít they?
TONY: He just got out of the car and never sat in another racing car
again. He said heíd had enough, he was disgusted and quite rightly
DIGGER: My dad worked for Gilbarco as an engineer in the
sixties, so Iím interested in petroliana for that reason. How
popular and collectable are vintage pumps and road signs?
TONY: Very popular. Vintage pumps go for big money, providing
theyíve got all the bits. But even if they havenít got all the
bits people can get hold of the bits that are missing and they can
command thousands of pounds.
DIGGER: One can go into these old garages and see these
beautiful AA enamel road maps and signs.
TONY: Enamel signs have gone absolutely ballistic over the last two
or three years. And, really the strange things about signs, of which
weíve got some pretty good ones ourselves, are theyíre: a) Very
difficult to get hold of. And b) The surprising thing about signs is
the more tired looking they are with a patina Ė some of them look
like theyíve been to Beirut with a lot of rust. Yet they still
absolutely command massive prices. There are some enamel signs Ė
thereís three that I know of and theyíve got the Union Jack on
Ė I canít remember the name, something like Motorsport or
something like that. Theyíre worth £26,000 - £28,000 and
there are very few in the world - I know two that went for those
sorts of figures. But your good average sign thatís pucker and of
interest youíre talking anything from £200 - £400. Of course you
can pay whatever you want.
DIGGER: I hope the gentleman who owns the Motor museum up in
Bourton is well insured.
TONY: They are very popular and theyíre very pleasing to the eye.
When you decorate your garage yourself, as I have, they do look
DIGGER: Car mascots have a reputation as valuable and rarities.
You have some rarities on the website but also a lot which seem to
be very affordable. Is this a good collecting area to get into?
TONY: Yes it is. The thing with mascots is some of them are
run-of-the-mill and you want to stay clear of them, some are not
top-listers. But the thing with our site is you can go on and buy
something for a tenner or you can spend £4,000. So we like to think
thereís something for everybody. You just price things
accordingly. As an example, we have a very rare mascot which is
about £1,200 and itís a band leader and when it goes through the
air the arms go round and around.
DIGGER: Wonderful. How many of those would have been made?
TONY: Iíve never seen that one ever. Itís probably been made to
order. The Spirit Of Ecstasy is the Rolls Royce mascot, The Flying
Bee is the Bentley mascot, but then you come across certain mascots
that you canít find in the books. What are they? We sold one to a
chap in Guernsey a couple of months ago and it was a signed French
mascot over the £1,000 mark. A lovely patina and chrome on it and
it was one of two Charleston-esque dancing people and heís put it
on one of his vintage cars for wedding hire because itís symbolic
of that genre. But Iím pretty certain that the one-off mascots
were made to order. Other ones are synonymous with the market. Like
the Alvis and the hare.
DIGGER: Why is vintage automobilia in all its forms so popular?
TONY: It is popular but itís a narrow market. If you stopped 100
people in the high street and said ďDo you know what automobilia
is?Ē I dare say only ten or twelve would know because itís a
narrow market. But the astonishing thing is that when you got to a
big show like the Race Retro at Stonely or Beulieu or Goodwood, a
very good vintage rally, youíd be staggered at how many people are
there and their knowledge. It is exceptionally popular Ė even with
younger people as well which quite surprises me.
DIGGER: I wonder whether itís their parents bringing them
through as enthusiasts?
TONY: Thereís a bit of that Ė if dadís got an old car then
they tend to get the bug. But, Of course, weíre in an interesting
period because todayís classic cars as we call them, not vintage,
will eventually become vintage cars when you wonít even be able to
get hold of petrol. I keep using this expression that itís social
history youíre buying.
DIGGER: Itís a very short period they cover and thereís a
very small window of collecting opportunity really.
TONY: Very, the thing is that people who want automobilia and who
deal in automobilia are highly knowledgeable and they know their
subject backwards. But itís a vast area and some people specialise
in just very obscure minor areas of it.
DIGGER: Or certain marques?
TONY: Yes, whereas we tend to take a broad spectrum look at the
DIGGER: Where do you see the business heading?
TONY: Well, to be honest with you, weíve reached the top and I
reckon we reached the top about a year ago. So, what weíre doing
now is that weíre just about to launch a massive state-of-the-art
website. This will almost be an Oscar nomination in terms of web
design. Iíve seen the rushes and design briefs and Iím just
staggered myself and will be very proud when this one goes live,
which should be in about two or three monthsí time. Because
thereís a lot of work involved there. At the moment, my philosophy
for the business is: Weíve got it right, itís been well
accepted, weíre world leaders, so now all weíve got to do is
constantly feed it with exceptionally fine items of automobilia and
Ďtweakí it. Just add little bits on and improve certain areas. A
lot of people think our siteís pretty damn good to start off with,
which it is, but the new one is going to be literally awesome and
itís a massive leap forward. It will be a world leader and
thereís nothing you can compare it to. So weíre pretty proud of
this, but itís a lot of hard work.
DIGGER: Is it the technology or the functionality that makes it
TONY: I think a bit of everything. My web designerís are
phenomenally gifted people and I just give them a free reign and
they just come up with everything and I say ďYes, thatís
great.Ē I jokingly call them spooks, but Iíd like to emphasise
that every product thatís ever been on my site or thatís going
to go on it has to come through me personally. So I have to see it,
assess it and has it has to go through quality control and it has to
be priced correctly, not ridiculously. If I looked at fifty items in
a day, maybe nineteen or twenty would qualify and I could narrow
that down more if I was to be picky. I look at it from the other
personís point of view, not my point of view. The other day
somebody said to me ďWho do you thinkís going to buy that
obscure badge?Ē And I said ďWell, somebody will think their
birthdayís come Ďcos itís that obscure, and I couldnít
believe it because it sold within about two days of it going live on
the site. The client was doing handstands and he said ďI canít
believe it. Iíve looked for years, for decades for this and here
it is.Ē He was absolutely thrilled and I think he would have paid
£1 million for it. It was only about £110, I think. He was over
the moon. Good to feel youíre doing somebody a favour, as well.
DIGGER: Well, Tony, it looks as though youíre succeeding on
all fronts. Business is booming, youíre doing something you really
enjoy and youíre making people happy at the same time. Thatís
TONY: I use the same principle whether Iím buying a suit, a car,
furniture or whatever it is. If I look at it and it leaps out at me
and says something to me and all my brain cells light up with a
buzz, which is commonly called the wow factor, I think this has got
to be good. If I try to talk myself into it, then itís not a good
DIGGER: Thereís a rule I use which is, if you see something
you like and can afford then you should go for it, because it might
not be there the next time you look in the shop window and youíll
be disappointed you didnít go for it.
TONY: We used to do shows when I first started this and I had to go
on the road every weekend up and down the country and in Europe.
That was hard work, very hard, but I did it for three years to get
the name promoted. The brand awareness for Automobilia Planet. Now I
go to shows and people say ďWhy arenít you exhibiting?Ē and I
say ďGo on our website.Ē But I used to say to people ďIf you
donít buy it, someone else will and if itís good itís gone.
When you come back thereís a box of Kleenex here because it
wonít be here. Donít cry over my stock.Ē Iíve done it
myself, Iíve been to a show like Beaulieu, thought ďI quite like
that and Iíll come back later.Ē And then I canít find the
stall later and if I can they say ďOh, I just sold that an hour
ago.Ē And youíre so infuriated. If you see it and like it, if it
lights you up and everythingís okay, do the deal. Buy it, Ďcos
you can always re-sell it if you donít want it.
DIGGER: Thanks Tony. I now understand a whole lot more about
automobilia and what to look for and Iím looking forward to seeing
the new website.
TONY: Thank you David. If you can just put this in as a final
thought. Iím a retired property consultant and we used to use this
as one of our slogans and it applies equally to Automobilia Planet.
Itís simply: Informed, Efficient, Effective. And thatís what we
aspire to be and hope that we achieve.
click the banner for more information: