I’ve just bought a vintage two-pint Castrol oil jug for £40. It has that naturally distressed look that’s beloved of collectors and even a trace of oil around its base. My dad had one just like it in his workshop, so it brings back happy memories of him cursing as he struggled to seize a rusted bolt on his Norton motorcycle or bodged a piston repair with epoxy resin.
I’m happy, or at least I was until, in the course of establishing its capacity, I stumbled across a website called the Castrol Classic Shop (classicoilsshop. co.uk) selling brand-new replicas for £10.95. Do I feel fleeced? No, actually, because when I called, the chap who answered assured me that I had paid about the going rate for an original – and in any case, he said, mine was made from high-grade British steel.
Not that folk turn up their noses at Castrol’s replica products, which include cans, mugs, posters, T-shirts and key fobs, in addition to the oil company’s classic range of lubricants.
“We sell thousands of items every year,” said the Castrol man. “Business has been especially buoyant in this lockdown. There’ve been times when we’ve barely been able to keep up.”
This is a feeling that Matt Beale of Matt’s Automobilia, where I bought my Castrol jug, knows well. Based in the Somerset village of Mark, in the grounds of his home behind a pair of imposing gates, his collection of motoring artefacts numbers at least 2000. Business via his website, mattsautomobilia.co.uk, is booming.
Nothing can prepare you for the surprise and delight that you experience upon pushing past the gates and turning the corner into his large garden. Ranged before you are outbuildings adorned with brightly coloured signs and flanked by brightly coloured fuel pumps from the 1940s and 1950s. With the sheds’ doors swung wide open to reveal their contents, the impression is of a particularly well-managed and generously stocked motoring museum along the lines of Beaulieu – except that all you can see is for sale.
“I’m one of the UK’s biggest automobilia dealers,” Beale tells me, without a trace of boastfulness. This is a quality I’ve come to recognise in self-made people for whom working hard and seizing opportunities is as natural as breathing.
Incredibly, he entered the market only nine years ago, but the size, quality, diversity and presentation of his collection is breathtaking. The petrol pump globes arranged on shelves and lit from within grab your attention first. Prices start at £130 for an original Burma globe and go all the way to £1895 for a Cleveland one. If your pockets aren’t that deep, there are reproduction globes from £45. On that point, globes are about it as far as Matt’s reproduction items go; the rest of the collection is original.