Volume IX, Number 3

Restoring the Budgie Austin Westminster
by Stephen Bresnehan

British toymaker Morris & Stone launched their answer to Lesney's Matchbox range in the mid- late 1950s. Initially called the 'Morestones Esso' range, the boxes were shaped like petrol pumps. They were re-launched as Budgie models around 1959-1960. The range was never very large and most models were not up to the same quality as Lesney's Matchbox and Mettoy's Husky. They produced a number of models of cars not often seen in small scale, such as the Austin Healey 100/4, Rover P4, Wolseley 6/80, a fifties Packard and a beautiful Mercedes formula 1 streamliner. Production probably stopped in 1970 as Mattel's Hot Wheels rolled in on their flashy wheels and changed the whole landscape of small-scale model cars.

The Budgie Austin A95 Westminster wagon was one of the longer-running models in the range, starting life in the 'Esso' range and continuing right through. It was most commonly painted in orange-red, but also came in white as an ambulance. Black and dark blue examples have also been said to exist.

The example featured in this article was found at a local market coated in at least two different layers of hobby paint. Initially, the plan was to strip it back and repaint it to an appropriate period colour. Once home and subjected to a closer examination, there was a lot of original-looking orange-red paint peeking out all over the car. New plan: carefully remove hobby paint and see what's left of the original paint under there. If most of the original paint was gone, its back to plan A.

The hobby paint resisted acetone-free nail polish remover and I didn't want to use anything harsher in case it lifted the original paint off too. A friend told me that soaking in hot water might sometimes work, depending on what type of paint it is. The technique is dead simple- dismantle and soak the piece in very hot water. Give it about half an hour in the water for the hobby paint to soften, then carefully scrape it off with a toothpick or piece of soft plastic to reveal the harder and more resistant original paint beneath. After about five minutes scraping, the hobby paint will dry and cool, becoming hard again, so back into the hot water it goes for another half an hour.

Dismantling the Austin was simple- the baseplate has two pins that meet corresponding tube sections on the body. The whole thing is pressed together and relies on the tightness of the fit to keep the car together. I used a cloth-wrapped blade screwdriver inserted through the window gaps and gently twisted. It popped open with surprising ease.

The body and base were both coated in cream and black paint, so both pieces were dropped in a tumbler of very hot water. Twenty minutes later, I pulled the body out and, using a toothpick, started on the roof. Just as predicted, the paint broke and peeled away under gentle pressure, exposing lovely original paint underneath. After a good few soaking and scraping sessions, including cleaning back the metal wheels and a bit of a buffing to put a little shine back on the original paint, the Austin looks pretty reasonable for a car its age. This will not work on all models. A recent effort to remove black felt marker from an early spectra-flame Hot Wheel model proved a failure. My restored Austin Westminster now sits on the shelf next to the 31a Matchbox Ford Customline wagon looking for all the world that it has been orange all along.