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Widget Of The Week

1931 Rolls Royce Phantom II Radio Model Car, 1975

Because they can, is the answer to the question you may be asking about why anyone would bother shoehorning a transistor radio into a model car? In fact this was quite a thing back in the sixties and seventies with scores of scale replica vintage, and modern, cars like this one, with built-in radios, and it seems that quite a lot of them were sold in this country, many of them through the now defunct Tandy chain of electronic gadget stores.

 

What sets it apart from most other novelty radios of the time is the build quality, and attention to detail. Many of the fittings are made of brass and metal; the body, although not metal, is very heavily plated and you would be hard pressed to tell that it is plastic just by looking at it. It’s clearly not a toy – it wouldn’t last more than five minutes in the hands of the average 10 year old – but it’s unclear as to whom the target audience might be. It’s possible that they were simply ornamental or possibly an attempt to create a collector’s market, and that’s born out by the number of different models being produced.

 

This Rolls Royce Phantom II is fairly typical of the genre with the radio element cunningly concealed. From the outside you would probably wouldn’t know, unless you happened to spot the word Off, and channel markings on the two spare wheels mounted either side of the bonnet. The speaker is on the underside, as is the lidded compartment that houses a standard 9-volt PP3 type battery. All four wire-spoked wheels rotate and there’s an authentic looking steering wheel and dashboard under the Landau style roof.

 

Technically it’s not especially sophisticated; the radio is a fairly straightforward 6-transistor AM superhet, though it is mounted on a custom PCB, with the ferrite antenna fixed to the underside of the circuit board. There’s no earphone socket or indeed any other connections or convenience features, which probably indicates that that the radio element was of secondary importance. It definitely wasn’t there to be listened to for any length of time. It has to be said that a small model car body and a titchy 55mm speaker is a far from ideal setup for a radio and needless to say it sounds rather tinny.

 

I found it at a large open air antiques fair in Lincolnshire, in a box full of mixed tat and junk; it was quite mucky, so it didn’t look very promising. However, it appeared to be largely intact, apart from the Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament, which was missing (very common with this model)  and since the stallholder was only asking £3.00 for it (haggled down from an opening price of £4.00), it seemed a pity to leave it behind where it would undoubtedly end its days in a rubbish bin. As you can see it scrubbed up well, with the aid of some household cleaner, Brasso and plastic polish and apart from some yellowing on the white sidewall tyres; it looks almost as good as new. There was nothing wrong with the radio either. It sparked up first time so I decided to leave well alone and skip the usual electrolytic capacitor swap; hopefuly they still have a few years left in them.

 

What Happened To It?

The fad for replica radio cars of this sort seems to have petered out by the mid 1980s, though model cars with built-in radios never really went away and one or two are still being made but they’re more toys than detailed scale models. Sales of this one must have been quite good, though and there’s always a few on ebay, with prices starting at around £10 - £15, but you can double or treble that it for mint examples, especially if they come in the original box with instructions. There are simply too many of them around for them to increase much in value but it has to a worthwhile addition to any collection of novelty radios. It also has a certain surprise value and a lot of people – especially those born after the 1980s – who seem to be genuinely amazed, not to say bemused, when you switch it on…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1975

Original Price        £10

Value Today          £15 (0815)

Features                 6-transistor AM (medium wave) superhetrodyne, rotary volume & tuning controls *spare wheels), 55mm speaker, brass fittings, rotating wheels

Power req.                    1 x PP3 9V battery

Dimensions:                  250 x 88 x 80mm

Weight:                         389g

Made (assembled) in:    Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


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