Dear Santa...


Small is beautiful

For over forty years, nestled in between the bright lights of Soho and Covent Garden, a tradition has established itself. A place where dreams are realised, fantasies fulfilled.

The area of St Martin’s Lane has long welcomed enthusiasts and collectors to indulge in their passion for things automotive. Originally it played host to both a famous model shop and a book shop too. Both are now unfortunately gone. But the good news is that one company has picked up the baton for the model car collector and continued the tradition. The company is known as Diecast Legends. Their store in Cecil Court, just off St Martin’s Lane, is St Martin’s Models.

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We spent a morning (it could so easily have been longer) with specialist Leigh Hobden. Leigh manages the model car side of the business which, under the name Grand Prix legends, are known for being the world’s leading online retailer of motorsport merchandise, F1 clothing, as well as motorsport models.

Making the step from being an online retailer to a high street retailer is unusual in this day and age, but as Leigh explained it was a sequence of events that made a long held plan fall into place.

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“We’d considered opening a shop for some time but felt that the market simply wasn’t big enough to support two virtually side by side. But then we heard that the original St Martin’s Models was closing and that the bookshop was thinking of becoming an online store. So we took over the their premises which are just a minute round the corner from the site of the original model shop.”

Now, the shop is not exactly cavernous but rather it is lined wall to ceiling with a simply dazzling array of models. In fact they have over 2,000 types of model cars in stock at any one time so there is, as they say, something for everyone. Temptation is in sight everywhere you turn!

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Interestingly, their reputation for the breadth of their stock is obviously well known. So much so that customers are referred to them from the world most famous toy store in Regent Street, as well as from car manufacturers themselves. Indeed, our visit coincided with the launch of the latest James Bond movie. Fans desperate to get a copy of the latest DB10 were being referred to the store by Aston Martin themselves. Unfortunately though to no avail as no model of the car has as yet been released.

James Bond fans desperate to get a copy of the latest DB10 were being referred to the store by Aston Martin themselves

“It’s a missed opportunity without a doubt,” remarked Leigh. “New James Bond cars are invariably best sellers for us, and this car in particular we think will be in massive demand as, of course, the DB10 will never be mass produced for the road. So far we have no clear indication as to when a model will actually become available, but we are taking orders by collectors who don’t want to miss out when they do arrive”.

Collectors, it seems, do form a large part of their customer base with many having collections running into hundreds of models. But what do they buy?

“Well it certainly seems that the old adage is true and that everyone loves a winner. This year, like last, Lewis Hamilton has been very good for business. Also Le Man cars are a popular theme. Alternatively some just like to collect every car from a particular manufacturer, like Lotus or Ferrari.

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Another popular subject we find is classic sport cars. The E-type for instance. These are often bought by our older customers who could not afford the original when young, but still hanker after owning at least a good quality replica.”

And quality is a byword at St Martin’s. They are very picky indeed about the models they stock. Fortunately the choice available is wider than ever before as new manufacturing processes make it cost effective for models to be made in far smaller quantities than before. Pick up, for instance, the 1:43 scale Mercedes GP car driven by Mr Hamilton this year and the detail is eye-wateringly good! To you just £54.00.

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Or savour the sight of the 1:18 scale Alfa Romeo 6C, made from various metals and with real leather seats. It really is a miniature engineering marvel. It’s not cheap at just under £360. But this is a collectable, not a toy and will in time at least hold, if not appreciate in value.

What also helps these models appreciate is that many have been signed by the drivers themselves. Stirling Moss, Nigel Mansell, Mark Webber are just some of the big names who left their mark. We saw a Torro Rosso as driven by Mr Vettel in his first GP win, signed by himself and at just £175.00 – we thought it was a steal.

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Talking Mr Vettel, they also have a amazing value 1:18 diecast model of the Ferrari SF15-T, as driven by Sebastian Vettel in the 2105 Formula One season. That’s getting on for a foot long and is only fifty quid.

So if you’ve got a long felt want for the car of your dreams, with Christmas just around the corner a small hint could be just the job, not mentioning their URL which is