Inside the UK’s biggest motoring memorabilia collection

“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.

After the globes, the next most eye-catching things are the petrol cans, originally called motor spirit cans until Carless, an early oil company, relaxed its trademark on the word petrol. There are dozens. Most have been painstakingly but attractively repainted according to their original designs by Beale’s wife, Karen.

“The cans would have been returned and refilled,” Beale says, “so it’s extremely rare to find one that isn’t knocked about. It’s why we repaint them. It doesn’t affect their values.” Prices start at £35. I’m tempted by a bright-green, two-gallon BP Motor Spirit can for £80.

Meanwhile, among all the oil jugs, cans and bottles (oil used to be sold in glass bottles, like milk; prices start at £30 for an Esso bottle), the vintage petrol pumps stand like mechanical guardsmen. They’re very popular.

“We sold 20 pumps during lockdown, ranging in price from £500 to £1500 each,” says Beale.

Most were sold unrestored, but Beale, with the help of his 18-year-old son, Cameron, who has single-handedly built and equipped a fabulous workshop partly for the purpose (but also to restore his Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTI), restores and paints a few choice examples.

Prices are such that what might have cost you £2000 a few years ago will today set you back £3500. Beale’s current stock ranges from £550 for a 1970s Mobilgas pump to £6250 for a vintage BP pump.

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