Mike Stephens

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In 1973, Mike Stephens founded Western Models and produced over 200 different 1:43 scale diecast cars along with a line of airplane models. In addition to running the company, Stephens also made all of the 4-view scale drawings for the pattern makers to work from. 

Stephens was inducted into the 1:43 Diecast Scale Model Hall of Fame in 2008.

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In 1973, Mike Stephens founded Western Models and produced over 200 different 1:43 scale diecast cars along with a line of airplane models. In addition to running the company, Stephens also made all of the 4-view scale drawings for the pattern makers to work from. 

Stephens was inducted into the 1:43 Diecast Scale Model Hall of Fame in 2008.

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Following a move from the West Country, Mike Stephens in conjunction with a friend, Bryan Garfield-Jones, and Ken Wooton, both of whom had been dabbling in the supply of replacement parts for Dinky Toys, founded Western Models Ltd in 1974.

At that time Mike had 1500 – 2000 diecast toys, Corgis, Dinkies, etc.; a truly amazing collection for that period. However, wanting to have a business of his own, he could see a good possibility to make quality models which would appeal to collectors and which were not obtainable from any other source. Whilst it was not long before a small factory was set up near Redhill, Surrey, the foundation and formulation of objectives, etc. were carried out in Mike’s house in Epsom, Surrey.

Western’s first models, announced early in the same year, were a 1938 Mercedes-Benz and a 1937 4.5 litre Lagonda Rapide, both of which were very fine replicas and examples of the standards Mike had set himself. As new fully finished models they were soon discovered by enthusiastic collectors who had for so long been building their own from kits or scratch.

Indeed, the Mercedes-Benz was launched at a Windsor swapmeet after a hectic few days and late nights completing the 100 models they planned to show there. Sales success was unbelievable in that all the models sold very quickly, and, they received a large order from the Lang brothers, proprietors of the Danhausen shop in Aachen, Germany

Their range of 1:43 scale models expanded rapidly and 1975 saw a 1951 Jaguar XK 120 fixed head coupe and a 1937 3.5 litre Bentley announced, to the joy of British collectors. Kits of all their models were available and the period saw the commencement of 1:24 scale models. It was about this time that Mike and Bryan split the company and with Ken already gone Mike assumed sole control.

To achieve all this, Mike had the support of a strong team behind him to be able to offer a complete service to any organisation commissioning models from the company. Keith Williams was responsible for producing the drawings and for 28 years, Robin Housego was their sole ‘in house’ pattern maker. Others, including Brian Lawrence, Ian Pickering, Ian Playfoot and Richard Stokes took on some of this work as the company grew and more and more models were being produced. Mike designed the moulds and John Allen had the responsibility of making them. The casting was largely down to Mike. 

Such was the quality of their models that the skills of their employees were sought by others, including Jim Varney’s Transport Replicas, Richard Briggs’ MiniMarque43 and, of course, Bryan’s Motor-Kits series. Danhausen, with their large Minichamps, Metal 43, Metal 24, Plumbies, and Plumbies Inter ranges were Western’s most prolific customer and together, this volume necessitated a significant increase in staffing. At the peak of their production for them, nearly 40 people were employed in the Redhill factory.

Such was Danhausen’s involvement that Gunter Lang sought a partnership with Mike, his brother Peter having gone his own way, but this did not meet with Mike’s agreement and the existing arrangement continued until the Minichamps range was re-launched as a 1:43 diecast range made in China in 1984.

As a result of this, Western Models’ Redhill premises were closed and the business was moved to Taunton, there with a staff of 20, some moving with the company. Thus they continued, concentrating on their own ranges and other contract work. During all this time, Mike was ably supported by his wife Joyce who took the responsibility of overseeing assembly and packing of the models as well as looking after the administration. Also involved were his three children, Tim, Lynn and Nicola. Tim made moulds for many years, after John Allen and Keith Williams left Western to set up their own company, Scale Model Technical Services, whilst Lynn handled the book keeping and Nicola gave assistance in all departments as and when necessary.

The ranges then established were Western Models - 1:43 Classic cars, including many American examples and Record breakers, Western Racing – 1:43  F1 and other Competition cars, Western Prestige – modern 1:43 and Western Formula 1 – 1:24 F1 cars. Small Wheels was a separate company bought into Western’s ranges in the early ‘90s.

Mike’s involvement with Formula 1 in 1979/80 was significant, the high standard of the 1:24 models taking him to the highest level of involvement with the F1 fraternity. This started with Frank Williams and the Saudia Williams FW06, being given full factory access to measure and photograph it together with other potential model subjects of his and many others who sought Western’s services, Brabham, Lotus, McLaren, Wolf and Aston Martin/Lagonda to name a few. They all resulted in 1:24, scale models being produced.

The Formula 1 connection led Mike into 1:8 and 1:4 scale vac-form plastic models for exhibition and show stands, hundreds of these being made for that purpose. Two hundred 1:8 scale Porsche Le Mans being a good example.

In 1995, a 1:200 scale aircraft range was launched (or took off !), eventually rising to 30 or so models, including a Silver City Airways Bristol Freighter, their first, and  a Super Constellation, which was very popular and resulted in various liveries being produced. Surprisingly, perhaps, this was the first collection of aircraft models to be issued since those from Dinky Toys, many years before.

Much later the Taunton factory was closed and re-located next to the Stephens’ home in Devon, using the building that served as a hangar for the Cessna that they had operated earlier. This location saw the introduction of British cars of the 1930s, including a 1938 Morris 8 series E saloon and tourer, and a 1938 Vauxhall 14/6 DX saloon.

As the new century unfolded, Mike began to think about retirement. Sadly, it was not realistic to expect to sell the business as a going concern, so as 2008, his planned retirement year, approached Mike sought buyers for his various ranges, to include  the patterns, moulds and all associated items such as drawings, decals, vac-forms, etc.. He found a buyer for the aircraft in China, American cars in the USA and the English cars were sold to pattern maker Adrian Swain.

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