Classic British motor cars can engender enthusiasm in many. Being an avid MG enthusiast, Max Kernick started collecting literature and models of anything MG during the late 60s. He recalls buying 3 Dinky Gardner Record Cars at a toy fair which started him off exchanging and selling.More
Classic British motor cars can engender enthusiasm in many. Being an avid MG enthusiast, Max Kernick started collecting literature and models of anything MG during the late 60s. He recalls buying 3 Dinky Gardner Record Cars at a toy fair which started him off exchanging and selling.
Max worked for Lesneys for a couple of years testing new products but having to cross London every day became rather tedious.
Through an advert, he came in contact with an American, Dick Knudson, who has put together several books on the MG marque. Dick asked Max whether he would be interested in producing a proper model of the MG TC and TD. He said he would give it some thought.
Max had been buying metal kits from Brian Harvey’s Grand Prix Models at Radlett. Most were quite acceptable for the time, although, a lot of work was required to produce a decent finished product. However, he baulked at Mikansue’s MG L Type Magna kit which was not up to his standard. In the meantime, he had seen some extremely well cast and detailed models of early buses and horse drawn carriages produced by Jim Varney, in his Transport Replicas series. On contacting him, he felt that Jim had tried to discourage him by saying that whatever model he wanted, Max would have to guarantee to take 300 sets of castings of which 200 would be taken straight away. The cost would then be £2000 or more – a great deal of money for 1974.
However, Max was not put off and went ahead with the MG TC. He remembers that these initially sold assembled for around £6.50 each. To start with, production and sales were quite slow but an advert in the MG magazine ‘Safety Fast’ for the annual Silverstone MG weekend in 1975 produced a lot of interest. Max had booked a very small stand at the event and had a couple of dozen TCs ready to take. The night before leaving, he received a visit from a Dutch MG enthusiast who wanted to buy all 24. He sold him 18 and kept the others for the event.
Max had been living in Finchley, North London since he started of Abingdon Classics in 1975 and it was towards the end of the decade that he was involved with John Roff (K & R Replicas – Kernick & Roff) but split up with him in 1979. The Abingdon Classics range were very popular, and to assist in meeting demand, around 1980 John Simons, of Marsh Models began making some MG PB airlines for Max as Abingdon Classics. At the time, Max was looking for someone to help with production. Most of those he approached were not up to the standard required, but John sprayed & assembled the models to a very high standard.
Max’s patterns up until this time had mostly been made by Ian Pickering. Richard Stokes had made an MG C type Montlhery Midget, MGB/MGC & Midget, also a Bentley Continental. Brian Lawrence made the unusual MG High Speed Van.
Max was then approached by Frank Wong who wanted to produce a Bentley and Rolls Royce model. Under the name FM Autominis (FM – Frank/Max) he made an R type Continental & Rolls Royce Silver Cloud 1/Bentley S Saloon (not many of these were made). Later they produced a Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC. Production stopped when Top Marques started in 1984.
It was during the period Max was producing FM models that he received a phone call from Richard Briggs who placed a large order. Unfortunately Max did not take his call seriously. A friend had a habit of phoning him fairly regularly pretending to be different people and Max assumed it was him. It was a few weeks later when Richard rang again asking about his order that he realised he was genuine! Richard was a nightmare to deal with as far as business was concerned but otherwise a very likeable and gentle man. Max was in contact with him right up until the time that he very sadly died. He sold most of the Abingdon Classics range to Richard in the early eighties and later on the Alvis range to Mike Rogers of J & M Classics.
The first Rolls Royce in the Top Marques range was a four door Silver Cloud Convertible for which Max applied to Rolls Royce at Crewe for a licence. This was not a good start as they agreed to license Top Marques for future Rolls Royce and Bentley models but turned down the Silver Cloud. On examination of the model they had found it to be a 4 door short chassis. It should have been a 2 door short chassis or 4 door long chassis. After this mistake they employed the help of a local jeweller, Neil Bollen who produced their first main Rolls Royce under the name Top Marques, this being RR1 (Rolls Royce 20 hp Barker Landaulette). Later he made RR3 (Rolls Royce 20/25 hp Mulliner).
Max and his wife Julie were working in their workshop in Max’s brother in-law Barry Gowthorpe’s premises near Exeter along with Ralph Savill who worked for Richard Briggs, Peter Richards and Philip Peall. It was around 1986/7 when Julie, who was friendly with Mike Roger’s sister heard that he was looking for some different work. The outcome was that Mike cast for them for several months, and then went independent in a different line of work.
By 1989 they had moved to West Hill near Ottery St Mary, and Mike extended their shed/workshop around 1991. At this time, Top Marques personnel consisted of Max, his wife, Julie, Philip and part-time, Julie's sister Jan Gowthorpe who is a successful artist. Philip was an excellent model builder and his input with Max was important to the success of Top Marques. This is when they brought out the Gold Series (a very limited edition. GS1 to GS18). The patterns for this series were made by a friend and jeweller, Gerald Gilbert. Max & Gerald introduced the small accessories to go with the models e.g. various picnic baskets some with champagne bottle & glasses inside, umbrellas, golf set, croquet set, and suit cases.
The business was mainly operated from the workshop at their home in West Hill with their pattern maker at that time being Gerald Gilbert. In 1996/97 Rolls Royce were tightening up their licensing arrangements and wanted all manufacturers of Rolls Royce and Bentley models to visit Crewe with samples of their production. The company really approved of Top Marques’ work and they received a verbal contract to make models for the company. As this would mean a considerable increase in production, in 1997 they moved to a unit in Honiton and took on another member of staff, Steve Todd.
It was several months later that Rolls Royce was sold to BMW and VW took over Bentley and the factory at Crewe, thus negating the contract. Top Marques had put a lot into the factory unit and had taken on a partner to help financially. He had insisted that the company be a limited one so they became Top Marques Miniatures Limited. However, having expanded the business there were not enough orders to continue in this type of structure, and also Max and Julie wished to return to a family run business. During this time at Honiton they met Lawrence Gibson who produced several good patterns for them and remains a good friend.
Around 1999 Max sold some of his Alvis patterns to Mike Rogers, who finished off the limited numbers & then began producing his own. Max got him off to a good start by giving him details of suppliers and retailers, and making available some of their tools.
In 2001Max and Julie decided to move to France, with their sons who were 11 and 9 years of age. This was something they had wanted to do for years. In France, they started Autotorque for a sports car range and continued later with Top Marques. Lawrence Gibson has made most of the patterns but they are now starting to make their own. As well as doing their own casting & spraying they used Graham Price of GTA Models, who has done excellent work for them for more than 20 years.Less
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