Durham Classics Automotive Miniatures is run by the husband and wife team of Julian and Margaret Stewart together with their son Nicholas. The company (est. 1980) is based in Oshawa, Ontario, which is east of Toronto.
Julian is a native of England and grew up in Croydon, just South of London. Like most young British boys, his collection of toys included Dinky models as well as other things mechanical, but Dinky and other miniature vehicles really captivated him. This passion was instrumental in helping him develop the Durham Classics line.
Julian was educated at a U.K. technical school which led to an engineering apprenticeship and a career in engineering drafting which proved handy, as he developed his automotive miniatures. Julian emigrated to Canada in 1967 and as a design engineer worked for Phillips Electronics. Here, Julian worked with another expatriate, John Hall who became a major player in model collectables and founder of Brooklin Models.
One day John brought a toy collecting magazine to work 'The Toy and Train Collector' and showed the classified ads to Julian. American dealers were offering top dollar ($4 to $6 at that time!) for 1st issue Matchbox Yesteryear models. Seeing the opportunity for a quick buck they began scouring shops in Toronto for these models, which were selling locally for 69 cents to $1.49 Canadian.
This hunt was originally a quest for a little cash, but it had an unexpected effect. Julian felt like a kid again, and his long forgotten love of toys came back to life. Boom! He was a diecast collector once more and especially sought out Dinky, Solido, Rio and Minic. His colleague John Hall was also into collecting diecast models in a big way!
John moved to Brooklin, Ontario and he and Julian would get together and talk about cars and models. Not content with buying other makers models John started making his own resin models and then, ultimately white-metal models.
Seeing John create his Brooklin models inspired Julian and he told John he would like to give it a try. So, he bought some tools and carved a very hard block of Canadian maple into the Brooklin 1932 Packard Light 8. Collectors will note the JS77 initials cast into the baseplate. These were removed on later editions and do not bear Stewarts initials. (Julian has always stated that the pattern maker gets no recognition for the creation of his work. So when Julian produced his own models he made a point of placing the creators name on the underside of most of his models).
Following the issue of the 1932 Packard Light 8 Julian produced the master of the 1934 Chrysler 4 door Airflow. The year was 1979 and the Canadian government were not too friendly toward small business. So, John decided to pack up his toys and to return to England where the Thatcher government were much more encouraging to entrepreneurs.
Julian had enjoyed seeing his masters produced as handbuilt white-metal models so when Brooklin relocated to the U.K. he missed this excitement. Even though Julian had the considerable talent to produce the masters he had never been privy to the molding or casting process. This would have to all be learned from trial and error. He felt like a chef who couldn't operate a stove.
Then Julian heard that one of his co-workers had done some work in a costume jewellery company and had some experience of white metal casting procedures. With the help of this co-worker Julian tracked down the company and sought out a no longer used centrifugal casting machine. However this machine proved unsuitable for casting model car bodies.
Ever the engineer, Julian began tinkering with designs for producing his own casting machine. A lathe and drill press and milling machine were purchased and work on the casting machine began. After much trial and error and endless hours of work with alloys, molding rubber and melting furnaces a sample body casting was produced. This all took place in the basement of Julian and Margaret's house! However they were both excited by the results of their first model a 1934 Chrysler Airflow 2 Door Coupe.
Julian and Margaret took 10 Airflows to the Canadian Toy Collectors Society toy show and listed them for $55.00 each. At one show they didn't sell a single piece! However now, many years later it has been reported that some of those Airflows produced without windows and running on Dinky tires and shipped in homemade boxes, change hands at prices in the thousands of dollars!
Following the Airflow, Durham Classics produced a 1939 Ford Panel van which became their company logo. (Julian said he adopted this vehicle as a logo because he had never seen a van which carried its spare tire on the outside behind the passenger door).
Julian then built a vacuum forming machine to produce the vehicle windows and machined the injection molding die to produce the blackwall and whitewall tires. As production capacity increased, so did demand. The model production process was taking every moment of Julian and Margaret's time.
So in 1985 following Margarets encouragement Julian quit his well paying job and launched Durham Classics as a full time operation. Julian and Margaret were rapidly outgrowing their basement operation and began looking for commercial space.
Durham Classics are made in a 1:1 ratio. Unlike die cast collectors models which typically start with a 200-300 percent size master which is reduced on sophisticated reduction machinery to create the mold. Durham makes the master the same size as the finished piece allowing for mold shrinkage. The result is a crisply detailed car that can keep company with the best handbuilt models in their class. Over the years Durham has produced many promotional models for organizations, including McDonalds, Ontario Provincial Police, Canadian Aerospace Heritage Foundation and many others. The company has produced over 35 models with specific Canadian logos including Canadian Automotive Museum, CCM Bicycles, Toronto Telegram newspaper etc.
Because Durham Classics models are entirely hand made by talented artisans in very small quantities each piece is considered to be a true collectors item. Many of Durham Classics Automotive Miniatures are in the displays of discerning collectors throughout the world.
What's it worth? Take a look at this Durham price guide: sold listings for a value indication.