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A car coming up at auction on July 1 at Derbyshire saleroom Hansons estimated at £4000-6000 was saved from the scrap heap and restored to its former glory.

However, there is a snag if you want to go for a long drive. This classic from the late 1940s, resplendent in British racing green, measures just 5ft 3in (1.6m) long. Not that surprising, really, when you realise it is a pedal car.

A young boy from a village near Lichfield, Staffordshire was given it as a present in 1949. Known as the Pathfinder Special, the design is based on the Jamieson OHV 750 Austin Seven racing car of the late 1930s made by the Austin Motor Company.

The J40 series (Junior 40) was constructed in a special factory in Bargoed in south Wales which was set up with government funds for disabled Welsh miners.  The idea was conceived by Leonard Lord, chairman of Austin.

Opening in 1949 and running as not for profit, purely for those miners, the factory was named The Austin Junior Car Factory and it utilised offcuts of sheet metal from the Longbridge Austin factory and were constructed in the same way as the motor cars themselves.

The pedal cars were regarded the best on the market at the time and incorporated features such as working headlights, a horn, pneumatic Dunlop tyres and an opening bonnet.  The single-seater Pathfinder cost a hefty £25 with tax and an average working man would have had to save two to three weeks full wages to purchase one of these fine machines.

The factory ceased trading in 1971 but the pedal cars are now keenly sought after by collectors across the globe.

This example at Hansons was restored to its former glory by the current (and original) owner. 

Auction stars

Bargoed pedal cars come up fairly often at auction. Another Austin Pathfinder example, also in racing green, made £2800 hammer against an estimate of £2000-2500 at Scarborough saleroom David Duggleby on February 11.

An Austin Pathfinder pedal car which was originally light blue, but now with bodywork stripped back for repainting, sold for £3000 hammer (estimate £2000-2500) at Sherborne auction house Charterhouse on January 20.

One described ‘in need of restoration’ took a low-estimate £2500 hammer at Locke & England of Leamington Spa on September 29 last year.

Two types

The Bargoed factory made two models of Austin pedal car. Apart from the Pathfinder, the J40 Roadster was based on the sleek styling of the 1948 A40 Devon and Dorset saloon (it had originally been intended to mimic the 1938 Austin 10).

Again, examples appear at auction often, usually painted in red. On the evidence of recent sales, the Roadster makes less than the Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder was made only for a year after the factory opened, in fact, replaced by the Roadster in 1950. Initial ambitions of building 250 a week were never reached, so Pathfinders will be more of a rarity for collectors.

According to the austinworks.com website, there was a total production of 32,098 Austin J40 pedal cars. Production stopped in September 1971.

Sold for £1600 hammer against a £800-1200 estimate at Charterhouse on January 20 was one of these Roadster pedal cars, presented ‘in original condition for restoration’.  

Andrew Smith & Son near Winchester sold one for £920 hammer, more than double the top estimate, in July last year. Dated to the early 1950s, it was described as in ‘complete original but patinated and play worn condition’.

Another, which had been repainted at some time, made £1800 hammer (estimate £1200-1500) at Dudley auction house Aston’s last September, while another restored example of this model sold just over estimate at £920 at Kent saleroom C&T a month later.