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The Shed

Collector Models stocks Chamberlain tractors and farm toys for boys at heart

Leigh Grigg

Nostalgic: Leigh Grigg with his replica Chamberlain Tractor. Source: Weekly Times Now

AT 63 years young, Leigh Grigg is not too proud to admit he's still a kid who enjoys playing with toys.

Peruse his Ballarat warehouse, where he runs his Collector Models business - selling more than 1000 models of tractors, as well as numerous farm, forestry and mining machines - and Leigh is like a kid in a lolly shop.

Alongside the mostly imported stock, there is his own handmade model Chamberlain tractors, as well as a display cabinet of Leigh's personal collection of model toys, Corgi, Matchbox cars, and Dinky models from the '50s and '60s.

"Our slogan is farm toys for kids from three to 103," Leigh says.

"There's no age limit to the kids who buy our toys. For a lot of our mature-age clients it's about the nostalgia, they tell me they used to have that model as a kid. But the young ones, up to early teens, flock to it as toys.

"Then when they're young adults, they buy toys on the pretext it's for their nippers."

Leigh grew up on a dairy farm in Bungaree, where the seeds were sown for Collector Models.

"When dad was on the farm I'd have a carpet farm or a sandpit farm where I'd have toys imitating what he was doing," he recalls.

He studied engineering at the then Ballarat School of Mines before working for Holden, then Munro's Engineers in Ballarat, making farm equipment.

It was 1990, while working as chief engineer for Ballarat Hospital, that he dabbled in models as a sideline business, which became full-time two years later.

As the biggest independent dealer of farm toys in Australia, Leigh is a regular at agricultural shows such as the Henty or Elmore field days, while most of his models are sold online and through his warehouse.

Most models are imported from China, with some sourced from Europe.

"I'm selective about what I choose from catalogues. I could increase the selection three-fold. Some, like a Lamborghini tractor, sold few in Australia so I don't get those.

"I'm aiming to bring out ones that people identify with. I try not to buy one-offs, but I do take requests and try to source them."

However, with a personal love of Australian Chamberlain tractors, Leigh hand manufacturers Chamberlain Champion 9Gs, which were made between 1957-65.

So far he's produced 377, each priced at $396, with a cap at 500 to ensure the market is not saturated and they remain collectable.

The 9Gs have about 60 components, which Leigh creates from aluminium master patterns to produce castings.

"Toy makers around the world only make models in big production to sell around the globe.

"The market for the Chamberlain by comparison is negligible. But people in Australia have an affection for them. They were loved by farmers in the '50s and '60s. I had a lot of requests so I started making them. Once I've finished with this model I'll start making another Chamberlain tractor."

While Leigh is a devoted model man, he also tinkers with bigger machines, restoring a vast collection of tractors, motorbikes, cars and planes.

At his home he has McCormick-Deering tractors from the late 1930s and early '40s, vintage Ducati bikes, and more than 20 Chevrolet cars dating between 1925 to 1983.

"Why Chevrolets? Because they were technically-advanced in an engineering sense. My grandpa had one and I was even bought home from hospital in one as a baby."

Leigh works with his son Matthew, a pilot, Leigh restoring a World War II Wirraway, and flies in a restored Winjeel and Auster.

Leigh says while he would collect more, "it does destroy the profit margin".

"I don't collect for investment. I collect for joy. People buy models and say they won't take them out of the box, but I can't understand that. You buy them because they make you feel good."

  • Collector Models, Ballarat, (03) 5332 1618 or collector models.com.au

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