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The lobby is familiar – cases of carburettor memorabilia, from a Merlin V12’s mighty twin-choke downdraught to an early petrol pump – but, on entering a magical portal from Burlen Ltd, we are in J40 land.
Here, racks of completed pedal cars and others waiting for rebuilds bookend a workshop devoted to making them well again.
The J40 story begins with compassion: these cars were built in an Austin factory in Bargoed from 1949-’71, to provide Welsh government-subsidised employment and welfare for disabled coal miners suffering from pneumoconiosis.
Styled after the then-current 1948 Austin A40 Devon, the ‘Junior 40s’ (or Joy 40s: no one’s quite sure, so watch out for the forthcoming book) were made from welded sheet steel, which originally came from offcuts from the larger production items made at Longbridge.
Each had working headlights and horn, plus a printed instrument panel; the bonnet opens to reveal a representation of an engine with real spark plugs; and the opening boot is functional.
The pedals adjust for reach and there’s working steering, plus a brake – a simple contracting strap-wrapped drum – operated via a lever.
Just over 32,000 were made, including c4000 of the rare monoposto Pathfinders, which use many of the same components.
You might have seen them on fairground rides – and one appeared in The Who’s rock musical Tommy – but most went to families for children to enjoy.
They were never cheap, costing about two weeks’ wages on an average salary. The factory later made parts for the A-series engine, and closed on 30 April 1999.
Burlen, custodian of the SU brand and others since 1987, was a good fit to take over.
“We were already restoring and making parts,” explains director Mark Burnett, “though the J40 Motor Co has forced us to invest in a lot of things – sheet metal, pressing and welding.”
Brother Jamie takes up the story: “We had been talking to Roy Halford, who’d been making spares since the factory closed, and bought the business from him.
“We were all set to launch in April 2020, then COVID hit. But we decided to do it anyway.
That generated huge interest because lots of people were basically stuck at home and suddenly able to buy parts online.”
Even with the installation of shiny new presses and a spot-welder, so far it’s essentially a parts supply and restoration business, the biggest sellers being replacement grilles and bumpers, made on tools designed and built in-house.
The largest panel available is the seat base, which was originally pressed from smaller pieces roller-welded together. Next door is a 3D-printing room, where patterns for new boot handles are created in wax, for casting.
Sourcing new tyres has been difficult: the original Dunlop Cord balloon items are no longer available, and there’s only one supplier of the odd 12½ x 2¼ size.
The Burnetts have ambitious plans, and have even invested in a full-sized A40 Countryman as a delivery van.
“The Settrington Cup races at Goodwood definitely raised the profile of the J40,” says Jamie. “We took some cars along, and found that a lot of people hadn’t been aware of them.”
There is now a showroom at Bicester Heritage, where you can buy a complete, restored car, with the aim of running driving experiences to try one out – and even race.
The next step will be to produce complete shells, something that’s so far not been possible because the body sides are made in one piece.
“We’re also planning ‘continuation’ cars,” says Mark, “which could be painted and trimmed as you like; anything is possible.”
“I’d like to offer a bolt-in EV package,” Jamie adds. “We could even offer them as kits, to be built at home.”
Images: John Bradshaw
- Name J40 Motor Company
- Address Spitfire House, Castle Road, Salisbury, Wilts SP1 3SB
- Specialism Parts and restoration for Austin pedal cars
- Staff Five
- Prices Grille £110; bumper £165; complete restored car £4-5000
- Tel 01722 412500
- Web j40motorco.com
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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