Do you remember your first motor car? My first car was a well – worn yellow old Ford Thames Van. Despite its age and tendency to break down on many occasions I loved that car and it served me well for several years.
I recently visited the British Motor Museum, formerly known as the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon, Warwickshire and it gave me the opportunity to view many vintage motor vehicles from the early 1900s right up to the present day. The British Motor Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of over 400 cars British Cars. The Museum easy to find just off junction 12 of the M40 and then a couple of minutes drive up the B4100.
In addition to the motor vehicle collection there is also a comprehensive archive and picture library. There are many interactive exhibits and dedicated zones include Motorsport, Design and Concept, Jaguar and Land Rover. It is the Trust’s mission is to keep the memory of the British motor industry alive and to tell its story to all visitors, starting from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day.
On entering the first motor vehicles I viewed were four of the most iconic vehicles ever to be manufactured in Britain, the very first Series 1 Land Rover from 1948, the very first Morris Mini Minor Mini off the production line in 1959, a 1967 E-Type Jaguar Series 1 Coupe and a splendid Rolls Royce Silver Phantom from 2002. What a line-up of British Classic motor vehicles!
I joined one of the free guided tours which was led by a very informative, knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide. The museum guides are obviously selective as there is so much to see in the museum. I would recommend a tour of the museum and ask your guide about any area of interest you would like them to detail and explore.
One of the first period displays to attract my attention was John Carter’s Garage, styled to be representative of a 1930`s independent garage. The garage contained many original fixtures, fittings and objects from the period. It reminded me of a garage my uncle worked at many years ago. It was so authentic! I could almost smell the oil and petrol!
Having owned a small sports car some years ago I was particularly interested in looking at the collection of British sports cars. What a delight to walk amongst such much loved margues! They were all there! Morgan, Lotus, Triumph, McLaren and Aston Martin. I also got the opportunity to walk right through the two halves of a sectioned 1965 MGB GT.
The touch screen panels allowed me to explore in more detail information about the manufacturers, advertising promotions and some of the famous faces associated with some of the cars on show such as Colin Chapman and Donald Healey. I was in motor heaven!
The Star of the Museum for me was a crème coloured Jaguar XK120 roadster. An absolutely stunning car. Manufactured by Jaguar in Coventry between 1948 and 1954, it was Jaguar’s first sports car since the SS 100, which ceased production in 1940. If I could have taken one car home with me it would have been this one.
I was told that originally the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust was set up to preserve and manage the company’s collection of historic vehicles on two separate sites; at Studley in Warwickshire and another museum at the London Transport Museum’s former home of Syon Park, west of London, where some 100 vehicles from the collection were put on display.
In the late 1980s, it became evident that larger premises would be required as the collection developed and several new sites were considered for a purpose – built museum. The present location was chosen, on the site of the former RAF Gaydon airfield in South Warwickshire, which was also home to the Rover Group’s design, technology and testing ground.
Plans were drawn up and construction began in 1991 for the new Heritage Motor Centre. Set in 65 acres (260,000 m2) of grounds, the centre has brought together all of the Trust’s operations for the first time, providing exhibition and storage space for the collection of over 250 vehicles and archive material of over 2 million photographs, business records, brochures and drawings. The site also includes conference facilities and a clean, smart restaurant /café serving food and drinks throughout the day.
When Rover Group was taken over by BMW in 1994, the British Motor Museum came under their ownership. Six years later, BMW sold the Rover Group, which meant that the Centre changed hands yet again, this time under the ownership of the Ford Motor Company. This latest change of ownership meant that the Trust now had the opportunity to expand its collection to include all of the companies that have formed part of Britain’s motor manufacturing history.
In 2015 the Heritage Motor Centre closed its doors for a £1.1 million refurbishment, and reopened in 2016 under a new name of The British Motor Museum. The funding has helped transform what was previously an overcrowded exhibition space. I walked with ease around the new exhibition areas which included a royal cars section and motorsport revue.
The Royal Collection included the first bespoke Royal Land Rover state review car – one of the fleet of vehicles used for HM Queen Elizabeth II’s first Commonwealth Tour – and a 1971 Rover P5B, personal property of HM the Queen but on long term loan to the Museum. A couple of royal treasures! I loved the vehicles from film and television including the Land Rover Defender used in the opening sequence of the James Bond Skyfall movie, the Tomb Raider Defender, the Land Rover ‘Judge Dredd’ City Cab and a replica of the DeLorean from Back to the Future 2.
Wonderful vehicles, but I was disappointed with the pink FAB1 from the 2004 Thunderbirds movie. As a viewer of the original Thunderbirds 1960`s cartoon series Lady Penelope`s car should have been an extended pink Rolls Royce, not a Ford! Speaking about the selection of the car for Lady Penelope, series co-creator Gerry Anderson had explained: “considering her personality, and the role Lady Penelope played in International Rescue, it could only be a Rolls-Royce.” Parker would have agreed!
Another couple of cars that drew my interest were the two Morris Mini Cooper S which won the Monte Carlo Rally of 1967. In their red racing livery with white tops, several headlight spots and authentic rally stickers they looked wonderful.
At the Collections Centre a couple of minutes away I was also able to view another 250 motor cars tightly packed together in a purpose – built hall. I leaned over the balcony to view mechanics hard at work in the restoration workshop. It is a real “behind the scenes” insight into how the Museum both stores and restores the vehicles in its collection. A total of £4m was spent on the Collections Centre and houses many of the museums reserve collection and that of the Jaguar, Daimler Heritage collection following Jaguar’s decision to close their Heritage Centre.
The Museum tries to rotate as many cars as possible into the main collection from its reserve collections treasure house. The British Motor Museum has deservedly won several awards in recent months in recognition of the Museum’s recent rebrand, refurbishment and opening of the Collections Centre.
Whether visiting as an individual, couple, family, school or other organisation the museum is well equipped to provide for the needs and interests of everyone. The Museum has hundreds of events throughout the year so there is sure to be something to satisfy interests from `petrol head` to curious observer! The vast site is always being improved and holds many special event days throughout the year.
The Museums Website is excellent providing a clear, detailed, colourful, bright and easily accessible guide to everything you need to know about visiting the museum and what you will find when you get there. There is also a gift shop with a wide choice of Motoring-related gift ideas. A percentage of every purchase supports the charitable work of the BMIHT (British Motor Industry Heritage Trust) to continue their fine work.
The British Motor Museum has one of the best car collections in the world but it is much more than just a motor museum. From a comprehensive archive and picture library, education and learning programmes for schools and colleges, a spectacular calendar of specialist motoring events, clubs, rallies, group visits, to weddings, corporate team building and conference facilities, there is a lot more at the venue to be discovered.
I had a wonderful day at the museum and would fully recommend you visit too in the very near future for a fun, educational and absorbing day out.
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Thanks James, glad you enjoyed the Museum and thanks for a lovely write up