A visit to the British Motor Museum

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British museum
The author/photographer's grandson Ash likes the Jaguar Panasonic Formula E racing car on display at the British Motor Museum | Photos by Howard Koby

“Making success of a business venture- that was my original aim in life.”
– William Lyons

Every year I make the 11-hour journey to the UK to visit my grandson Ash for his birthday. I also arrange a car story to appease my automotive passion. This year that story involved a visit to the fabulous British Motor Museum, which is located northeast of London on Banbury Road in Gaydon, Warwickshire. 

The spectacular art deco buildings sit on 65 acres of lush countryside grounds and provides exhibition and storage space for over 300 classic cars and archives of over 2 million photographs, business records, brochures and drawings. 

The British Motor Museum is northeast of London in Gaydon, Warwickshire

Steven Laing, the curator of the museum for the past 25 years explains”, “The museum is a private independent collection of British cars run by a trust. 

In the early 1970s, when British Leland was first formed, they grouped together all of the collections of classic cars and set up a specific collection and that kind of grew and became a formalized collection, so the trust (the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust) itself started in 1983. 

“In the early 1990s we had the first Heritage Motor Museums in London.”

Being one of the largest collections of British cars in the world, owned and managed by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust and the Jaguar Heritage Trust, the array of cars on exhibition, as the museum puts it, “tells the story of the car and the industry that has produced it for more than a century, celebrating the skills and creativity of the people who designed and built them.”

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Original William Lyons motorcycle and Swallow sidecar on display

A standout feature in the museum is a display of the achievements of automotive engineers and entrepreneurs like William Morris (Lord Nuffield), who established Morris Motors; Alec Issigonis, who created the Morris Minor and the Mini; and Herbert Austin, who founded Austin Motor Company.

In November 2015, a £1.1 million refurbishment was undertaken and the museum reopened on February 13, 2016, under the British Motor Museum name.

1959 MG EX 179 speed record car

Obviously, British marques are well represented. For example, Land Rover, producer of “Go Anywhere” vehicles originally based on the U.S. Army Jeep. The very first Land Rover from 1948 is on display along with the Range Rover and Rover P5 vehicles used by the British Royal Family.

There is an impressive display of MG’s speed-record cars including MG’s first record breaker, the EX135 which was based on a 1930s K3 racer fitted with a Reid Railton streamlined body for runs at Bonneville in 1952.

As you enter the Collections Centre Building, which is a second structure, the Jaguar story is revealed with the 1925 Brough motorcycle and 1928 Swallow Sidecar with a portrait of William Lyons (founded the Swallow Sidecar Company in 1922) and an entire wall of Jaguar race car paintings. 

The Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust presents significant historic vehicles including classic Jaguar racing cars,  for example, the XJ13 prototype, and other important models, including the Queen Mother’s 1992 Daimler D5420 Limo.

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Technicians in the Restoration Workshop can be observed from an elevated gallery as they maintain the vehicles. 

Last, but not least, there’s the Junction 12 Café for lunch and a wonderful gift shop selling not only the usual museum souvenirs — and such unique items as a Mini “AOK” 16GB USB flash drive in the shape of the first Morris Mini-Minor and designed to celebrate the Mini’s 60th anniversary — but vehicle maintenance charts. 

For more information, visit the museum website.

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Howard graduated with honors from the Art Center College of Design in California. He has been a photographer and automotive journalist for 35 years out of his Los Angeles studio. He has been published in Hot Rod, AutoWeek, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Jaguar Journal, Forza, Vintage Motorsport, Classic Motorsports, Robb Report, Motor Trend Classic, Hemmings Muscle Machines, and 50 Years of Road & Track (MBI Publishing). He has served on the Advisory Committee of the Transportation Design Department at Art Center College of Design. He is the author of the books Top Fuel Dragsters of the 1970s and Pro Stock Dragsters of the 1970s, both available on amazon.com.

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