Situated in the heart of the South Warwickshire countryside at Gaydon, yet only minutes away from the M40 motorway, lies The Heritage Motor Centre, home to the world’s largest collection of British cars spanning the classic, vintage and veteran eras.
The museum’s early beginnings stem back to the days of the British Leyland Motor Corporation which was responsible for the production of Austin, Morris, Triumph and Rover cars. BLMC amassed a collection of preserved cars and needed a dedicated purpose-built residence to exhibit the collection as its former sites were both too small and unsuitable. The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust was formed with its mission to keep the memory of the British motor industry alive, telling the story of the motor car from early 20th Century to the present day. Opened in 1993, the current museum is housed in an Art Deco style building that complements the ever-changing exhibits. Currently the museum has a collection of some 260 vehicles of which about 160 are on display at any one time.
Whether or not one has any real interest in cars, this collection will provide an interesting insight into the world of the motor industry. One of the main features is the Time Road that houses cars from different decades and these sit on road surfaces typical of the time in question. This may sound somewhat cynical but some of the earlier road surfaces almost appear better than the state of our highways today! In addition to the vehicles themselves, visitors can learn more from an archive reading room as well as activities in the 65 acres of landscaped grounds.
Seeing as this collection was first set up under the auspices of the former British Leyland Group, many of the vehicles on show stem from their marques. This obviously means that many manufacturers are not represented although the Trust’s remit is gradually widening to encompass other brands. For some alternative cars, a visit to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire is suggested.
Knowing the very poor build quality of some cars in the 60s, 70s and 80s, it is highly unlikely that many have survived to tell their own story. Such models include the likes of Rootes Group products, many Fords and most Vauxhalls.
The Mini shown above is anything but what it seems! Customisation has been taken to extremes and the car is 30cm longer than a traditional Mini of its time. The extra length was to accommodate a new driveline and longitudinally mounted Ford crossflow engine. Most of the transmission is Ford taking parts from a Sierra and Cortinas. Unlike the original Mini, the car is rear wheel drive, with front suspension coming from a Vauxhall Viva HC and the rear from a Triumph Dolomite. Brakes are a mixture of Viva HC, Cortina and Escort. The front and rear wheels are different sizes and the interior plus dashboard were also customised from a variety of different sources. In all, the car is finished to a very high standard!
If you’re ever in the area and want to idle a few hours in nostalgia then this museum is definitely worth a visit!