About the Heritage Motor Centre
The Heritage Motor Centre is home to the world’s largest collection of British Cars; it boasts nearly 300 cars in its collection which span the classic, vintage and veteran eras and is a mecca for car enthusiasts. The Heritage Motor Centre is situated in Gaydon, Warwickshire, just off junction 12 of the M40. The building itself is a spectacular piece of architecture with an art deco design, and stands proudly in a beautifully landscaped setting of 65 acres, which rolls out onto the Warwickshire countryside.
The Heritage Motor Centre opened in 1993 and it began as the amalgamation of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust’s preserved car collection, which was previously split between offices in Studley in Warwickshire and a museum in Syon Park in London. The Trust decided that the car collection and artefacts were outgrowing its two locations and a dedicated purpose-built residence was needed to give the collection pride of place and open for public viewing. It was the Trust’s mission to keep the memory of the British motor industry alive and to tell its story to all, starting from the beginning of the 20th Century to present day.
More than a Museum…
The Heritage Motor Centre is known for having one of the top 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, 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 Centre to be discovered. This is a museum with a difference, unique and versatile; the Heritage Motor Centre offers something for everyone, even those not so passionate about cars!
The Creation of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
In 1968 the British Leyland Motor Corporation was created by a merger which brought together most of the surviving British Motor manufacturers. Many individual companies owned a number of old vehicles which had been kept for historic or publicity purposes so ‘Leyland Historic Vehicles’ was set up in 1975 to look after them all. The department soon began to accumulate historic documents and photographs and by 1979 had become a self-funding operation, renamed BL Heritage Ltd. By 1983 the archive and vehicle collections had grown to the point where it was decided to establish an independent charitable trust to safeguard them. This was how the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust came into being, supported, but not owned, by British Leyland which changed its name to Rover Group in 1986.
As the seed sown by Leyland Historic Vehicles matured into a Trust, it outgrew its accommodation at the Longbridge factory. In 1978 the archive collections and vehicle workshop moved to Studley Castle which British Leyland had acquired in the 1970s as a conference and training facility. Studley had formerly been an agricultural college and thus our documents and reserve vehicles were housed in rather charmingly named buildings such as the ‘coach house’ and the ‘milking parlour’, but it was not possible to bring the public onto this site. Some vehicles had been put on display at Donington Park, but at the end of 1980 a larger selection moved to a small museum in the grounds of Syon Park in London. The rest of the collection, together with the archive, were stored at Studley in Warwickshire. In 1983 the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust was formed to secure the collection for the Nation. Also in that year the British Commercial Vehicle Museum was opened in Leyland, a new museum dedicated to showing the trucks and buses from the collection. A little later, when Ford acquired Jaguar, the Jaguar and Daimler vehicles were separated and managed by the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, eventually in the new visitor centre at the Jaguar Browns Lane site in Coventry.
A New Home at the Heritage Motor Centre
The collection soon passed two hundred vehicles and it was obvious this situation was clearly unsatisfactory for what was now a collection of national importance. Rover Group decided to fund a purpose-built facility to bring together the vehicle and archive collections and provide much improved public access. The Heritage Motor Centre, opened in 1993, was boldly designed in Art Deco style by Temple Cox Nicholls and is a stunning piece of architecture in its own right. The building, and its 65 acres of landscaped grounds in the Warwickshire countryside, have changed ownership a number of times since then, but the collections have remained the property of an independent Charitable Trust throughout.
In 2006 the Heritage Motor Centre was awarded a Heritage Lottery grant of £1.3 million pounds, which allowed the museum to offer a whole new experience to its visitors. Closed for 5 months of building work, the museum was officially re-opened in September 2007 by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, who was fascinated and impressed with the new exhibitions.
“We carried out research with the public to find out what they wanted to see in a museum” said project director Tim Bryan. “The results showed that visitors wanted to learn more of what has been hidden away and they wanted to know how cars work under the skin”
This was the inspiration which began the 5 month project to give the public a museum that aimed to reach their expectations and more. The result was a number of new exhibitions which are educational and entertaining whether you are a car enthusiast or not!
The most dramatic transformation of the re-development is a new mezzanine floor, which forms a quarter section of the museum, displaying some of the most iconic cars from British motoring history such as the First Mini and Jaguar E-Type. Panoramic views of the car collection can be enjoyed, enabling the impressive car collection to be viewed from new and interesting angles.
Guardians of the Nation’s History
Welcoming people to enjoy and learn about the history of the motor industry has always been the prime objective of the Heritage Motor Centre, which incorporates not just an exhibition hall, a vehicle restoration workshop and an archive reading room, but also a lively education service. Extensive conference facilities financially support the work of the museum and archive activities and the public can also enjoy a Land Rover Experience and children’s go-kart track on their day out.
The Vehicle Collection
As the motor industry has changed so has the Trust. The original vehicle collection included many important British badges such as Austin, Morris, Mini, MG, Wolseley, Riley, Triumph, Rover and Land Rover. The remit has now been widened to encompass names such as Aston Martin, Bentley, Morgan, Vauxhall and Ford, along with companies such as Toyota and Honda who manufacture here in the UK. Around 160 of our approximately 300 vehicles are on display in the exhibition hall.
The Archive Collections
The archives encompass thousands of business, sales and technical documents, almost a million negatives and miles of moving film, all of which chart the course of the British Motor Industry from the 1900s right up to present day. Alongside the records of the 97 companies which once made up British Leyland, there are comprehensive collections relating to important companies such as Lucas Industries and Aston Martin and the personal papers of industry giants such as Lord Austin, Lord Nuffield and Sir Alec Issigonis. The Nick Baldwin Collection, which was one of the most important motor industry archives in private hands, was acquired in 2005 with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The archive store was completely refurbished in 2008 to ensure the highest standards of care for these priceless collections.
Vehicle Restoration and Workshop
The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust has five full time Restoration Technicians, who are responsible for the restoration, maintenance and preparation of vehicles from the Trust’s collection. The majority of the vehicles are in working order and are regular participants in events such as the Shakespeare Run and the Veteran Car Club London to Brighton Run.
Although the Workshop concentrates on maintaining the historic vehicle collection, larger restoration projects are also undertaken entirely by the Trust’s staff. The 1965 Rover-BRM Le Mans racing car, powered by a gas turbine and driven by Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart, was repainted to the original specification. The car was refinished in the original BRM dark green and the race transfers accurate to the time applied. Information about the car’s 1965 condition had been researched from the Trust’s archive. Following a minor mechanical assessment, the restored car made its debut at the 1999 Goodwood Festival of Speed. Also, the first production Morris Mini-Minor received a full mechanical overhaul. This car had been continuously used for PR purposes before becoming part of the Trust’s collection in the 1970’s. It was felt that this iconic vehicle would benefit from a full engine rebuild, replacing worn parts and removing non-standard running repairs. The opportunity was taken for refurbishment of the engine bay at the same time. Other work in progress includes the complete rebuild of an early Mini, refurbishment of an Austin J40 pedal car and the restoration of a 1936 Rover 14hp Streamline, all from the Trust’s collection.