In the early 1970s, the newly formed British Leyland decided to find out just how many old vehicles it had secreted around the many companies and factories that came under its umbrella. Nearly one hundred cycles, cars and commercial vehicles were discovered, some from the very earliest days of the motor industry in the UK.
In 1975, Leyland Historic Vehicles was formed to co-ordinate and maintain the fleet of historic vehicles that were part of the British Leyland family. It was a couple of years before the collection was able to be seen together by the public; with the help of the late Tom Wheatcroft a small display was put on display at his Donington Park racing circuit.
In 1981 about 100 cars from the collection – now known as BL Heritage – were transferred to a new location at 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 a new museum in Coventry.
The collection soon passed two hundred vehicles and it was obvious that a new museum was required. With help from Rover Group, in 1993 the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon was opened, enabling many more of the cars in the collection to be put on display.
When the Rover Group was broken up in 2000, the Trust decided that it should expand its remit to all of the motor industry in Britain, not just to those companies that had been part of British Leyland. The Trust undertook a comprehensive review of the collection, deciding to dispose of some the cars it owned, in particular duplicates that it had acquired over the years. This enabled it to expand the range of manufacturers it represented, by taking on new models for the museum.
Today, the car collection is nearly 300 strong. It takes in smaller manufacturers such as Morgan, via niche producers such as Land Rover, to the mainstream producers such as Austin and Morris. The Trust also works closely with the heritage arms of Britain’s major car concerns, including Ford, Jaguar and Vauxhall, to bring some of their historic vehicles to the museum for visitors to enjoy.