Heritage Motor centre’s coming of age

Posted on May 2nd, 2014 by GEM Motoring Assist

museumEvidenced, by the latest rash of television programmes, devoted to the restoration, driving and enjoyment of classic cars, it is obvious that older vehicles are not just the preserve of elderly men muttering into their bushy beards about big-end bearing tolerances and pre-war paint colour codes, to the almost instantaneous boredom of anyone else within earshot.

Appealing to a close-knit minority alone has never been the remit of the Heritage Motor Centre, which celebrated its 21st birthday on May Day, since its substantial Art Deco-style museum site was inaugurated on the former RAF base at Gaydon, Warwickshire. Rising from the ashes of BL Heritage, the British Motor Heritage Industry Trust (BMHIT) invited local dignitaries, the media and a wide selection of car clubs, volunteers and selected members of the public, to celebrate the milestone.

Those visitors were not only shown around the substantial exhibits, archives, maintenance and restoration workshops, plus the chance to sample the excellent catering (which is no longer outsourced and is all the better for it, with not one, over-priced ‘botulism burger’ in sight), but they also had the opportunity to drive, or ride, in 21 specially-selected cars for the occasion. These included the Ford Thunderbird-based full-sized recreation of FAB1, the very first Morris Minor and Land Rover, various pre-and-post British Leyland prototypes and racers, including a Metro 6R4, an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire and a 1907 Rover 20hp Tourer.


This ‘Ride and Drive’ element captured precisely the ethos of the entire museum, which is to preserve its historic collection, while making them accessible to be enjoyed. Several years of planning has led to a £4m Museum Collections Centre Project, an ambitious construction, which will be positioned in front of the main building, to house many other historic vehicles that are locked away currently in two disused aircraft hangers, away from the public gaze. Although building work is due to start in the summer, Peter Mitchell OBE, who was the Managing Director of the BMHIT and is now its Founder Patron, started proceedings officially, by cutting the first sod.

When it opens next June, the brand-new, two-storey building (an architect’s drawing of which is pictured) will permit the trust to build upon its educational remit, not only in terms of British car manufacturing history but also to spread the passion for engineering, particularly amid the younger generation. One of the ways that this will be achieved, is to open-up the workshop to visitors, so that repair, maintenance and restoration work can be viewed at all times, at a safe distance, of course.

We hope to report on the new building, when it opens next year. Until then, the Trust is celebrating its 21st anniversary, with a host of events throughout 2014, one of which is the Best of British Transport Festival, scheduled for the 25th May. Although any enthusiast would be in his, or her, element, family members, of all ages, should be able easily to immerse themselves in the many goings-on for a full day, regardless of what weather conditions an early British summer’s day might bring.