I’ve lost count of the number of times the following phone conversation has taken place: “Hi Ken, the wife and I are off to England and we’d like to know where to go and what to see, automobile-wise.” “When are you going?” I usually ask. “Thursday,” is the reply, this conversation taking place the previous Monday!
So, to avoid conversations such as this coming up to the Millennium, if you are going to the UK in 1999 (or even 2000 for that matter), here are a few places and events you might wish to build into your itinerary. There’s so much to see and do in the UK that it’s impossible to take everything in, unless you go and live there for a couple of years. But at least you can go and see the British try to merge into the European scene with former enemies of the last thousand years!
It’s a beautiful place. Quaint is the word most Americans use to describe the British Isles, a place full of history and pageantry, tranquility and lovely motor cars!
Many of these cars are housed in museums, but many of them are brought out for special runs such as the London to Brighton. In case you are going across the Atlantic, here are a few suggestions on where to visit. This is by no means a complete listing, but might give you some ideas.
First, a visit to the HERITAGE MOTOR CENTER is a must for any enthusiast interested in British automotive history. A huge permanent display includes 35 MGs from Old Number One to the first production MGF. All marques rated into the Rover Group, including Austin-Healey, Triumph, Mini, Morris, Riley, Land Rover, and Range Rover are featured in period backgrounds. Easily reached on the motorway some 90 miles north of London, the museum is open daily and is situated on Banbury Road in Gaydon, Warwickshire. (Pronounced Worrickshire!) Telephone 011-44-1926-64118. Costs about 10 bucks to get in, and well worth it!
A little-known (in the USA) collection is the HAYNES MOTOR MUSEUM. This is an offshoot of the famous Haynes Publishing Company that produces those wonderfully detailed manuals for your car. The museum displays a wide range of automobiles made between 1900 and 1990, including many exotic vehicles. Lots of MGs, from an M-Type to an MGB. Haynes is well down in the west country at Sparkford, near Yeovil, in Somerset. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the Royal Navy’s collection of aircraft is close by. An $8 entrance fee is charged and the collection is open daily. Telephone 011-44-1963-440804.
Quite a few years ago, I was offered a PR job by Tom Wheatcroft, who has amassed the world’s largest collection of single-seater Grand Prix racing cars at his DONINGTON GRAND PRIX COLLECTION. I often wonder what would have happened if I taken that position at the museum which is quite close to Derby in the Midlands. (My initial interview, by the way, was conducted in the center of the race circuit in Tom’s Rolls Royce, but that’s another story!) Here at Donington Park, on some weekends you can witness English clubman sports car racing at its best on the adjacent track. Also, during the week, one or other of the Formula One teams can usually be found testing their latest models. This venue is a straight shot north up the Ml motorway from London, which lies some 120 miles south. Cost is around $11 to enter, and the phone number is 011-44-1332-811027.
No visit to England for the auto enthusiast would be complete without a visit to the NATIONAL MOTOR MUSEUM located at historic Beaulieu (near Southampton) on England’s south coast. Apart from the museum itself, the estate of Lord Montague of Beaulieu also possesses an abbey, palace house, beautiful gardens, and much more. The huge collection of cars, buses, trucks, record breakers, and hundreds of motoring artifacts will take you a whole day to get round! The reference library alone is worth another day in itself. Nearby is Bucklers Hard, where the wooden warships were built for Drake, Nelson, and other noted British seafarers. Costing around $12 and easily reached by the M27 motorway, a telephone call to 011-44-1590-612345 will bring more information.
BROOKLANDS is a name that conjures up images of pre-war racing round the famous banking, some of which can still be seen. A museum here commemorates most of these feats, and there’s usually an event every weekend for both cars and flying displays. Hampton Court and Wesley Gardens are close by. The restored Clubhouse is unique and contains a land speed record exhibition. Located in Weybridge, Surrey, just outside London, Brooklands can be reached by taking the M25 motorway, exiting at Junction 10. $9 will bring you all the nostalgia you could want! Telephone 011-441932-857381.
Back up to the Midlands now and on to the MIDLAND MOTOR MUSEUM at Bridgenorth in Shropshire. Nearly 100 sports cars dating from 1925 are featured, and for railway enthusiasts, the Severn Valley Steam Railway is preserved close by. I started my RAF career at Bridgenorth, but there wasn’t a museum there then, only spit and polish! Call 011-44-1746-762-992. It only costs about 6 bucks to get in!
If you headed some 10 miles east from Bridgenorth to Coventry, you would fall over the MUSEUM OF BRITISH ROAD TRANSPORT in Hales Lane of that famous city. Hard by Coventry Cathedral, this collection houses nearly 200 cars, about 75 motorcycles, and 200 bicycles. (Our forefathers’ transport!) Highlights are Coventry’s contribution to British motoring history, with Alvis, Daimler, Hilhnan, Singer, and of course, Jaguar all being featured! There are road cars, racing cars, and a superb display of buses. All this plus special attractions such as the Coventry Blitz Experience and Thrust 2 Sight and Sound Spectacle. At last word, this museum had free entrance for a trial period, but check before going if you’re short of cash! Telephone 011-44-1203-832425.
Heading up into the Lake District? Then do visit the LAKELAND MOTOR MUSEUM, at Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. Nearly 200 vehicles include several MGs and children’s pedal cars, plus special features on Sir Malcolm Campbell and others. Again, just off the M6 Motorway 200 miles north of London. Entrance prices vary, but are not expensive. Call them at 011-44-15395-58509.
Finally, back in London (and especially if you are taking the kids!) be sure to visit the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY in South Kensington. Seven floors and 40 galleries filled with inventions and technology that made Britain great! Most of the vehicles owned by the museum are down at a satellite location in Wroughton, near Swindon, but are scheduled to return in the year 2000. Entrance fee is around 10 dollars and the telephone number is 011-44-171-938-9770.
You might also consider visiting one of the seven Moss International locations situated around the UK while you are there.
In this feature I’ve tried to give you some of the major venues with a motoring slant, but there are literally hundreds of smaller museums in the United Kingdom which cater to car enthusiasts. To list them would take a whole issue of Moss Motoring. However, if you require further information, many of the museums are on the Internet.
In our next issue, we’ll try to bring you more of what to see and where to go in England and Scotland, including an update on what to see in Abingdon in 1999!