Gaydon Spring Classic
Generally, Sunday is a day of rest. I therefore apologise to the neighbours I woke as I fired up the Lotus and set off on my way to join a group of fellow antisocial early-risers for the British Motor Museum’s ‘Spring Classic’.
Held at the newly rebranded ‘British Motor Museum’, the Spring Classic is a casual assembly of classic cars open to anything more than twenty years old. As an added bonus, drivers of complying cars qualified for discounted access to the newly refurbished museum.
Today, I’d be travelling with my friend and unit of measurement, Aaron. Being more than 6ft tall, Aaron bullies the laws of convention by squeezing surprisingly comfortably into his flamenco red Triumph Spitfire, but today the Elan’s low roof was having none of that. Fortunately, with no blustery motorway driving left to do and with the sun sitting high in the sky, the roof coming down was no problem at all.
A mere twenty minutes later and we’d reached Gaydon, greeted by smiling marshals who generously handed both of us a discount voucher and directed us towards the other cars parked up.
Whilst the Elan’s claim to classic fame is likely a debate for a dull and damp afternoon, the relaxed entry requirements meant it and a surprisingly wide variety of other cars were able to provide a decent show free of charge. With the turnout of cars and the weather, it almost seemed a shame to spend the best part of the day inside, but that’s exactly what we did as we wandered into the museum.
The museum’s new layout seems to borrow plenty from the motorshows which would have first hosted each of the cars on display in period.
Large circles play host to the cars sorted into categories instead of manufacturers. Sports cars, concepts, racing machines all sit in circles, with large, colourful banners telling you what’s where.
As soon as you’ve decided which group of cars you’d like to see first, it’s easy to find out why they’re there. Information on each car is printed on plaques adjacent to each car, the exceptions being those with screens showing films and vintage advertisements that tell the car’s story.
In an effort to make use of the large circular shape of the building, the museum has rethought its radial timeline feature, an exhibit that was once cordoned off to the public, but now serves as another way to guide visitors around the exhibition.
Travelling from start to finish, visitors are given an idea of the state of roads in years gone by, and the cars built to tackle them. On the adjacent wall, information about notable moments in history are displayed to give context to what was happening in the automotive world when these cars roamed the roads.
Moving towards the centre is an area that takes a closer look at the British motor industry, the people who created it, and using digital infographics and interactive videos, information on how the UK car manufacturing figures stack up, year by year.
Above sits a platform upon which more cars are found. Quite appropriately, this space is reserved for the prestige cars in the collection, presumably the museum’s way of marking the class of these cars, holding them aloft, above their more commonplace contemporaries.
Impressive though the new-look museum is, there’s more to it in the adjacent building. Here you’ll find the car collections of both the British Motor Heritage and Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trusts – some of which are works in progress, candidly displayed warts and all before the paying public.
Today, a small army of volunteers from both trusts were on hand with their encyclopaedic knowledge of the cars on display to answer any of our questions, telling us the stories behind their inclusion in the collection, their various claims to automotive fame and that no, we couldn’t ‘have a go’.
The two trusts are working to secure more space for the cars so that more of them can see the light of day, but until then what’s already on display is a vast improvement on what was previously accessible.
The first floor, occupied by the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust offers up motoring legends spanning one hundred years. Veteran tourers and regular competitors of the famous London-Brighton run share the floor with Jaguar’s iconic long-nose D-type, which itself sits within two paces of Mark Webber’s Jaguar R4 F1 car.
Although a little cluttered, it’s worth remembering that this isn’t a purpose built exhibition space, rather a workspace and storage unit whose doors have been opened to the public.
The same could be said of the floor above, housing the British Motor Heritage Trust’s ever growing collection of vehicles.
Here, the cars sit bumper to bumper with an aisle separating each cluster of classics. This is the final resting place for the British motor industry’s firsts and lasts, along with concepts and experimental machines, some of which were obsolete upon completion and destined to rust in peace away from prying eyes – not so today.
The oddities of British Leyland’s safety research programme can be seen here, along with other concepts such as 1958’s ‘Road Rover’, arguably the vehicle that set the ball rolling for the car that would eclipse it over a decade later — the Range Rover.
Hindsight’s a marvellous thing when looking back at the incendiary history of British Leyland in the 1970s. It’s therefore interesting to see the cars that almost made it, only to fall at the final, financial stumbling block. Re-styled, redeveloped and now resigned to the history books, they now they live out their days in the collection as a glimpse at what might have been.
But that’s where the museum and the heritage trusts come in. Without them, these very cars would just be footnotes in the annals of automotive history, lost but for an occasional mention from the anorak-cloaked elite.
Thankfully that’s not the case, and anyone with the most casual interest in cars can leave with more knowledge than they brought with them. An adult ticket costs fourteen pounds, granting you access to both the museum and the collections.
Of course, there are a good many reasons why today, so many of the cars inside weren’t among those parked outside — but there are many more that explain why these cars received more attention and adulation than anything that drove here for a flying visit, and why more people like us should go inside and take a look.
Want to see more?
Take a look at the photo slideshow below to see more pictures from the event, the museum, and the collections.