Above: childhood memories come alive at Heritage Motor Centre
How many times have we ignored the brown signs on the M40 to the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon, Warwickshire? More than I can remember. Yet today we called in for the first time and were hugely impressed by the museum that pays homage to Britain’s car heritage.
Take my photo above. Apart from vans from Royal Mail and Post Office Telephones (the business that later became BT) vans, it includes three cars my parents owned: an Austin 1800 (lovely car), Austin Princess (an awful creation – more later) and an Austin Metro, the car that showed British Leyland under Michael Edwardes might just have a future after the industrial carnage of the Red Robbo years. (Derek Robinson was a trade union shop steward who became notorious for causing an alleged £200m in lost production in an era when unions didn’t have to call strike ballots before calling workers out on strike.)
Dad routinely bought British until he bought the Princess. It was a shocker. The problems started when it was brand new. The hub caps sprang off when he was driving around Cardiff, and the Howells BL dealers had no idea why. A couple of years later, the car burst into flames as Dad was driving my 89 year old Nan home from Wiltshire after celebrating her birthday with my sister. Nan thought it was a great adventure, but Dad never bought another car from BL or Rover.
But the Gaydon museum is much more than a tribute to the dark days of British car making. It covers the whole history of our motor industry, including a recent gorgeous Range Rover concept car.
Owen (above) loved wandering around the museum. Here he’s inspecting one of his grandfather’s first cars, the Austin Seven. I didn’t know until today that BMW’s first car, the BMW Dixi, was a licensed version of the Austin Seven.
The Heritage Motor Centre is well worth a visit. It has an excellent cafe, Junction 12, and a cinema and well stocked shop. We’ll follow those brown signs more often in future!