Spent a riveting morning at Gaydon on Saturday and came away reassured that the place remains in safe hands. Last year, it seemed as though the museum’s curators (Uncle Henry) had decided that it was time to introduce cars from other manufacturers at the expense of BMC>Rover’s. The highly publicised auction of some of the museum’s exhibits was a worrying sign – would some of BMC>Rover’s priceless artefacts disappear for good?
In the end, most of the cars auctioned off ended up in safe hands, and the anticipated outward flow of cars from Gaydon didn’t happen. Returning to the museum for the first time since the sale was an interesting experience: for sure, there were fewer BMC>Rover (hardly noticeable though) cars in the exhibition hall, and Jaguars have made a welcome return. There is also a Ford GT40 as well as a brace of Aston Martins. Is this a bad thing? Of course not: it is easy to forget that although the place was set-up by Rover in the early 1990s in order to show off its collection (formerly based at Syon Park), it was never (as far as I can recall) called the “Rover Heritage Centre”.
Of course, it is easy to rue what has happened in recent years: Gaydon’s technology centre was originally rubber-stamped by Sir Michael Edwardes, it was expanded by The Rover Group in the early 1990s to house the Heritage Centre, and then after that, BMW bankrolled the expansion of the Gaydon Technology centre to become the nerve centre of the entire operation, centralizing management, design and engineering under one roof. Now, some years later, Heritage is owned by Ford, who also own the Technology centre, basing Land Rover and Aston Martin there. So, everything is much the same (even the staff of the museum seem to be old Rover hands), except Rover owns none of it anymore…
Be that as it may, the Heritage Motor Centre still displays a wealth of interesting BMC>Rover cars, and I cannot imagine for a moment that it will be disposing of any of the historically significant exhibits any time soon. If it did, line me up for the SD1 estate.
One of the most innocuous exhibits there, proved to be highly fascinating for me, and an indicator of perhaps, how bloated and excessive contemporary cars are getting. Yes, the car that seemed to get my guest, Roy Axe, and my juices flowing was nothing more exotic than a 1976 base-spec Ford Fiesta in silver. There was a purity of Form with this car that was quite simply, charming. It was tiny, by today’s standards, and yet, it looked “right”. There was no trace of fat anywhere on this car, and every feature included had a function. The fact that it was also extremely stylish, simply added to its appeal. Compared with this, the similarly coloured 1980 miniMetro, looked slightly contrived and awkard, and as Axe reminded me, one of the problems of this car was that its wheels were pinched in, and it looked over-bodied. Only a small issue, but it had a big bearing on overall perception of the car.
Still, both cars served to remind us yet again, just how much legislation and customer demands have forced up the size of all our cars. Of course, we have never had it so good in real terms, but it doesn’t stop one admiring the minimalism of older cars…
So, visit the Heritage Centre, and don’t get angry over the invasion of Ford’s cars – just enjoy the additonal talking points provided by a manufacturer, which had an entirely different perspective.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
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