British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

1960 STANDARD ENSIGN (Part 18)

The engine runs and the car moves – a big day

Our last blog described how, for just a few seconds, the restoration volunteers finally managed to fire up the Ensign again for the first time in many years. However, because the car is located on the first floor of the Collections Centre in the public viewing area, any further running would have to be done in the workshop. So recently, following a final check over and the completion of the instrument wiring, the car was ready for its short decent to the workshop below.

The Ensign on its way down to the workshop in the vehicle lift

As the photos illustrate there was a good turnout of the restoration team, who were on hand to help or just watch this big test of their hard work. So, with space cleared in the workshop, connection to the exhaust extraction system in place and around two gallons of petrol added, everything was set up for the big moment. Whilst the team could smell petrol, they weren’t totally convinced it was finding its way via the pump into the carburettor and the engine initially lacked any sign of life. However, a quick check of the still exposed fuel tank and then a look at the workshop manual confirmed that the car’s reserve tank tap was in the off position!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

1960 STANDARD ENSIGN (Part 17)

Fitting the fiddly bits and the engine fires
Progress on the Ensign has been quite slow recently, due to the time involved reassembling all the fiddly bits on the car. Everything was photographed when the car was originally stripped down and this pictorial record, plus the extensive workshop manual we acquired have proved invaluable as the rebuild has progressed.

The fitting of things like door seals, lock mechanisms, wiring looms, brake pipes, steering column and engine ancillaries has taken many hours. Even what should have been the fairly straightforward job of refitting the front and rear windscreens was not without its problems. New rubber seals had to be sourced and then cut and the actual fitting process required a bit of expert help from the Museum’s workshop staff.

Fixing the door lock mechanism and inserting the chrome strip in the rubber window surround

However, the most encouraging news on the project for some time has been that the engine, now installed with all its ancillaries, was at last fired up recently for a short period. Just to recap the engine is a 1670cc OHV straight four, which we believe had done around 83,000 miles. The block had a slight crack, which we’ve had professionally repaired and new pistons and rings have been fitted. A new water pump was required and the original radiator was refurbished with a new core. Given that the car currently resides on the first floor of the Collections Centre a further running and testing of the engine won’t be possible until we can move it into the workshop. The fact that it appears to work OK, has been good for morale.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Volunteer Collections Centre guide Cameron Slater tells an interesting story relating to nostalgia and how one car in the collection brought back teenage memories.

One of the satisfying things about being a guide in the Collections Centre is seeing people’s reactions to cars that were once important to them. It’s the Nostalgia Factor and we see it all the time. “I passed my test in one of those” or “My dad used to have one of those” or “That was my very first car”. Now, although I can tick off four cars in the Museum that I have owned at some point in my classic car career, I was never particularly affected by the Nostalgia Factor because I’ve got loads of photographs of them and some very vivid memories of good and bad times with all of them.

Until, that is, I started putting together my tour for visitors to the Collections Centre. I usually begin on the first floor with the 1900 Daimler and contrast it with the 1950 Green Goddess Daimler which neatly illustrates 50 years of automotive development by the same company. It’s a good talking point and gets people thinking about the differences between the two Daimlers and about the way cars have developed over the years.

My next talking point is the 1912 Rover Landaulette which, at some stage, belonged to Lord Catto, who became Governor of the Bank of England in the 1940’s. So there’s a lot of mileage (sorry!) in this car in terms of the changing role of the motor car and the rise of the car as a part of business life and the distinction between the wealthy owner and the not-so-wealthy driver or chauffeur.
The 1912 Rover Landaulette is on the first floor of the Collections Centre
As I did some research into the history of the Rover, however, I discovered that it had been part of the Sword Collection. Now for those of you who think this is part of the Royal Armouries in Leeds, let me set you right. John Cuthill Sword, born in Airdrie in 1892, was a wealthy businessman in the West of Scotland who built up a transport empire which included Western SMT Buses, well known to all who travelled in Glasgow and the west of Scotland in the 40’s and 50’s and Midland and Scottish Air Ferries, which flew out of Renfrew airport and which, much later, became British Midland. Over a number of years, Sword amassed an outstanding collection of veteran and vintage cars, many with a Scottish connection. So there were Albions, Arroll-Johnsons, Beardmores and Argylls as well as Daimlers, Sunbeams and other famous and exotic marques.

Sword died in 1960 and part of the car collection was put up for auction in 1962, and this is where my nostalgic memories begin. I would be about 15 or 16 at the time and totally obsessed with cars of all kinds since childhood. My dear old Dad suggested that he would take me to East Balgray, the Sword estate in Ayrshire to the viewing day for the Sword Collection auction. Of course I jumped at the chance and we made our way into rural Ayrshire along with a large proportion of the petrol heads of all ages in Glasgow and the West of Scotland and places much further afield.

The cars were stored in barns and sheds and my recollection, at a distance of more than fifty years, is that most of them seemed to be in pretty poor condition. But this was a major sale because some of the cars were very rare and most of them had never been seen since Sword acquired them.

All this came back to me when I was looking into the history of the Collections Centre’s Rover Landaulette. And the Nostalgia Factor was not so much about the cars, but about my old Dad who’s been dead for more than twenty years now. He was often a bit distant and his job meant he spent a lot of time away from home, but on that weekend in 1962, he must have thought that I would enjoy seeing these marvellous old cars and that it would be a day out for just the two of us. It had the added effect that it brought us a bit closer together; not only did he start letting me drive his company car – which was a pretty risky thing for him to do (away from the public roads of course) - but when the time came, he got me through my driving test at the first attempt, aged 17.

And I never looked back – at least not until I discovered that the 1912 Rover Landaulette in the Collections Centre had been in the Sword Collection all those years ago.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Awards time for volunteers

It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since August 2012 when 53 volunteers were recruited, by the then Heritage Motor Centre, as part of their lottery funded campaign for the building of a new Collections Centre. During that time we have carried out full vehicle surveys of every vehicle in the collection and all relevant mechanical data, renovated cars and engines, attended shows and exhibitions and worked on an oral history project. Then in February 2016, we finally became guides at the new Collections Centre.

The class of 2012 in the motorsport section of the main Museum
Of the original volunteers, 27 remain actively involved at what is now the British Motor Museum, in some or all of the above activities. To recognise our five years of service the Museum, and its Managing Director Julie Tew, kindly invited us all to a reception recently where we were all thanked for our dedicated service and help. Twenty three of us were able to attend and were presented with a certificate and a five year service badge, followed by tea/coffee and a specially made, rather large chocolate cake.

It should be pointed out that since the Collections Centre opened in 2016 and with an increasing number of visitors, a lot more volunteers have now been recruited. We now number around 80, allowing four guides per day to be on duty for the full seven days of the week that the Museum is now open.

The cake, in all its glory is shown above, together with Julie Tew presenting Oliver White with his certificate and badge. Oliver incidentally has in fact been a volunteer for over 11 years, having started well before the current volunteer programme began. He’s a former BBC editor who spends a lot of his time in the sorting and labelling of film material for the archives department.

The awards news doesn’t end there though, as for the second year running, the British Motor Museum had two entries accepted for the annual West Midlands Museum Development Volunteer Awards. The ceremony was hosted by BBC presenter Sarah Bishop at the Birmingham Hippodrome on 19th September. Volunteer Mark Bradbury was nominated for the individual “Above and Beyond” category for his work in moving, collating and displaying the Museum’s artefacts, whilst Vince Hall was nominated in the “Collections” category for his work leading the oral history team and in particular for all the editing he has undertaken. Both finalists received recognition of their achievements from the judges with Vince declared the worthy winner of his category.

Above are some members of the oral history group alongside one of the recently installed audio consoles in the main Museum. Vince is in the pale blue jumper knealing at the front and his Winners’ tile plaque is shown on the right.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Great British Women in the car industry – a volunteer reports

During June, volunteer Ian Hicks, who played a large part in organising the Museum’s Symposium back in March, received an invitation along with Emma Rawlinson, Family and Lifelong Learning Officer, to attend Autocar’s celebration of Great British women in the car industry.  This is Ian’s account of the day;

This is the second year that Autocar magazine has recognised and celebrated the rising women stars of the British Motor Industry. The event, to inspire more women to consider a career in the industry we love, was hosted at the home of English Rugby, Twickenham stadium.

The panel on stage

The current imbalance between the numbers of men and women in the industry is dramatic.  By shining a spotlight on those who have both reached the top, and the industry's brightest rising stars, Autocar and the organisers hope more women will consider the rich, exciting careers that are open to them.

The day was really inspiring with talks and panel discussions with the great and the good from across the British Motor Industry. There were some interesting insights into development of the Land Rover Velar, and the Riversimple hydrogen powered car, a whole new concept in vehicle “ownership.”

It was inspiring to see how many women had achieved senior roles in the automotive industry, Emma and I had a really enthusiastic conversation with Helen Emsley, the Head of Design at General Motors in US. It was interesting to hear how they do all their styling in-house and have their own model-makers, carpenters and artists-in-clay to create and better control their vehicle styling.

Emma and Ian

Emma and I were able to network and build contacts for future events at the Museum. As ever, it was really gratifying to hear pretty well everyone had heard of British Motor Museum and were all, to a man (or maybe woman) really complimentary about what we do.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

1960 STANDARD ENSIGN (Part 16)

Assembly now well underway

It’s been some time since our last blog on the Ensign, which covered the decisions and processes regarding the vehicle painting. Whilst some areas of the bodywork will still require final attention, the rewarding job of assembling all the components, including the engine, is now well underway.
The saying goes, “every picture tells a story” and the following photos clearly illustrate some of the work the restoration volunteers have undertaken recently. It is perhaps worth reminding readers that this whole restoration project has been done by different teams of volunteers working on different days, and been coordinated by a log written up after each day.


The first of these photos shows the new door seals that were required being fitted. The second shows glue being applied to the roof interior prior to the sound proof padding being attached. At this stage the car was still attached to the swivel vehicle frame, which allowed the car to be worked on at various upside down angles.

These photos clearly show the engine bay before and after the engine was fitted. Again some new parts were required as can be seen, with a new brake servo on the left and new copper brake pipes in the centre.

With most of the wiring now installed in the car, things like the front and rear lights can be fitted

Following the installation of the engine, the gearbox has now been fitted as well. As you can see the interior wiring looms are now all in place, so one of the next tasks will be to fit the dashboard and all the instruments.

So, as this last photo shows, our Ensign is looking something like its original self again. There are still a lot of fiddly jobs to be done and a few minor problems to solve, but at long last the end is in sight.
Don’t forget when visiting the British Motor Museum you can see the Ensign being worked on. It’s situated on the first floor of the Collections Centre and the volunteers will be only too happy to chat to you and answer any queries you may have.

To read the full restoration story click here

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The British motor industry: what is the road ahead?

A Volunteers view

On 25 March, several volunteers attended a new Museum initiative, a one day series of lectures, open to the public, devoted to the future of the British Motor Industry.  Five well-respected and industry-leading professionals gave an overview of where the British car industry is today, how it got there and how they expected it to evolve over the coming years. Volunteer Ian Hicks played a significant role in organising the event as he described in our previous blog. Here he now gives his scenario on what that future might look like in 40 years time:

Spring 2057
Stephen gets into his L segment personal transport, ready for his drive into work. The journey will take him around 30 minutes each way, apparently, the same amount of time people used to commute to work 100 years ago. Whilst he prepares to drive off, he reflects that the 1990’s phenomenon of telecommuting and virtual offices never really materialised. People still needed to travel to their places of work, they still needed to interact with people and things.

His personal transport, the latest Changhong model, built in Coventry, is a single seater. Despite its battery and electric drives, it weighs in at a mere 150 kg and has a range of 150 miles before it needs recharging. This is perfect, since 98% of his journeys are 50 miles or less. On the occasions Stephen wants to take the family out for weekend trips or holidays, he contacts Changhong from his “connected car” and they arrange a family size electric vehicle as part of his “servicisation” package. There’s no longer the need to purchase or contract hire the largest vehicle to suit all needs.

Checking the controls of his personal transport, he selects the FOHOBO controller for his commute. This is a recent innovation, where he can select “Feet-Off” where the car controls speed and braking only; or “Hands-Off” where the car controls position and direction or “Brain-Off” where the car operates in fully autonomous mode.

On his way to the Motor Museum, where he is curator, the speed of his car is controlled by smart loops set into the road, relaying speed information to the car’s controller. Despite more autonomy in controlling cars, there are still strict speed limits in place, mainly to protect pedestrians, cyclists and those drivers still not using fully autonomous cars. Even though cars have been in use in Britain for over 150 years, there’s only been one four-year period, 1930 to 1934 when drivers and their cars have not had to comply with speed limits.  

Stephen contemplates his latest acquisitions for the Museum’s collection; it’s a 2025 Jaguar G type, a fully-electric vehicle and the last model ever produced at Castle Bromwich. The car is in lovely condition, and the crew at the museum will be able to maintain the mechanical components and even the electric drives.  However, the software controllers for the FOHOBO and environment connectivity are no longer made and with over 10 million lines of software are beyond the skills of his support crew and challenge even the most dedicated software developers, who are a dying breed these days.

Stephen Laing (Curator) far left and the panel of leading industry experts

Tata were one of the winners in the so-called Brexit impacts when UK distanced itself from the European car market.  The Brexit negotiations resulted in high tariffs imposed on UK produced cars being sold in Europe but strong demand in the other regions of the globe meant that the Jaguar brand was able to sustain its market position. It was a pity about Europe, but in common with other manufacturers, Tata needed to produce vehicles that complied with global specifications, producing cars with regional variations meeting local specifications wasn’t good business. The success of Tata and others with UK manufacture was to be applauded, but UK was still only the 13th largest producer in the world…. Exactly the same position as it occupied in 2017.

As he arrived at the Museum, he thought back to something he’d read recently in the Museum archives. Back in March 2017, a British MP, Sir Greg Knight had advised Museum attendees that now’s the time to buy and own a classic. How prophetic Sir Greg was. Since then legislation, environmental concerns and the wholesale replacement of petrol stations with supermarket charging points meant that internal combustion cars were no longer viable, even on the shortest journeys. Of the 500 cars in the collection, this meant that over 350 were genuinely just museum pieces……. But that didn’t seem to stop the public being really interested in this transport of yesteryear.