British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

Monday, 8 July 2019

Into the Woodies

Collections Centre volunteer and guide Cameron Slater, writes another fascinating blog with a family connection.

There are many surprises in being a volunteer at the Collections Centre of the British Motor Museum – visitors with amazing stories, visitors with unexpected cars, visitors from faraway places, and so on,  but let me tell you about one very big surprise that, for me, was much closer to home.

I was browsing the bookshop section of the Museum shop one day and came across a copy of Alvis Cars 1946-1967 The Post War Years by John Fox (Amberley Publishing 2016). I already owned John Price Williams’ book of almost the same title, but on the basis that you can never have too much of a good thing, I bought the Fox book too. I have always had a soft spot for Alvis cars since I bought my first one  -  a 1959 TD 21 -  in 1975 for £250. Since then I have owned a 1964 TE 21 and a 1937 12/70 Saloon.     

The Fox book is an interesting collection of pictures of all the cars Alvis produced between 1946 and the end of their interest in car production in 1967. Now, despite my fascination with Alvis cars, there’s one model I’ve never been interested in – the TA14 - which I’ve always thought was a fairly dull car. However, its Utility derivative, the Shooting Brake - the Woodie - has always been a source of amazement that so many different styles could evolve around one very elderly chassis design.        

So as I flicked through the TA14 section of the book and came to the two pages devoted to the Shooting Brake, I was suddenly struck by the name ‘Gaze’ in the accompanying text. This is my wife’s family name and it’s quite an unusual one and here it was in reference to pictures of two TA14 Woodies with bodies by Gaze. So that’s what started my hunt through the Woodies, my wife’s family history and the history of the TA14.

William H Gaze, the son of a master carpenter, founded the firm of building contractors, W.H. Gaze & Sons, in 1879 in Kingston on Thames. He was my wife’s great grandfather. The business thrived and, according to Gaze’s obituary in The Surrey Comet in 1934, the firm was responsible for the appearance of much of the centre of Kingston. Their first major contract was for St Luke’s church with the accompanying vicarage and school. In 1902 the company built the Kingston Public Library, which was opened by the Scots-Canadian philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. As the business grew, it moved into bigger and bigger premises in the town and by the time of William’s death in 1934, W.H. Gaze & Sons employed over a thousand men and had a weekly wages bill of around £6,000. 

Over the years the firm developed other interests such as furniture-making and carpentry but their most famous legacy is the Gaze All-Weather, Non-Attention Hard Tennis Court. This was patented by Gaze and examples of these tennis courts were installed in many of the large properties of the wealthy in and around Kingston and by various municipal authorities. Indeed, the Corporation of Torquay invested in 21 Gaze Hard Courts on which the Davis Cup of 1937 was played.  And when my wife, Jeanne, first attended The Weald School in Billingshurst, she was amazed and delighted to see the W.H. Gaze logo on the net supports of the school tennis courts. The logo is a stylised version of an Egyptian hieroglyph in the shape of a gazelle.

So far, so fascinating and I’m grateful to my wife’s sister, Lynne, for giving me access to her researches into the family history. But she didn’t know about the Alvis connection. Now, by 1947 the W.H. Gaze company must have been highly skilled in wooden construction of all kinds. As builders, they would install wooden windows, doors, staircases, panelling and a host of other features of house building. In 1943 all their carpenters were diverted into war work, building wooden landing craft for the D Day invasion the following year and, rather gruesomely, coffins, presumably for the inevitable fatalities of the invasion.

After the war, therefore, it would have been, I guess, another useful business opportunity to use the skills of their carpenters to build wooden bodies on the chassis of established vehicle manufacturers. In the immediate post-war period, the wooden-bodied shooting brake or utility was a popular body style since car manufacturers were bedevilled by the shortage of steel. A wooden body, therefore, made a lot of sense to both manufacturers and buyers because Woodies were classified as commercial, so buyers did not have to pay quite high levels of purchase tax which were imposed on new cars at this time.  In addition to Alvis, manufacturers such as Allard, Lea Francis, Austin and Morris all delivered chassis to coachbuilding and other companies to be turned into Woodies. The main museum at Gaydon has a very well preserved Allard P2 Woodie, which was originally part of the James Hull collection. The difference with this particular model is that the body was built by the Allard company itself.
So while W.H. Gaze & Sons was not an established coachbuilder, it did have a pool of highly skilled and experienced carpenters who would have been able to turn their hands to any kind of wooden construction. Now there was no TA14 Shooting Brake built at the Alvis factory in Holyhead Road in Coventry, so all of them – and they were very popular – would have been built by outside firms. The chassis were delivered already fitted with front bulkhead, dashboard and driver and front passenger seats which were trimmed in leather in contrast to the utilitarian accommodation of the rest of the car.

It is thought that somewhere around 500 TA14 chassis were delivered to outside coachbuilders. It is not known how many bodies Gaze built on the TA14 chassis, but Colin Peck in his book British Woodies from the 1920’s to the 1950’s (Veloce Publishing 2008) believes that the number was ‘significant’ and that the firm also built bodies for Lea Francis.

However, Gaze did not sell or market the cars under their own name and it is more than likely that most of the bodies were ordered by Alvis distributors such as Brooklands of Bond Street, Vincents of Reading and Reliance Garage of Norwich. These companies would then brand the cars with their own logo suggesting that they were the constructors and thus contributing to the situation where W.H. Gaze is almost unknown as a manufacturer of motor car bodies.         

There were, of course, a number of well-known coachbuilders who used the TA14 chassis as the basis for their work. The standard saloon was bodied by Mulliners of Birmingham who also produced a drophead version. Another drophead version was built by Tickford of Newport Pagnell. Richard Meade of Dorridge also produced a drophead as did Carbodies of Coventry. There was a very attractive two-door coupe version by Duncan of North Walsham, Norfolk and A.P. Metalcraft of Coventry produced the body for the TB14 which was the two seater, open-top, sporting body on the TA14 chassis.

I began by saying that I thought the TA14 was a dull motor car. Now, I’m not so sure, especially since I’ve discovered that I’ve married into the family who helped make the Alvis TA14 the most popular Woodie of its day.

And here’s another thing: the man who persuaded the Earl of March to turn the disused airfield at Goodwood into a motor racing circuit was called Tony Gaze – but that’s another story.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

1960 STANDARD ENSIGN (Part 19)

The final and time consuming work towards completion

It’s been some time since our last blog on the Ensign, as progress with some of the final tasks has been slow. This relates to three main areas; preparing and fitting the interior trim, investigating and fixing oil and water leaks and attending to a long snagging list, prior to the car’s MOT test.
The trim fitting cannot be rushed and of course this has to be done in the right order. Items such as the dashboard, glove box, courtesy lights and switches, door window winder mechanisms, locks and springs take time to fix and adjust. Then there are the door cards and cappings to fit, together with all the handles, levers and locks. New red carpet and underlay were acquired for the boot and cabin floor. The cutting and fitting took a lot of time and patience, but it really started to transform the look of the interior. 

Monday, 25 February 2019

Come and join us – the Museum requires more volunteer guides

Since the refurbishment of the British Motor Museum and the opening of the Collections Centre just over 2 years ago there’s been a large increase in visitor numbers. The Museum has also been the recipient of a number of awards, the latest being the prestigious VisitEngland Visitor Attraction Welcome Accolade. As a result the Museum is in need of more volunteers, particularly at weekends, to help in providing and maintaining a great customer experience in the Collections Centre.

So, if you’d like to join our volunteer team and have the time to help us between 11am and 4pm on a Saturday or Sunday, then our Volunteer Coordinator, Sonja Dosanjh would love to hear from you.
The role is about offering a warm and friendly welcome, giving visitors an experience they will want to repeat. You can bring the history of the collection to life for people of all ages.
Some of the volunteer team at a recent gathering

Throughout the year, particularly during the summer months, the Museum site becomes the home to many types of external events, shows, car club meets etc., which really gives a buzz to the whole place, not normally experienced in the week.

Below are three quotes from weekend volunteers which sum up the experience very well:-

Volunteering at the weekends is incredibly rewarding; it is great to see how people react to the vehicles in the collection.  For older visitors it's a trip down memory lane and a conversation that usually starts – “Have you got a..." and ends with a happy anecdote or two from the visitor.  There's a real sense of job satisfaction from knowing that you've enhanced someone's trip to the museum.

Volunteering at the British Motor Museum is a really rewarding and fun experience. Engaging with visitors about cars they have owned, helped build or wanted since their childhood is a fantastic way to hear new stories and share your own knowledge of the amazing vehicles and their history.

Volunteering at the Museum has introduced me to new people, enabled me to learn new knowledge and skills and above all, share my passion for the unique collection we have at the British Motor Museum. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending volunteering in the Collections Centre - here, we look after and share with our visitors some real gems in the collection, enhancing their experience by sharing knowledge and inspiring younger visitors through some of the awesome vehicles housed within its walls. 

So, if you’d like to know more, then do contact Sonja by email at or give her a call on 01926 927820 or check our website.

Monday, 12 November 2018

The Little Big One

Volunteer and Collections Centre Guide Cameron Slater writes yet another fascinating blog, this time reflecting on the challenge of getting his 1955 MG back on the road.

As you may have seen on the Museum’s Facebook pages, my 1955 MG Magnette ZA made its maiden voyage under my ownership from my home in Stratford upon Avon to the Museum for my Tuesday shift at the Collections Centre. Now this is no big deal, you might say, since it’s a round trip of only about 30 miles and people bring classic cars to the Museum all the time. Well, you’d be right, I suppose, but for me it was a momentous occasion and one of the things that made it so was the reaction I got from Sonja (our volunteer coordinator) and my colleagues on the day, John Saunders and Dennis Allen. They were hugely enthusiastic about the arrival - at long last – of my car, because I’d been boring them with tales of its progress (or lack of it) for about the past year or so.

Cameron with his MG Magnette ZA outside the Collections Centre

And I think this illustrates one of the joys of working in the Collections Centre as a volunteer; you can always count on colleagues to understand what you’ve gone through to get your ’restoration project’ back on the road, to give freely of their knowledge and experience of old cars and how to fix them; and you can always count on them to give you a hard time when they think you’ve done something really stupid!

I bought the MG last year in late August as a restoration project. Despite this, it looked quite good from about ten feet away and it started, ran and stopped, and although the interior was pretty ropey, we’re not talking basket case here. However, it was clear that I had some work to do.

Now, on the Time Road in the main museum there is a very fine ZB Magnette. It’s not so very different from the ZA so a close examination of its beautiful interior, it’s more or less flawless bodywork and its original engine acted as an incentive towards getting some work done on my new acquisition and getting it back on the road. And that’s another benefit of working at BMM – you can see some of the best examples of particular models which then give you an ideal to work towards.

The MG Magnette ZA was introduced in 1954 but was not liked by your typical MG enthusiast because it used the monocoque body shell from the 1952 Wolseley 4/44. It did, however, have a twin S.U. carburettor engine, a more luxurious interior and rather more energetic performance than the Wolseley. The designer was Gerald Palmer and you can also clearly see his influence on the BMC cars of this period in the much bigger Wolseley 6/90 (1954) and the Riley Pathfinder (1953). The ZB Magnette was introduced in 1956 with a slightly more powerful engine and minor changes to the exterior chrome work and this is the model you will see on the Time Road in the main museum. MG also offered the Varitone version of the ZB which had a larger, wrap-round rear screen and two-tone paint combinations.

The Museum’s MG Magnette ZB on the Time Road

‘Magnette’ was an old-established name for MG. It started with the Magna in 1931 which was a very respectable sporting two seater in its day which went on to carry a number of body styles. ‘Magna’ is Latin for ‘big’, since you ask, so, for example, magna femina means ‘a big woman’. Then, in 1932, MG introduced the famous K1 and K2 Magnette series.  Magnette is a kind of combination of Latin and French and could be translated as ‘the little big one’. The Collections Centre has a lovely 1936 NB Magnette with a beautiful 1271cc 6 cylinder engine and I always draw people’s attention to this car in any tours I do. The MG octagon badge is everywhere on the car and even the sidelights are octagonal.

But to return to my own Magnette, the first thing I usually do with a ‘new’ car like this is to get the wheels off and have a look at the brakes. Things here could hardly have been worse. The brake shoes were worn, certainly, but on all four wheels the pull-off springs were fitted in front of the shoes rather than behind them and the beehive retaining springs simply weren’t there. The drums were all badly scored and the rear drums were working as a kind of reservoir for the oil in the rear axle (if there was actually any oil left in there).  So that was two fairly major jobs that needed to be done before I could even think of taking the car out on the road; the brakes I could deal with, but I wasn’t so sure about the axle seals and bearings.

The next thing I discovered was just as dangerous as the state of the brakes. The S.U. fuel pump is mounted in the boot and the feeder pipe to the carburettors runs under the floor and bends up into the engine bay. Now I think we would all expect this fuel line to be either copper or steel. Wrong! Some previous owner with either a warped sense of humour or a desire for self-immolation had run a plastic pipe, of the sort you would normally use for windscreen washers, from pump to carburettors and had fed it up into the engine bay through a tight space already occupied by the downpipe from the exhaust manifold; there was about a centimetre separating them. I sorted that one out very quickly!

There were other little idiosyncrasies that became clearer as I worked on the car. The original engine for this car is the BMC “B” Series engine of 1489cc; however, the number on the bulkhead did not match the registration documents I got with the car which now has the later 1622cc engine from either a Wolseley or a Morris. So a previous owner had changed the engine for the later, more powerful one but had neglected to tell DVLA. (Actually, I haven’t got round to that either.)

The other thing I hadn’t got round to was the problems with the rear axle mainly because I had never tackled this before and my facilities at home are a bit limited to deal with this kind of job. So I approached one of my local garages and after some discussion and a look at the workshop manual they agreed to take it on. Just as well they did, because one of the hubs was very reluctant to move and I do not have the kind of heavy lifting gear they had to use!

Then there’s the electrics. I’ve removed miles of redundant wiring from behind the dashboard and the engine bay but it’s still a bit of a mess. Neither the trafficator switch (yes, I’m still using trafficators) nor the horn button on the steering wheel boss works; the switch for the trafficators is now under the dashboard on the left and the horn is under the dashboard on the right.  There’s no panel light and the wiring for the sidelights, fog lights and headlights is bizarre – but they all work. The thing that didn’t work was the dipswitch so I thought this would be an easy fix. Wrong again! A job that I thought should have taken, oh, let’s say about half an hour at the most, took me five days! The details are too painful to remember but involved seized nuts and bolts, broken drill bits, angle grinders, skinned knuckles and a very painful back for about a week after the damned thing was finally installed.  Just another example of the joys of classic car ownership!

By the middle of October, which was a couple of months more than a year after I had bought the car, I was feeling pretty confident that it was roadworthy and keen to try it out on the road. The day of my CC shift, I thought, would be a good opportunity for a first drive and so it was. The car behaved pretty well on the whole, although you forget how awful brakes were in the 1950’s! Still with no mishaps it got me to Gaydon and back home again to my delight and surprise. Sonja showed much more confidence in it than I did when she said “It was never in any doubt.”

There is, of course, still much to do. The seats have several tears in the leather, the door cards are wrong and need to be replaced, the trafficators need to be replaced with flashing indicators, the windscreen washers need to be brought up to date and so on …… and on …….. and on. But maybe someday I’ll be able to bring it to the Museum, put it beside the ZB on the Time Road ……. and then realise that there’s still a lot to do before it reaches that standard!

Friday, 17 August 2018

Tales from Overseas

Volunteer and Collections Centre guide Dennis Allen gives an interesting account of the friends he has made during his time at the Museum.

Two way interactions with visitors to the Collections Centre is probably one of the most important parts of my role of a volunteer. They often want to know a little about me, my involvement in the British motor industry, what vehicles I have owned in the past. Where I come from and countries I have visited.
Equally I make the same enquiries of visitors.

Over the last thirty months I have met lots of interesting people from all over the world as well as the UK.

Most memorable to me are visitors from New Zealand and South Africa, my two favourite countries and I have exchanged email addresses with a few visitors.
I received the following email from New Zealand:

Hello Dennis
I'm the guy from New Zealand that you were so kind as to show around the British Motor Museum.

We had a fantastic trip but the highlight for me was the Museum and Collections Centre...  I have attached a photo of my latest restoration project. A 1956 Daimler Century Drophead. I also managed to purchase a number of rubber seals and grommets etc. when I was in the UK and this has enabled me to progress on a couple of my other projects.  I hope all is well with you and thank you.


I have been fortunate to visit New Zealand three times in the last 5 years and following suggestions from some of our visitors have visited:
1) The Wow Museum (World of Memorable Art & Classic Cars) situated in Nelson on New Zealand's South Island.
2) Southward Car Museum situated just outside Paraparumu which is 35 miles north of Wellington on New Zealand's North Island.

Both are well worth a visit if you are in the area.

While visiting South Africa last year I went to the Franschoek Motor Museum which is 40 miles from Cape Town.

This came about following a visit to the Collections Centre from a lovely South African couple, who lived not far from Cape Town. We got on well talking about cars, the motor industry, life in South Africa and places to visit. I mentioned that my wife and I were touring in South Africa a few months later and they said to let them know when and we could meet up.

Well, this is exactly what happened. A few months later they picked us up from the Cape Town Waterfront and drove us to the Franschoek Motor Museum.

The museum is located on the L'Omarins/Anthonij Rupert wines estate and as well as the winery there is horse stud farm and a racing track and off-road course. Fiat launched their Alpha Romeo Giulia there last year.

We were introduced to Wayne Harley the Museum Curator, last year he rode a 1934 Triumph 350 3/1 in the Durban to Johannesburg Motorcycle Rally (700 kms) - the DJ Run, starting 77th and finishing 61st.

We then met Lorenzo Forella, the workshop manager, who took us on a guided tour of the museum. The collection of 80 cars and some motorbikes are located in four separate buildings around an open grassed courtyard. 

The vehicles were arranged in groups of four or five so about 20 in each building. Lorenzo explained that there were other vehicles not on display but the collection did change from time to time. He jokingly told me off for ignoring the four Ferrari's but I told him (tongue in cheek) that we lived in Royal Leamington Spa and saw them there all the time.

After a pleasurable and informative two hour tour with Lorenzo we left the museum and took a scenic tram ride (an old style charabanc) taking in the picturesque views of the estates and surrounding Franschoek Wine Valley. This ended at the wine estate bistro where we had lunch (delicious tapas) with a glass of wine of course.

We were then driven back to Cape Town late afternoon.

A really fantastic and amazing experience that came about just by talking to Museum visitors.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Walkinshaw, Tullius and racing Jaguars

Collections Centre volunteer Alan Toft tells a fascinating story about model cars, his love of motorsport and his favourite car at the Museum, the Jaguar XJR9.

At the time of my 11th birthday my mother asked me what I was going to do with my birthday money. I replied that I was going to buy the first Dinky Toy with 'fingertip steering' – this happened to be a model of the Jaguar 3.8 Mk 2 not unlike the one we have in the Museum.

She replied that I was now too old for that sort of thing – she never explained what I was supposed to replace 'that sort of thing' with – something in the line of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, I assumed! So she was even less impressed when the next thing I wanted to buy was the 45 single recording of Del Shannon's 'Little Town Flirt'!!

So I do wonder what she would think of the display cabinet at my home in Vancouver that is filled with 50+ 1/43 scale models of racing cars that I have either seen race or just wish I had. In the latter category are two cars which are part of our Museum collection. The first is Jackie Stewart's Tyrrell March 701 and the second is my favourite car in the Museum – the 1988 Silk Cut Jaguar XJR9 in which Andy Wallace won Le Mans, but developed a gearbox problem at Coventry Motorfest recently and prevented me seeing it running the next day!

The 1988 Le Mans Silk Cut Jaguar XJR9
There's something about this car – it could be that I admired the designer, Tony Southgate, because he also designed my favourite F1 car, the 1971 Yardley BRM P160 which I saw Peter Gethin drive to victory in the Victory Race at Brands Hatch, a race in which his teammate, Jo Siffert, sadly died. I used Yardley aftershave for years because of that car!

Or it could be because I admired and respected John Egan, who pulled Jaguar back from the pit of British Leyland, supported the racing efforts in America and Europe, and who forged a strong relationship with Sir William Lyons and allowed him to pass away knowing that his company was now in good hands.

But I do wonder if it really should have been called the XJR9. Bob Tullius, and his Group 44 team, were loyal Triumph and the Jaguar supporters through some tough times. He raced Triumph TR3's and 4's until he raced his XJR1, which is the lovely Series 3 V12 E-type that is in the Museum and which I did see driven at Coventry Motorfest. I used Quaker State oil in my car in Canada because of this car! Hey, I'm loyal to racing sponsors!

Bob used the nomenclature XJR2, 3, and 4 for the Jaguar XJS's that he raced after the E-type, and for which John Egan arranged support ,and then he had Lee Dyktra develop the gorgeous XJR5 that we have in the Museum and which first took Jaguar back to Le Mans.

So when, following his wonderful success with the XJS in Europe (another car I saw running at Coventry Motorfest) Jaguar understandably asked Tom Walkinshaw to take over the task of winning Le Mans, I thought it somewhat rude that they named his first prototype the XJR6. Sure, the IMSA XJR5, with the overly complex 48-valve engine, may not have been a Le Mans winner given the different rules between WSC (and especially Le Mans) and IMSA, but Tom Walkinshaw could have developed his own naming convention!

Anyway, I think that Tullius's XJR7, and the XJR8 he built that had no relationship to the TWR XJR8, are the best looking XJR's ever made!
I liked the TWR XJR6 in the original Jaguar green but it was Gallagher's 'Silk Cut' money, arranged by the king of sponsor-seekers, Guy Edwards, which probably ensured success. One of Guy's personal sponsors was Barclays International and I used to watch him race Lolas in those colours in F5000 and in 2-litre sports cars.

Tom Walkinshaw was honest with Jaguar about how long Le Mans domination would take. The XJR6 of 1985 and 1986 was fast and won races, the 1987 XJR8 won the WSC World Championship, but the 1988 XJR9 was, to me, the highpoint for the V12 engine. My cabinet does have a model of the 1990 XJR12 Le Mans winner, that came later, but pride of place goes to the 1988 Silk Cut XJR9 that won Le Mans and the 1988 Castrol XJR9 that won Daytona.

There are so many links from these cars to the Museum. Walkinshaw knew that the 24-valve V12 Jaguar engine, even when it grew to 7.4 litres, was becoming uncompetitive, certainly in terms of acceleration, against the turbo Porsches and Sauber-Mercedes, amongst others, and that's why he bought the design rights for the normally-aspirated Metro 6R4 engine from Austin-Rover and had it totally revamped to allow twin-turbos before he put it into the WSC Silk Cut XJR11 in 3.5-litre form and the IMSA Castrol XJR10 in 3-litre form. By 1991, the IMSA XJR10 was being sponsored by Bud Lite which is an old Native American word meaning 'Dishwater'.

This engine, suitably modified for road use, made its way into our production XJ220, of course, whilst the road-going version of the XJR9, the XJR15 that we have in the Museum, got the V12. The turbo V6 engines had limited success in Europe but did better across the Atlantic, especially in 1991 when the much improved XJR16 was introduced. In 1989 the XJR11 wasn't ready for Le Mans and 3rd was the best that could be achieved with the XJR9.  The XJR11 was much more reliable in 1990 but the V12 was used for the endurance events like Le Mans, where pole position didn't matter – interestingly the winning Silk Cut XJR12, with all the Ross Brawn instigated changes, was built from the chassis of the 1988 Daytona-winning Castrol XJR9, whereas our 1988 Silk Cut XJR9 was never raced again after its victory at Le Mans.

By then Jaguar was Ford-owned so, when turbos were banned in WSC, it was easy to slide the Ford HB Cosworth 3.5 litre into a new Ross Brawn-designed XJR14 for 1991 and dominate the championship. However they still had to race the new-livery Silk Cut XJR12 at Le Mans and they finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. I just bought a model of this car and need to apply the Silk Cut logos! And no-one begrudged Johnny Herbert his win in the Renown Mazda 787B Rotary.
Jaguar left WSC at the end of 1991 when the Gallagher's Silk Cut sponsorship ended – the XJR14's and XJR12's raced in America in 1992 and 1993, but Ford had other issues by then.

Still it was a wonderful run. I sat in the Museum library a couple of weeks ago and browsed the copy of Leslie Thurston's wonderful book 'TWR Jaguar Prototype Racers'. It's one of those books where you say 'I have to own a copy' and the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust was happy to sell me one at a very reasonable price and I received it in two days!

I was mentioning this to fellow volunteer Tony Bagley recently and he told me Leslie Thurston built those wonderful large-scale models that hang above the XJ13 in the Museum – I've spent hours staring at those models and I want 1/43 scale models of all of them – I also want one of the Suntec-sponsored Japanese XJR12 and could be persuaded to house a Bud Lite car!  And I tend to watch our video of Jaguar racing success at least once a week too – I never tire of it!
But I was thinking who, if I had the chance to go back, I would most like to have dinner with and grill about XJR's. I was thinking John Egan, Tony Southgate, and Tom Walkinshaw but then I realized who I respected most – it would be Bob Tullius.

So, at the height of the XJR14's success, Jaguar left WSC to the Le Mans-winning Peugeot 905's. And yes, mother, there's three of them in the display cabinet at home too!!  But I need to clear the DVD's off the top shelf – there's more Jaguars coming! 

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

A Star in an Exorbitantly Priced Car

Volunteer Collections Centre guide Cameron Slater tells a fascinating story of what he believes to be the Star Car of the Show at the British Motor Museum.
Star quality is a very rare thing. The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice spend millions every year searching for people who have it.  From its very beginnings, the Hollywood film industry has based an entire philosophy of business, art and entertainment on the idea of “The Star”. Since then, every form of entertainment has had to have “The Star of the Show”, “The Top of the Bill”; today’s leading film actors are not just stars but megastars … and so the hype goes on.
I was reflecting on this one day in the Collections Centre while I was gathering my thoughts for the 1.30 tour. What, I wondered, was our “Star of the Show”? The 1955 Bentley Continental Fastback? The Queen’s P5B Rover? The 1936 MG Magnette NB? The very last of the Issigonis Minis? Well, no – it’s none of these, and not even the very latest Land Rover Discovery either. I decided that the real Star of the Collections Centre had to be the 1950 Daimler “Green Goddess” DE36 Drop-head CoupĂ©, which is from the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust collection.And I am not alone in this because it’s one of the cars about which we get more questions and comments than any other.

1950 Daimler “Green Goddess” DE36 Drop-head Coupe
Now this is hardly surprising. The car is a supercar long before the name was thought of. It’s enormous and magnificent with the flowing lines of its coachwork by Hooper, painted in a two-tone design of silver-grey and deepest blue and the hood is made from the best black mohair. It’s powered by Daimler’s own  eight cylinder, five and a half litre engine which develops 150 hp and gives the car a top speed of …… 83mph!! This hardly compares with the 200mph plus performance of today’s McLaren or Bugatti Chiron, but the Daimler is not made for speed; it’s made to be a statement about real star automotive quality and in any case, it weighs in at a shade under three and a half tons. You only have to open one of its two doors to feel the weight and to appreciate the engineering that has gone into that wonderful, solid, metallic ‘click’ when you shut it. So there it sits, lording it over everything else around it. A Star.
The information board tell us that it was one of seven such cars built to the design of the original Green Goddess (because it was painted green, since you ask). The Hooper-bodied Coupe was introduced at the 1948 London Motor Show although the DE36 chassis had been available since 1946. The first Green Goddess was run by Sir Bernard Docker, who was at that time the Chairman of BSA Industries, the owners of the Daimler Motor Company.
Those of us who have reached a certain age will remember Sir Bernard and Lady Docker who were, I suppose you could say, the Posh and Becks or maybe The Kardashians of their day. Their extravagant exploits in the London social scene of the early fifties kept the gossip columns (and frequently the front pages) of the popular newspapers full of tales of a lifestyle that the rest of the country could scarcely imagine in their wildest dreams. Where our Green Goddess is chromium plated, theirs, I seem to remember, was gold plated and they tended to favour zebra hide and ivory for interior trimmings. All this in the early 1950’s when the country was still reeling from the after-effects of the Second World War and when just about everything was severely rationed. Nothing succeeds, as they say, like excess.
But back to our information board which also tells us that the first owner of the Daimler was a New York opera singer called James Melton. Now I have been going to ‘The Opera’ since the early 1970’s and I know a bit about opera stars of the past, but I had never heard of James Melton. So I did some research and I discovered a Star in an Exorbitantly Priced Car (with apologies to Jeremy Clarkson). Our Daimler which James Melton bought and had shipped out to New York cost £7,000 in 1950. I looked this figure up in an inflation calculator website and the 2018 equivalent is £235,200. So this guy must have been some opera singer to be able to spend that kind of money on a car.
Many hours of internet-surfing later, I discovered that he wasn’t just an opera singer – he was a popular recording star, a film star, a radio star, a television star, a concert singer and, yes, an opera singer; and it wasn’t just one car – it was a hundred cars and he owned his own motor museum, first as the Melton Museum of Antique Automobiles in Norwalk, Connecticut from 1948 until 1953 then as the James Melton Autorama in Hypoluxo, Florida until his death and the closure of the ‘Million Dollar Museum of Motoring Memories’ in 1961. So, yes, some opera singer!
Melton was born in 1904 in Moultrie, Georgia. His musical abilities were obvious from an early age and developed during his time at Florida State University. He went to New York in 1927, determined to be a singer and joined a singing group called Roxy’s Gang at the Roxy Theatre. He then joined a vocal quartet called The Revellers as lead tenor and performed with them across the USA and in Europe until 1933.
But from the late 1920’s he was also a recording star in his own right. He had a beautiful light lyric tenor voice of the kind that was very fashionable at that time. He recorded for the major record labels of the day - Brunswick, RCA and Columbia - with a repertoire that included such gems of popular sentimental song as I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.
In 1934 James Melton went solo and established himself on concert tours (including one with George Gershwin) and on network radio. However, as the thirties progressed, Melton’s style of singing began to go out of fashion and he found himself competing with a new, popular style of singing-star such as Bing Crosby. Melton continued to broadcast on national radio, but he knew his career was at a major turning point so decided to become an opera singer.
Now, today, this would be a very unusual step, but Melton made it work. From 1938, he appeared in various regional opera companies in the USA, singing major roles in operas by Puccini, Verdi and Donizetti. His operatic career reached the heights when, in December 1942, he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York where he remained as a leading tenor until 1950.
During the 1950’s, however, James Melton’s career went into decline. He had been a star in almost every form of musical entertainment, but time and alcohol began to take their inevitable toll of his voice and the huge popularity of singers such as Mario Lanza, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Perry Como meant that Melton gradually disappeared from the scene. 
As I said earlier, James Melton’s other passion was his fine collection of historic motor cars. He was, in fact one of the world’s earliest private collectors of historic cars, especially from the period the Americans call The Brass Era and we in Britain call The Veteran Era.
By the time he set up his first museum, The Melton Museum of Antique Automobiles, in Norwalk in 1948, he had amassed about fifty-five cars as well as bicycles, car accessories, model trains and music boxes. As the collection grew, it became clear that the Norwalk museum had become too small and Melton built its replacement in Hypoluxo, Florida. So in 1953, the James Melton Autorama was completed and in typical show business style the cars were driven – under their own power - in cavalcade and with maximum publicity from Norwalk to the new building in Hypoluxo.
The collection by this time numbered about a hundred cars, some of them extremely rare and important. The oldest was an 1893 Custom Steam Coach and the collection had a number of early steamers including a Stanley Steamer Mountain Wagon and a White Steamer. It also contained a 1900 Rockwell Hansom Cab which was thought to be the first New York City taxi, a fabulous 1913 Peugeot “Skiff”, - a Type 150, 4 cylinder, 40hp roadster with a 7478cc engine. Melton’s personal favourite was, apparently, a 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost which had been the very first Silver Ghost to be imported into the USA.
So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, in the great days of his musical career, he often appeared in a radio show called The Firestone Hour which was sponsored by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company; his own weekly radio show in the thirties was sponsored by Texaco; his weekly television show in the fifties was called The Ford Festival and was sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. And it was Melton who first sang Back Home Again in Indiana over the PA system at the opening of the Indianapolis 500 in 1946 which then became a tradition that continues to this day.  
Our Green Goddess, therefore, is not only a star in its own right, but in 1950 was bought by a genuine star in the old Hollywood tradition. And you can see both the car and the star in the YouTube Video below...
Alternatively you can watch it via YouTube visit
The visuals accompanying the music include a photo of James Melton and friends, in front of the American Airlines office somewhere in New York, with our very own 1950 “Green Goddess” Daimler DE36 Drophead Coupe right there in the foreground of the picture – where the real stars always are.