British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

Monday, 16 August 2021

Plenty of volunteer action now the Museum has reopened

 As our last blog explained, whilst the British Motor Museum (BMM) was closed during lockdown, a small group of volunteers were still busy at home preparing a number of motor related history talks. We’ll return to the talks later, but now with the easing of lockdown on 17th May and the reopening of the Museum, the whole 80 strong volunteer group is busy once again on an increasing number of activities.

Our restart coincided with National Volunteers Week and the Museum celebrated the occasion and our return by inviting all the volunteers to a thank you luncheon. At the event, 23 volunteers received their five-year service awards. Next year, to highlight the success and longevity of the volunteer programme, the original intake of volunteers will receive its 10-year awards.

Volunteers who attended the National Volunteers Week luncheon

At the luncheon, the Museum’s managing director, Jeff Coope, revealed the BMM’s five-year plan. Some exciting plans for the future expansion of the Museum were announced, creating new opportunities for the volunteers in the years to come.

Back to the present, the majority of the volunteers are now returning to what they like doing best - guiding, assisting and informing the many visitors at the Museum. At the time of writing, the Museum is only open Friday to Monday, but full opening will commence during the school holiday and following the ending of lockdown restrictions.

The volunteer programme now covers many other activities, some of which have been covered in past blogs, like restoration, vehicle data collection and oral history recording. 

The Outreach and Presentation team are back in action, having recently hosted a visit by Towns Thorns Care Centre – pictured below. The team is available to either host visits at the Museum, or make visits to health & wellbeing, or community groups bringing museum objects and memorabilia. Further details can be found here.

Another initiative recently started by the Museum is its participation in the STEAM scheme, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Maths. Five volunteers have agreed to help the Museum with their involvement by becoming STEAM ambassadors.

Back to the creation of a series of history talks. Now rehearsed, completed and signed off, we are able to deliver the following talks; The Mini - Wizardry on Wheels, The Most Beautiful Car in the World – the E-type Jaguar, The Evolution of the British Motor Industry and The Car’s the Star. In the planning stage we have; The History of the British Sports Car and Royal Cars.

Around 12 volunteers have been taking part in this rewarding project, which will also see them deliver the talks, either at the Museum, out in the community, or even in the current climate, via Zoom. More details can be found here on the Museum’s website.

All the talks last around 45 minutes and contain a large number of photos, drawings and illustrations from the Museum’s vast archive collection. A 15-minute taster video, given by one of the volunteers, can be viewed here.

Finally, at the end of July, the Museum will have a stand at the annual Silverstone Classic meeting, which as usual will be hosted on all three days by our volunteers. So, why not pop along and say hello?

Before you plan your Museum visit, always check our website for the latest information and any possible restrictions.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Still volunteering, but this time at home

Stay at Home is a slogan we’re all now very familiar with, but the opportunity has not been wasted on around a dozen or so of the Museum’s volunteers, who’ve been working on a programme of talks and presentations on motoring related subjects.

With one already completed - The Mini - Wizardry on Wheels, the others currently in progress are: - The History of British Sports Cars, The Evolution of the British Motor Industry and Royal Cars.

When things return to normal these talks will be presented by the volunteers, either out in the community, or at the Museum. It’s planned for talks to last around 45 to 50 minutes, accompanied by a wealth of interesting slides and the occasional video clip.

As can be imagined, with the Museum’s large collection of over 300 British - manufactured vehicles and its renowned and comprehensive Archive, we’re not short of information or resources. The task is of course to collate all the research, pick out the defining moments and present it in an interesting and entertaining manner.

Opening slide from the Mini talk
The talk on the Mini, which celebrated 60 years in 2019, was presented at the Museum just before lockdown to a group of 40 people from Caversham Heights Society. This talk was very well received, having been presented and largely put together by volunteer Roger King. Roger, a BMC apprentice from 1960 to 1966 and a former Director of Public Affairs at the SMMT, is a big admirer of the Mini.

The other talks in progress are very much the work of groups of between three and four volunteers, who have an interest in their particular subject. Whilst lockdown has slowed things down a bit, the wonder of Zoom has come to our rescue with regular discussion groups. In fact the history of the British sports car has recently had a complete initial Zoom run through, including the slide presentation.

From the Mini talk - One of several early Issigonis sketches
There have been some interesting debates amongst the various groups on their subjects, particularly on content and format. Whilst the Mini is a fairly straightforward and well documented story, the others are wide ranging and need more detailed research and structure. An example for instance was our original debate on sports cars. What is your definition of a sports car? Ask half a dozen car enthusiasts and you’ll probably get several different answers (we did), but we hope you’ll agree with our final definition.

We’re fortunate that the Museum contains many of the vehicles that played a key part in the evolution of the British motor industry – telling the story in a simple and entertaining way is now the challenge. Royal Cars is somewhat different, allowing us not only to talk about a wide range of vehicles, 16 of which we have in the Museum, but also stories related to their royal owners.  Unfortunately at the moment, planned research trips to the Royal Mews and Sandringham House have had to be postponed, so we can’t complete the talk for now.

The Museum, even with little or no promotion, has already received quite a lot of interest in these talks, so new ones are already in the pipeline.  As with the other talks, the Museum is well stocked with vehicles and information relating to the subject matter, particularly car sales brochures from yesteryear.

When things return to normal we’ll be able to give you more details about our talks programme.  The volunteers will then be able to deliver them at a venue of your choice or maybe at the Museum itself, where a tour of the collection can be part of your visit. Keep your eye on the Museum’s website and Facebook page for further announcements, or contact

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Outreach and Presentation Team

This blog has described many of the various activities and duties in which volunteers are involved at the British Motor Museum. One group that has so far avoided the spotlight is the Outreach and Presentation team, volunteers who are becoming more and more active in the local community.

Formed in 2015, the original function of the group was to visit local clubs, societies and institutions etc. where presentations focussed on the promotion of the refurbishment of the main Museum, plus the construction and subsequent opening of the new Collections Centre. Known then as just the Presentation team, it comprised of about eight volunteers.

Some of the team at a recent training meeting

As part of the Museum’s commitment to help and become involved in the local community, in 2017 the group evolved into the Outreach and Presentation team – currently comprising around 14 volunteers. The Outreach programme is where between three and four volunteers visit outside organisations where, in the majority of cases, their members need special care and attention. These will typically be; dementia caf├ęs, Alzheimer’s Society groups, and care homes, as well as isolation and wellbeing and mental health groups – people for whom a visit to the Museum itself may not be practical or desirable.

The Museum, as you would expect, has a huge collection of motoring memorabilia, so it’s a selection of some of the most interesting items that we take with us to show these groups. Their reaction has really proved the worth of these visits. Often, even the more mundane items, will bring back memories or stimulate conversation and interest. Also the chance to hold and look through items such as old driving licences and pre and post war car publicity photos, plus examples of old and modern car parts, nearly always manages to inspire a story from the audience.

A small selection of some of the items

As an alternative to us going out to visit groups, we can also arrange and accommodate special group visits to the Museum itself. All our usual memorabilia items will be available to view, as well as a guided tour of sections of the Museum. Refreshments can be provided if required and the Museum is well equipped and designed for wheelchair use.

The team in action at what is a relatively small group
We’ve attended around 75 visits since the programme started and are likely to end up visiting around 40 this year alone. The visits normally last about an hour and we can attend any suitable venue within about an hour’s drive from the Museum in Gaydon. Another attraction to a couple of our recent visits has been our restored 1960 Standard Ensign. When available, this provides a great chance to remind people what sixties motoring was like and how basic most cars of that age were. 

Our restored Standard Ensign brings back memories of sixties motoring

The group’s next project will be a re-launch of their original Museum presentation to local organisations etc., but with the added bonus of a short talk on one of three motor related subjects. These are likely to be about the Mini, British sports cars and the evolution of the British motor industry.

As a result of these new initiatives and the growth in the number of requests we’re now receiving we need more volunteers. So, if any existing volunteers want to join the team, or anyone else reading this is interested in becoming part of the team, then please get in touch with our volunteer coordinator Sonja Dosanjh on 01926 927820. Further details can be found at the bottom of this website page

Further information and booking details for visits can be obtained from Emma Rawlinson, Family and Lifelong Learning Officer on 01926 927823

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!