British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Oral History Project

Whilst this blog has given you plenty of information regarding vehicle surveys, restoration work and data collection undertaken by the volunteers - there is more, and that's the work of the oral history team.

The team consists of ten volunteers, many of whom are also involved in either the restoration or data projects. Team leaders Vince Hall and Alastair Wilson head up and coordinate the team, whose task is to source and record an oral history of the British motor industry. This is all part of the opening programme for when the new Museum Collections Centre opens in 2015.

However, before they were let loose with microphone and voice recorder, they all received a full briefing from the curator on the main objectives of the project. This was then followed by training from Julia Letts of Letts Talk, whose company specializes in the art of interview planning and techniques.

Operating the Zoom audio equipment was also part of the training programme

What got this project off to such a good start was the fact that a large number of the volunteers, now mostly retired, had worked in the British motor industry. This was either on the factory floor, or for suppliers and includes managers, designers, engineers, paint specialists, IT people and SMMT management. All had a story to tell, with memories, experiences and opinions.

When the first interview took place and the equipment tested, one of the first things that became apparent was the background noise the microphone picked up. What we really wanted of course was a sound proof studio/room. Then someone realised we had the very thing parked on the museum floor - the 1968 Vanden Plas 4 litre Princess. This was ideal, comfy seats and excellent soundproofing, helped by the glass screen separating the drivers area. The slight downside was that after about 30 minutes with the doors shut and two people talking, you needed to come out for a bit of fresh air.

Just to give you a brief flavour of what one of the first interviews revealed - this is what we found out about volunteer Chris Bramley's early career. Chris joined Rover in the early '60's, following civil and mechanical engineering training. He was assigned to gas turbine development and worked on Rover T3 and T4 development. He was also part of the Rover team that went to the 1965 Le Mans 24 hour race with the legendry Rover BRM. During his time with these projects he worked with the likes of Spen King, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart.
Leslie Gunde interviews Chris in the back of the Vanden Plas Princess

Future blogs will give updates  as the project expands to include more interviews with the general public. However in the meantime,  if you've worked in the British car industry, or have an interesting car related historical story to tell then we'd love to hear from you. Please contact Volunteer Coordinator Sonja Dosanjh on 01926 645027and you could be sitting in the back of a luxurious old limo.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Volunteers Data Team - Part 2

As was explained in our last blog, the Data Team has been collating and entering all the information relating to every vehicle's condition into an Excel database. This, including the sorting and labelling of thousands of photos, has taken many months to complete.

On completion, an even more daunting task awaited us, as the curator then wanted a full technical report - cum dossier - on every vehicle in the museum's collection - which is around 300 vehicles.

With the museum's excellent reading library (open to the public) and vast archive section (not open to the public - see below) all the information we required on the vehicles was there. Somewhere! What quickly became apparent was that information on any standard, non prototype, vehicle from around 1948 to the present was not too hard to come by. Most of the information was obtainable from vehicle and road tests in past editions of Motor or Autocar magazine, plus a bit of research from the library or the internet.


Sometimes our task was made very easy, as with the 1948 Morris Minor. The full road test and vehicle specification was found in Autocar dated 26th November 1948 and the actual car was the one in the museum (see photos above).

However, this was very much the exception, rather than the rule. With any vehicle built prior to WW11, or a prototype,  racing car, record breaking special and in particular the many derivatives of Land Rover the museum has, the task has required a lot of patience and research.


This is one page of the detailed technical report form and a happy volunteer doing his research.

The information required is very detailed and covers all specifications relating to the engine, transmission (including gear ratios), steering, suspension, brakes, body/chassis materials and construction. All dimensions relating to turning circle, track, width and length of the vehicle as well its kerbside weight are part of the report.

The main reason for generating all this detail is to enhance the viewing experience at the new Museum Collections Centre, due to open towards the end of 2015. One of the options being looked at is providing electronic information pods at strategic points throughout both the existing and new museums containing a full technical data report on every vehicle.

So, when you turn up at the new museum and want a lot more information on say, the 1951 Rover Marauder Tourer, you should be able at the nearest pod, to get all the answers you want, including its price when new.

That's the plan and hopefully we can complete it by Autumn 2015.

Whilst the large archive section is not open to the public, the material and  information contained therein can be viewed by appointment with the archive staff.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Welcome to the Volunteers Data Team

Whilst the restoration team has been busy, firstly renovating a 1958 MGA and currently restoring the 1960 Standard Ensign, the data team has been hard at work in front of computer screens or with noses buried deep in books and manuals.

As was explained in our very first blog, the Heritage Motor Centre has a total of around 300 vehicles in its collection (see About us).  The first task for all the volunteers was to inspect these vehicles and fill in a survey condition report accompanied by photos of all damage and defects.
A detailed survey, inside and out, was undertaken on every vehicle in the collection

When this survey was completed those who wanted to get their hands dirty and play with cars started the restoration work, whilst those of us who liked the warmth and comfort of an office, started to compile all the data. Thanks to the computer skills of team leader Doug Armer, an excellent and easy to use Excel spreadsheet was created for all this detailed information to be entered and then recorded on a central data base.

All smiles from the Data Team

Alongside this we also had something in the region of 7,000 photos to sort through. Each vehicle in the collection has its own identity number, so this had to be entered against every photo, plus a brief description of the photo content.  When complete, the photo data could then be married up with the survey reports.  This project initially looked somewhat daunting, but once we all became familiar with what was required, the end became a reality.

The Curator, however, had other plans for after we'd finished this project and that is proving to be daunting. 

More details in the next blog which, due to holidays, will not be until early October.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


The engine

After the main body shell/chassis the engine is probably the next most important element  in any major restoration project. Therefore, whilst work continues on the former, the engine has also been getting some much needed attention.

       The engine as we found it               The discovery of sticking valves

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Introducing the Resto Baker Boys

It has now become the norm for all volunteers to meet up in the morning at the Junction 12 Cafe for tea or coffee before duties commence. Whilst most will chat about cars, the weather, the current news, or trying to put the world to right, the group that comes in on Tuesday always talks about cakes. It doesn’t stop at talking, Roger, John and Mike bring in their own homemade varieties and then eat them.
What started out with one of the group partaking in a birthday treat has now progressed into a weekly demonstration of their cake making skills. A baking rota has been agreed, which now includes Sonja, our volunteer coordinator, who thought she ought to join as she’s always there for the eating bit.

 From left to right, Sonja, John, Roger and Mike sample Roger’s creation of strawberry muffins

So, now for something completely different as they say, the Resto Baker Boys as they’ve become known, have allowed us access to three of their recipes.

The recipe for Mike’s “OutbackDamper” was posted in a previous blog here and if you found the instructions a bit odd it should be explained that he spent far too long living in Australia. He does drive a nice restored 1971 MGB though!

John, who drives a lovely old 1955 Oldsmobile 88, gives us his “Ginger Biscuit” recipe.

400g Plain Flour   
100g Ground Ginger   
2oz Butter   
1tsp Baking Powder   
1tsp Bicarb of Soda

Mix all the ingredients to a dough and shape into biscuits
Bake at gas mark 4 for 10 – 15 minutes

You’ll need to decide how crispy round the edges you want them and adjust the baking time.

The Resto Baker Boys with cakes on the bonnet of Roger’s 1934 Morris 10/4

Roger’s contribution is a recipe for “Weetabix Cake

2 Weetabix crushed     
6oz Raisins     
6oz Self-Raising Flour
4oz Brown Sugar    
½ Pint Semi-Skimmed Milk    
1 Egg

Mix the Weetabix, raisins & milk together and leave to stand for 2 hours
Mix in the flour, sugar and egg until dough is formed
Grease and line a loaf tin and bake at 160⁰C for 1 – 1 ½ hrs
Leave to cool – turn out – slice – butter – eat!

Why not give one of the recipes a go and tell us what you think. Remember, Mary Berry had to start somewhere!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


In at the deep end and learning new skills

If you’ve been following the blog on our Ensign project then you’ll know that the underside of the car’s bodyshell was found to be in a very poor state. Rust, corrosion and previous poor repair work was found everywhere, requiring large sections to be cut out before we could progress any further.

New fabrication skills were quickly learnt as these photos clearly illustrate, as many of the parts and sections required replacing.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Resto Baker Boys Tuesday Recipe no.1

Outback Damper

Baked by Volunteer Mike Gething

1lb flour
½ pint billabong water strained in an old sock to get the bugs out

Mix the flour and water to a dough and shape to a 2” high round

Scrape a hollow in the fires ashes and put the dough in and cover with ashes

Leave for 2 hours

Use a stick to check it’s cooked (stick comes out dry)

Scrape ash off (optional) eat & enjoy.

Monday, 30 June 2014

A 21st Birthday and our own Classic Car event

The volunteers have been fairly active recently away from our current restoration project – the 1960 Standard Ensign. Accompanying some of the Heritage Motor Centre’s collection of cars we’ve attended both the Stratford-on-Avon Festival of Motoring and the new Coventry Carfest event. Not only attending and looking after the cars, but also having the opportunity to drive them to these events.
However, two events worth a more detailed mention were the Heritage Motor Centre’s 21st Birthday Party and our own Classic Car event.

To celebrate the 21st anniversary of the opening of the centre, over 100 VIP guests were invited to drive, or be driven, in 21 of the collections rarest, ground breaking, historic, or just plain odd cars. The latter category included Lady Penelope’s pink 6 wheeled Thunderbirds car. Other vehicles for this Ride and Drive event were an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire, Rover Marauder, Alvis TE21, Triumph Lynx prototype, the first Morris Minor, Paddy Hopkirk’s 1964 Monte Carlo winning Mini Cooper and the noisy 1927 Leyland Straight 8.
           Volunteers ready for duty          The first sod is cut for the new museum

A ballot was necessary as just seven volunteers were required to assist at this event, which meant we would be given the chance to drive some of these cars. This presented the lucky ones with the challenge of learning or re-learning the art of gear changing on non synchro gearboxes and adapting to some very vague steering systems. As one volunteer Roger King remarked, his dream came true that day, as he’d been able to tick something off his bucket list – the opportunity to actually drive Hopkirk’s historic winning Mini Cooper.
The day ended with the cutting of the first sod for the construction of the new Museum Collections Centre – something the volunteers will be a crucial part of when it opens in late 2015.  Here you will find details of the 21 Years,21 Icons exhibition which is running at the museum until the end of September and well worth a look at.

Also worth a look at was our own Classic Car event, held alongside the Gaydon Spring Classic. Around twenty volunteers brought their own classic cars to Gaydon which ranged from a tiny 1965 Fiat 500 to a large 1955 Oldsmobile 88. MGs were the most popular with a couple of TFs, a 1971 MGB, a 1955 TD and a 1938 TA. Also making an appearance was a 1955 Standard 10, a 1964 MkII Jaguar, a Ferrari 308 GTB and the oldest, a 1934 Morris 10/4.

Little and large in the background with 1934 Morris and 1938 MG at the front

The day commenced with bacon sandwiches in the Junction 12 cafe, followed by a series of vehicle awareness tests. Well organised by Roger King and assisted by Brian Rainbow the tests provided good entertainment and a worthy winner in John Rathbone and his MG. We then set off on a 40 mile drive to Kingsbury Water Park. The route was meticulously planned by Brian Jackson who provided a full “tulip” style rally set of instructions which took us through some of Warwickshire’s best countryside. On arrival at Kingsbury we had our own area cordoned off for a welcome picnic lunch in glorious weather. Special thanks for this and the steam train rides must go to Malcolm Graham, plus a big thank you to Sonja, our co-ordinator for putting the whole day together.

If you fancy entering your own classic car in a similar event then why not enter the Autumn Classic, Gaydon Fringe & Cream Tea Runon 21st September – details here

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Part 7: 1960 Standard Ensign

Volunteers at work

Every picture tells a story - goes the saying and our blog this time is more pictorial than usual, showing the volunteers at work.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Part 6: 1960 Standard Ensign

Underneath the paint and the gunge

With all components removed from the chassis and the black sealant (gunge) scraped away the poor state of our Ensign was now clear for all to see. Severe rust, corrosion, damage and bad repairs left us in no doubt that this restoration project was going to be a real challenge.
So bad was the rust and decay in the main sills that a strengthening bar had to be welded to each side of the car for it to remain fully supported and rigid in the Chassis Tilter.
The following pictures clearly illustrate the main problem areas.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Volunteers at the Pride of Longbridge event

Volunteers at the Pride of Longbridge event

The Heritage Motor Centre (HMC) volunteers also help out at events and shows where the museum has a presence. One such event was the Pride of Longbridge held on 12th April, attended by volunteers Roger King and Steve Turner.

The event was an opportunity for HMC’s Archive Department to promote their heritage certificate service, about which you can find more information here.

The annual Pride of Longbridge event takes place in Cofton Park directly adjacent to the Longbridge factory. Staged every year since the collapse of MGRover in 2005, the aim of the gathering is to celebrate the vast range of models and derivatives that were either made, designed, or incorporated components made at the factory. This year saw a record turnout of vehicles with some 600- plus on display.

On this blustery April day the Heritage Motor Centre displayed the very last Longbridge produced Mini.

The last Mini from Longbridge X411 JOP on the HMC stand.

Some of the 600 Longbridge-manufactured vehicles on display

Much to other Mini owners surprise the last Mini Cooper was actually driven to Longbridge rather than trailered there by two museum volunteers. “It was a rare privilege to drive this icon, aware as we were that it was an irreplaceable car that had only 436 miles on the clock when we set out from Gaydon. She ran superbly, given that it had barely turned a wheel in years” said Roger.

The car was virtually mobbed by fellow owners of the special last 500 made who proceeded to park their respective cars alongside for a unique photo shoot (see below). And some felt really privileged to actually sit in it for yet another unique photo opportunity!

It was a long day, but a worthwhile one given the great interest the car generated.  “We left the event with the knowledge that on our return journey, we were driving history” said Roger. 

A number of vehicles from the HMC collection will also be appearing at the Stratford on Avon Festival of Motoring and again our volunteers will be in attendance. Then on 18th May, alongside the Gaydon Spring Classic event, the volunteers will be holding their own mini event, displaying and driving their own classic cars.

Monday, 14 April 2014


A not unsurprising discovery

The removal of all parts, leaving just the bare body shell, took around four weeks to complete. This also involved photographing all components, labelling and storing the smaller items where appropriate and inspecting the more major items for any serious damage or wear. Generally speaking, for a car of this age, we found nothing alarming and certainly nothing we felt we couldn’t repair or restore.

However, we all knew from just a casual inspection and a poke with a screwdriver that the body shell/chassis was not in the best of health.

As cleaning and repairing the shell was clearly going to be a major task we were fortunate that the museum was able to provide us with a new Chassis Tilter. Once some additional brackets were made up and fixed to the chassis it was bolted to the Tilter front and rear. The tilt/roll mechanism of this excellent, but simple, piece of kit was to make our task a lot easier.


The chassis tilter showing the support brackets and the set up holding the shell in place.

Monday, 31 March 2014

We Love Junction 12 Cafe

The Heritage Motor Centre (HMC) at Gaydon is, as visitors to the museum will probably know, only a stone’s throw from Junction 12 on the M40 motorway. It is also a junction that is best avoided when the workers next door, at Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin go to and from work.

So, how can the volunteers possibly come to love a motorway junction? Well of course we don’t, but what we do love is the HMC’s Junction Twelve Cafe, on the first floor of the museum. As volunteers we don’t get paid for our work, but we do enjoy subsidised food and drink from this excellent cafe.

It is also where we all meet up in the morning to discuss and arrange the day’s tasks and objectives. Actually, in all honesty it’s the time for a good old chinwag on all things from anything related to cars, politics and fashion, to putting the world to right.  In fact at times it can get a bit like an episode of the TV show “Grumpy Old Men”, which I know our volunteer coordinator Sonja finds amusing.

Whilst most of us like to start the day with a tea or coffee (in my case a cappuccino), some like to add a bacon sandwich in order to fuel their day. Most days there are two groups of volunteers in attendance – those with dirty hands restoring the Standard Ensign and those with clean hands collecting and recording vehicle data – but come lunchtime we all meet up again at Junction Twelve.

There’s always an excellent choice of two main hot meals with a vegetarian option, plus a salad and sandwich selection. I like to try and volunteer on Fridays now and again as fish, chips and mushy peas are always available and a great favourite. The Junction Twelve Cafe is open from 10am to 4.30pm daily and further details can be found here.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Part 4: 1960 Standard Ensign

Dismantling continues

This week’s blog on the Ensign project is a pictorial account of the long and sometimes laborious task of dismantling. This is a job that can’t be rushed and one which also requires the detailed labelling, photographing and then storage of all items removed.

Engine and gearbox are removed and the poor state of the subframe is revealed

                               Front seats out and doors off      Headlamps off, labelled and ready for storage

Friday, 7 March 2014

Volunteering and our own classic car show

Whilst restoration work and data collection has been our staple diet of voluntary work at the Heritage Motor Centre (HMC), other interesting and rewarding opportunities have come our way.

Over the last few years the museum has become a lot more active in attending shows and exhibitions, whilst also arranging and hosting a whole range of motor related activities and shows within the HMC grounds. These events have rapidly grown in size and popularity, so the opportunity to help and take part in them has now come our way.

The first opportunity came last November when eight of us were selected to help man the HMC stand at the NEC Classic Car Show. This was particularly rewarding as our first restoration project, the 1958 MGA Twin Cam, was one of the exhibits.

Volunteers manning the HMC stand at the NEC Classic Car Show

Last weekend ten of us helped out at the Club Expro event. This is a gathering for car clubs and groups and the theme this year was  “The Young Generation” and how to encourage the younger generation to car clubs.

On 12th April the HMC Archive Department will be attending the Pride of Longbridge event in order to promote their heritage certificate and archive service. They’ll be exhibiting the last Mini off the Longbridge production line and two lucky volunteers will be in attendance.

We’ll also be helping to supervise the display of the museums vehicles that will attend the annual Stratford upon Avon Festival of Motoring on 4/5 May.

However, the event we’re all now looking forward to is the May Spring Classic on Sunday 18th May. The reason? Well, alongside the main show, the volunteers will be arranging their own classic car display and rally.

Chatting over our morning coffee sessions, it quickly became apparent that many of us owned some very interesting old cars, which we were all interested to see. So, the idea of our own show was discussed and thanks to the efforts of Sonja, our volunteer coordinator, this will now take place at the Spring Classic.

Vehicles already promised to make an appearance are as follows;  1934 Morris 10/4 saloon, 1938 MG TA, 1955 Standard 10, 1955 Oldsmobile 88, 1965 Fiat 500, 1964 Mk11 Jaguar, Ferrari 308 GTB, 1971 MGB and a 1972 Triumph 2000 Estate. In addition, we should also see the appearance of what is surely the most modern of classic cars - a new 475bhp Porsche 911 (991 series) GT3, complete with the latest trick four wheel steering.

Details of the May Spring Classic and all other events taking place at the HMC can be found on the HMC website

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Part 3: 1960 Standard Ensign

Dismantling Starts

As reported in my first blog, three stuck exhaust valves, scuppered any chances of getting the Ensign’s 1670cc engine to start up. So, one of the first dismantling jobs was to remove the dynamo, distributor, coil, starter motor, water pump, exhaust downpipe and silencer, manifolds and propshaft. The engine itself however would have to remain in situ until HMC’s workshop manager returned from holiday when proper lifting gear could be made available. 

Lots of items awaiting removal                 Exhaust and manifold removed

Next time – engine out and the doors come off.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Part 2: 1960 Standard Ensign

Standard Ensign - a closer inspection.

My previous blog introduced our 1960 Standard Ensign, the volunteer’s first full restoration project. I should perhaps mention now that this project actually started at the end of July last year, so I have a bank of six months’ photography and progress on which to reflect.

In the first blog I briefly described our vehicle survey scoring system, mentioning the Ensign scored 3.67 out of 5, where 5 is Poor. The reasoning behind this was to give the museum’s Curator a rough idea of the state of all the vehicles in the Trust’s collection. However, our inspection of the underside of all vehicles was very much limited as we had to rely on the slimmest among us crawling underneath with a torch. Putting the Ensign on a proper ramp and having a really close inspection and poke with a screwdriver quickly revealed that we might have a real challenge on our hands. The dreaded four letter word feared by all restorers - RUST – was clearly widespread and in some places quite severe.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Part 1: 1960 Standard Ensign

Our first full restoration project...

1960 Standard Ensign
Built in 1960 at Canley by The Standard Motor Co. Ltd., our car is registration number 761 AYX, Chassis No. EN 16878-DL.  The price of the car when new was £850 including purchase tax.

All smiles as the volunteers pose alongside their next project

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Rover 1S/60 Gas Turbine Unit

And now for something completely different, a...

Rover Gas Turbine Engine

Following our successful renovation of the MGA Twin Cam it was announced, after much speculation and debate, that our next project would be the full restoration of a 1960 Standard Ensign.

However, although the car was ready and waiting, we’d been asked to renovate a Rover gas turbine instructional unit first. The unit was designed to train students at technical colleges and universities. Basically it’s a Rover 1S/60 gas turbine unit mounted on a frame, to which a variety of instruments can be connected to demonstrate to students the operation of a gas turbine.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Part 2: 1958 MGA Twin Cam Coupe chassis restoration

Our first restoration project continued

In my last blog, I introduced the first car that we volunteers were let loose on, the 1958 MGA Twin Cam Coupe.

Whilst the car was quickly dismantled with much enthusiasm, great care was taken to photograph everything in its full and then dismantled state, after which all the parts were labelled accordingly. It was also found essential, with so many people involved, to compile and keep up-to-date a detailed, daily logbook of work in progress. This also helped HMC workshop manager, Paul Gilder, to follow our progress and offer any help and advice when needed.

Click here to read the full story...