British Motor Museum Volunteers

British Motor Museum Volunteers

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 29 September 2017

Awards time for volunteers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Great British Women in the car industry – a volunteer reports

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

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

The panel on stage

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

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

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

Emma and Ian

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

Tuesday 20 June 2017

1960 STANDARD ENSIGN (Part 16)

Assembly now well underway

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


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

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

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

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

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

To read the full restoration story click here

Wednesday 5 April 2017

The British motor industry: what is the road ahead?

A Volunteers view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 3 March 2017

Organising a show piece event - a volunteer goes the extra mile

Our last blog described some of the other opportunities and activities that come our way whilst volunteering at the Museum. However, one of our colleagues, Ian Hicks, went the extra mile, when in September last year he volunteered to become one of the prime organisers for the forthcoming British Motor Museum Symposium on 25 March.

This is Ian’s fascinating story of what it all involved;
“How volunteering at British Motor Museum took me to Westminster’s Brexit debate"

When I joined the museum as a Collection Centre guide in April 2016, little did I think that this volunteering would take me to the seat of democracy, Westminster’s Houses of Parliament, watching the most significant debate in living memory unfold in front of me.

Back in early February, I found myself meeting Sir Greg Knight, MP for East Yorkshire, together with Stephen Laing, our curator and Steve Cropley, Editor in Chief of Autocar and Trustee of the Museum.

The meeting was concluding and Sir Greg invited the three of us to watch the Brexit debate from the visitor’s gallery in the Commons. We felt we were watching history in the making as well-known and slightly less famous politicians debated the impact Brexit would have on the UK’s nuclear industry.      

My route to the Brexit debate started when I met with Emma Rawlinson.  As Family and Lifelong Learning Officer, Emma was on the lookout for people to help with many projects, one of which was to organise a symposium. This was a new initiative for the Museum, which had received funding from the Arts Council for the event. I have some experience organising similar events, so I was happy to help out. 

Our starting point was a theme for the symposium: A celebration of the British Motor Car. It was to be a one day event on 25 March. Stephen Laing, Curator of the Museum, had already volunteered to Chair the event.

Ian, Tim Bryan and Emma Rawlinson putting the finishing touches to symposium fliers

We wanted to attract a group of well-known industry figures to present their view of the future of the British Motor Car and the automotive industry.

As Chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group for Historic Vehicles, Sir Greg Knight was high on our list of “must-have” presenters. Coincidentally, we first approached Sir Greg’s office around the time of the EU referendum on 23 June. The initial signs were good, he seemed interested. But to get to speak to the MP and Privy Councillor was more challenging, especially as the whole Conservative leadership contest was unfolding following the resignation of David Cameron.  We had to wait patiently as the contest played out and the majority party stabilised again.    

While we were waiting, we took the opportunity to sign up other people on our must-have list. With their expertise in car manufacture in the Midlands region, we were happy to get the green light from Professor David Morris and Dr. Jason Begley from Coventry University.  David Bailey, Professor at Aston Business School, regularly appears on television giving his strategic industry overview of car manufacture in the UK.   He knows the museum well and was happy to support our symposium.

Steve Cropley, Editor in Chief of Autocar and Trustee of the museum found out about the symposium and was happy to volunteer his services as a presenter, explaining how the press and social media play an important role in car ownership decisions. Steve has also been a great help in refining our marketing messages for the event, he’s a real supporter of the Museum.

Finally, thanks to Stephen Laing’s network, we convinced Professor David Greenwood, originally with Ricardo, latterly with WMG at the University of Warwick, to share his views. David is a thought leader and future technologist. He’s the man to set the scene for battery and hydrogen power, autonomous vehicles and the like.

So finally, in mid-January, we got an invite to attend the Houses of Parliament to meet Sir Greg. It turns out he has a real passion for classic cars. He owns a number of historic cars, including an Allard, a Cord, a Studebaker, a Rover P5B Coupe and four Jensens! He was really enthused to explain how he represents the interests of classic car owners against some of the more interesting planned legislation.

Sir Greg Knight in his 1952 Allard P1

Since meeting with Sir Greg, it’s been flat out finalising marketing material, press releases, mail-shots, e-shots and taking all opportunities to promote the symposium.  As well as relentless promotion and marketing of the symposium we still have to create flyers for advertising at Museum events, we have to create presenter and audience packs and arrange all the logistics. There’s lot still to do.

Then, once we’ve got this one under our belt we’ll be straight into arranging a Christmas lecture and practical for 12 to 18-year-olds. We’re already planning for symposium events for 2018. It’s non-stop.”

Further full and up to date details of the Symposium can be found on the Museums website here 

Tickets are still available and can be bought online. I’ve just bought mine for what will surely be a fascinating and interesting day for any car enthusiast.

Tuesday 31 January 2017

Catching up with some of our other activities and rewards

One of the great things about being a volunteer at the British Motor Museum is that we get the chance to become involved in a wide range of other activities besides our normal duties and projects. This blog gives a brief overview of what else some of us have been up to over the last six months.

The Classic Virgins Experience Day is perhaps one of the best examples of this, where volunteers have now become an integral part of this popular one day course. Put simply, the day is for members of the public who have an interest in owning a classic car, but need more knowledge and experience of what it actually entails. Theory and basic maintenance sessions are given as well as rides in a variety of classic cars – some owned by the volunteers themselves. The next Classic Virgins will be held on 22 April, details of which can be found here.

Volunteers in the Museum’s workshop examine a variety of classic cars

An event that always attracts a large number of volunteers is the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show at the NEC in November. On your feet, manning a stand from 10am. until 6pm. – talking classic cars is dream ticket for some of our volunteers. However, as only three volunteers are required for each of the show’s three days, a ballot is necessary to select the lucky nine.


Manning the British Motor Museum’s stand at the NEC in November

The Museum’s popular annual Christmas Lecture took place on 3 December and featured Steve Liddle, Principal Aerodynamicist at Renault Sport F1 Racing. Following his lecture and a brief lunch break, delegates returned to put what they’d learned into practice, by building some simple small electric model cars, incorporating their own take on what they’d learned regarding aerodynamic efficiency. This is where four of our volunteers played their part, as following a training day in November, they were well briefed to have an enjoyable time helping and advising with the model building.

Volunteers training and model building for the Christmas Lecture

Whilst we, as do most volunteers, give up our free time to get involved in projects we have an interest in, it’s always nice to be rewarded or recognised. The British Motor Museum is very good at that and once again we were all invited to their annual Christmas Dinner on 19 December. Prior to that, a day trip down to Luton to visit Vauxhall’s Heritage Centre was also arranged for us all. This was particularly interesting as the centre only opens by appointment and two guides were on duty to show us around and explain the history of the exhibits.

Our well attended day trip to the Vauxhall Heritage Centre was of great interest

Finally, it was nice to be recognised at the inaugural West Midlands Volunteers Awards, organised by the West Midlands Museum Development. Held at the Birmingham Hippodrome back in September and hosted by local BBC journalist Sarah Falkard, the Museum had two finalists in the eight categories. The first was the Project Award, for this very blog and the second for Working Together, for the whole team at the new Collections Centre. Whilst we didn’t come away with the top prize in either category it was nice for our work to be recognised and to come away with nomination placques. The three of us who went had a good night out as well!

Roger King and Cameron Slater (Working Together) and Roger Gollicker (Project Award)