If motoring theory and practice gets you in a spin, there's only one part of the country to visit

A driving tour of the English Midlands is a journey through the history of motoring itself. No region in the world has contributed as much to the development of powered transport, from wobbly Victorian velocipedes to the curvaceous computer-controlled bullets of today - and pretty well everything in between.

A driving tour of the English Midlands is a journey through the history of motoring itself. No region in the world has contributed as much to the development of powered transport, from wobbly Victorian velocipedes to the curvaceous computer-controlled bullets of today - and pretty well everything in between.

The undisputed car capital of the kingdom is Coventry, much derided for the concrete brutality of its post-Blitz redesign, but catching the mood of this millennium by constructing a softer centre that gives precedence to the pedestrian and cyclist. Few city centres offer so many places to walk without having to cross a road.

That said, Coventry quite properly celebrates its motorised history with an excellent Transport Museum that's just reopened after a £7.5m refurbishment.

Jaguar - whose founder set up shop in Coventry in 1928 - naturally has a section all to itself, but so do another dozen legendary makes and marques that rolled off local assembly lines for most of the 20th century. Aston Martin, Austin, Daimler, Hillman, Humber, Lanchester, Sunbeam, Triumph - all first saw the light of day hereabouts, along with the world's first tank, dumper trunk, and many of the components of Thrust SSC, which traversed a section of the Nevada Desert at 763 mph in October 1997.

While many of Coventry's famous names have become museum pieces, Jaguar is still going strong. Enthusiasts can spend an enthralling half-day exploring the past, present and future of luxury car-making with a tour of the production line and Jaguar's Heritage Trust Museum. The latter includes an 1896 Daimler, the oldest British car on display anywhere, and an array of gorgeous SS100s from the Thirties.

Half an hour to the south, junction 12 of the M40 leads you to Gaydon, a former RAF base which now houses the largest display of classic British cars ever assembled. The imposing circular building has a rotating display of 200 cars, placing more emphasis on the Oxford-English lexicon of motoring: MG, Morris, Riley, Rover and Wolseley - all made at Cowley in Oxford, which these days turns out the new Mini, experiencing a second lease of life (and German ownership) in its sixth decade. Among Gaydon's star exhibits are the first MG sports car, the first production Mini, the first Land Rover and the first Range Rover. For people who prefer to drive than look, there are outdoor circuits for go-karts, electric cars and 4x4s.

But for the ultimate hands-on experience, head along the A43 to Silverstone, the spiritual home of British motor racing. In exchange for £249, you can spend three hours on one of the fastest circuits in the world comparing the performance of such supercars as the Porsche 911 and Ferrari 355. Or, for £49, negotiate the mud, water hazards and ditches of the adjacent 4x4 circuit in a Land Rover Defender.

If two wheels rather than four set your pulse racing, Silverstone's motorcycling equivalent is Donington Park, just off the M1 south of Nottingham, which offers similar packages. Donington also displays a world-class collection of Formula 1 cars.

Drivers of a certain age will tell you there's an alternative way of achieving satisfaction behind the wheel - by taking it slowly, rather than hammering the thing to within an inch of its life. At the Morgan Motor Company at Malvern Link in Worcestershire, beautiful, hand-built, convertible roadsters remind us of how things once were.

At least they would do, if there wasn't so much other traffic doing battle alongside them. Happily, the tourist office at Cheltenham has put together a weekend package that comes close to re-creating the leisurely romance of Thirties motoring: on Friday lunchtime, you pick up your Morgan 4+4 from the factory and drive to one of three hotels in Cheltenham Spa (your base for the weekend), from where you can tootle along two designated routes through the Cotswolds. It can be slow going at times, but that's how it used to be. "We thought we were being radical," says Ken Jennings, who devised the package, "but I recently came across a Cheltenham guide from the early Thirties which suggested routes through Cotswold Country that are almost identical to today's."

MIDLAND MOTORING HIGHLIGHTS

Coventry Transport Museum, (02476 832425, www.transport-museum.com). Open all year except Christmas, 10am-4.30pm. Admission free.

Jaguar Production Facility. To arrange free morning or afternoon tours, call Audrey Goddard on 02476 203301.

Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Museum (02476 203322). Open Mon-Thu, 9am-4pm; Fri, 9am-3pm; and 10am-4pm on the last Sunday of every month. Admission free.

Heritage Motor Museum, (01926 641188, www.heritage-motor-centre.co.uk). Open 10am-5pm every day. Rides 11am-3.30pm. Admission £8 (under-16s £6).

Silverstone is staging the British Grand Prix on 11 July. For test-drive packages, ring 01327 850 106 or book online at www.silverstone-circuit.co.uk.

Donington Park hosts the British Motorcycling Grand Prix on 25 July. 01332 810048, www.donington-park.co.uk for packages.

Romantic Road short breaks can be booked by phoning 01242 517110 or e-mailing Info@Cheltenham.gov.uk. Packages start at £825

For more information see www.visitheartof england.com. For a free holiday planner, see www.visitengland.com

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