Motoring: All our yesterdays on wheels: Phil Llewellin visits a museum offering motoring magic to the fans and fun to the uninitiated

JOHN Godfrey Parry Thomas, a brilliant engineer and a brave racing driver, is one of motoring's forgotten heroes. He set the world land speed record of 171 mph in 1926, but was killed a year later while trying to make his 27-litre monster, Babs, go even faster on Pendine Sands.

The burly Welshman also designed the very sophisticated and innovative Leyland Eight, which should have been a rival for the Rolls-Royce. Launched in 1920, it was doomed to be one of the British motor industry's magnificent failures. Only 14 were built.

But Parry Thomas now has a memorial, in an important new museum in rural Warwickshire. The sole surviving Leyland Eight - a huge two-seater with a 7.2-litre engine - is a star of the Heritage Motor Centre, which opens today and has the world's biggest collection of British cars, 300 of them.

Peter Mitchell, its infectiously enthusiastic managing director, nominates the white Leyland as one of his two favourite exhibits, the other being the 9.7-litre Austin that contested the French Grand Prix at Dieppe in 1908.

'I've driven many cars whose performance is much more explosive than the Austin's,' he says, 'but nothing can match the thrill of driving one-and-a-

half tons of engine at relatively high speeds on tyres about three inches wide and with brakes not much bigger than pennies]'

Visitors may wonder why such famous British marques as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Lagonda, Sunbeam, Humber, Hillman, Lotus, Singer and Vauxhall are not represented in a museum that cost pounds 8m to build. The answer is that the pounds 8m came from the Rover Group and the museum concentrates on those manufacturers that were clipped, butchered, rationalised, reorganised, consolidated and boiled down to the current triumvirate of Rover, Land Rover and MG.

Cars kept by the likes of Albion, Thornycroft, Trojan, Wolseley, Austin, Morris, Standard, Triumph and Riley were originally brought together in 1975, under the ill-fated British Leyland Motor Corporation's wing. The present British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, formed in 1983 and strongly supported by the Rover Group, exhibited about a quarter of its vehicles at Syon Park, Middlesex, until the new Heritage centre was built.

The impressive art deco building - focal point of a 65-acre site - also houses an archive containing about five million engineering drawings, miles of film, mountains of photographs and shelf upon shelf of specifications and production records.

'It's the biggest motor industry archive in Britain and probably one of the three biggest in the world, with Daimler-Benz and Ford,' says Mr Mitchell. 'But they can't match our breadth of information, because we cover so many marques.'

The oldest of these is one of two three-wheelers built by Herbert Austin in about 1896, when he was running the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Company's factory in Birmingham. At the other end of the time-scale stands a modern Mini. The gulf between them is bridged by cars ranging from unique breakers of speed records, such as the thigh- high MG that did 254.9mph in 1957, to such mass-produced models as the Austin Seven, Standard Vanguard and Triumph Vitesse.

The cars are complemented by themed exhibits and a Land Rover demonstration track. A small nature reserve occupies land left to nature when the site was part of an RAF base.

'We are aiming to attract at least 40,000 schoolchildren a year, because the motor car and motor industry involve all manner of educational things, from social and economic history to ecology, physics and fashion,' says Mr Mitchell. 'And we must try to appeal to the people who have to be dragged here by husbands, boyfriends and children. We want the unwilling visitors to go home feeling that they've had a good day out.'

The Heritage Motor Centre is at Banbury Road, Gaydon, Warwickshire (0926 641188).

(Photograph omitted)

The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

    £300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

    KS1 Teacher

    £95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

    HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

    £32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?