Sponsor Ford bans Rolls and Mini from Dome

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CLASSIC British cars, including the Rolls-Royce, the Mini and the Morris Minor, are to be excluded from the Millennium Dome "zone" dealing with transport, because the likely sponsor, Ford, is insisting that only its cars should go on show.

The American motor giant is close to finalising a deal to invest pounds 12m in the "Mobility Zone", which will trace the history and future of transport in Britain. In return, it will be given the opportunity to show off its products - historic cars such as the Escort and the Capri, and blueprint vehicles for the 21st century - in the Dome.

Cars manufactured by other companies will be banned, to give Ford exclusive "branding" rights. "If you are paying the money for it you would expect your products to be displayed," said one insider at the company. "We would expect them to have Ford cars and not those of rival companies."

A spokesman for the New Millennium Experience Company, which is organising the Greenwich exhibition, confirmed that official sponsors were guaranteed "market exclusivity". He said: "That would mean that if Ford was to sponsor the Mobility Zone, you would not have Rolls-Royces in there. The Mobility Zone is about the future of transport, there are other zones that will feature the 'best of British'." Although Ford owns Jaguar and Aston Martin, this means that many of the most famous British cars would be left out of the exhibition.

Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, made clear earlier this year when he visited Disneyworld - and sat in General Motors' "car of the future" - that he would be happy for companies to exhibit products in the Millennium Dome as they do in the American theme park.

However, the revelation has infuriated the Conservatives, who accused the Government of turning the Greenwich exhibition into a "trade fair". Peter Ainsworth, the shadow culture spokesman, plans to table written questions in the Commons about the commercialisation of the Dome. "Henry Ford said 'history is bunk' and the millennium celebration seems to have bought into this idea," he said. "There is a danger that the marking of the 2,000 years since the birth of Christ will be nothing but a marketing opportunity."

Boots, the chemist, is also expected to announce shortly that it is investing in the Body Zone, which will feature a giant statue of two entwined figures.

The exhibition in the Mobility Zone will trace different modes of transport through the ages and is likely to include some kind of train to carry visitors around the area. It will examine the advantages and disadvantages of different types of transport - from walking and cycling, to trains run on magnetic levitation and space travel.

Sir Neil Cossons, director of the Science Museum who is the "godfather" - the expert adviser - to the Mobility Zone, said the aim was to encourage people to assess the environmental, financial and social pros and cons of vehicles. He confirmed that the zone would also deal extensively with the motor car: "The car gives freedom to people, it is a status symbol, a cultural object," he said.

Although he stressed that the zone would not be turned into a "Ford showroom", he said that if the American motor company sponsored the area it would be heavily involved in the content. "One of the big benefits would be that we could tap into their expertise ... where the motor car is concerned, Ford would want to see Ford products."

Although Ford is an American company, it employs in Britain 28,000 of its 330,000 staff.

t The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is investigating the motor industry over allegations of anti-competitive trading. It is believed John Bridgeman, the OFT director-general, will refer the issue of high car prices to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.


The top 10 cars in the history of motoring according to 'Autocar' magazine: Ford Model-T: The archetypal popular mass-produced car.

VW Beetle: The car's almost human features made it ideal to star in the Herbie films.

Citroen DS: Innovative on its debut 40 years ago.

Morris Mini: First rolled off the assembly lines in 1959, with a price tag of pounds 496.

Jaguar E-type: Classic British sports car launched in 1961 and built until 1974.

Ferrari 250 GTO: The ultimate Italian sports car. One sold for pounds 10,000,000.

Lotus Elan: The glass-fibre-bodied sports car could bait much bigger- engined rivals.

Porsche 911: An automotive icon, now 35 years old. Design based on the VW Beetle.

BMW 3-series: As much about image as performance.

McLaren F1: Holder of the unofficial record top speed for a road car - a fraction over 240mph. Just 100 F1s have been built, including 28 racers.