Where nostaglia meets live action

Where can you admire a 1896 Wolseley and then go quad bike racing? The Gafford family visits the Motor Heritage Centre at Gaydon. By Catherine Stebbings
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The Independent Travel
The Heritage Motor Centre is one of Britain's newest museums. The art deco-style building, set in 65 acres, is as startling as the collection it holds. Adjoined to a huge conference centre, which subsidises it, the Motor Centre is slick and efficiently run by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, which was established to collect and conserve artefacts, records and vehicles from those companies which over the years have come together to form the Rover Group.

It holds more than 300 vehicles, marking the development of the British motor industry from the 1890s to the present day. The 200 cars on display date from the earliest 1896 Wolseley. It is an exhilarating collection of every-day cars, extraordinary vehicles, prototypes that never went into production, the pounds 2m Rover BRM Le Mans racing car, off-road and land- speed-record vehicles.

Those looking for real action can try out the Quad bikes (weekends and holidays only) or a 4x4 demonstration as a passenger. There is a children's roadway with battery-operated cars and a nature trail. Imaginative tours of the museum allow children to dress up and climb into the cars.

The visitors

Geoff Gafford, a solicitor, and his wife Amanda took their children Philippa, 14, and James, 12.

Geoff: The museum brought back my childhood. I loved it. There is an excellent collection of British cars, many of which I have driven, as well as interesting cars like the Land Rover taxi for the film Judge Dredd and the Morris Minor used by Miss Marple for the television series. I loved the 1950s cars. Just the smell of the leather upholstery and the carpets is very special and quite unlike the smell of modern cars. The 1954 ZA MG Magnet is probably my pick of the collection.

The current exhibition on the Rover Jet Gas Turbine was fascinating. I've seen pictures of the Jet 1 so it was a treat actually to see the real thing.

Amanda: This was an excellent day for all four of us. It was like stepping into another world. The museum has a hi-tech feel about it, the whole place has been so thoughtfully laid out and the staff were friendly and helpful. There was a lovely atmosphere and it was an easy, relaxing day.

There was masses to see and do, whether you are a car enthusiast or not. The museum is in a great setting with good views and lots of space in and out.

Philippa: The building was like a spaceship, very modern and very exciting. I liked being driven in on the shuttle bus. It was not like a normal museum.

I found the tour very interesting. The guide told us about cars starting from the present day and going back to 1896.

I was interested in the cars upstairs which they had sawn in half to show the engine, and I really liked the cars with character which came out of the 1960s, like the Minis.

James: This museum was really good. They trace the history of the motor car around the edge where they have a Time Road showing cars from the beginning to the present - even the surface of the road changes - and there are models of people wearing the costume of the period.

There were so many different sorts of cars: weird mini vans, sports cars, limousines, electric cars, loads of Land Rovers, Morrises, Triumphs, racing cars, police cars, etc. My favourites were the MG racing cars which could go over 200mph. The quad bikes were excellent. I have never been on anything as powerful as that. The 4x4 was good too. They took us on a very rough course.

The deal

Entrance and fees: the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon (01926 641188) is just off junction 12 of the M40 near Warwick. Open daily except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. April-Oct 10am-6pm, Nov-March 10am-4.30pm. Adults pounds 5.50, children (five-16) pounds 3.50, under-five free, OAP pounds 4.50, Family Ticket (2 adults 3 children) pounds 15. Family season ticket pounds 30.

Access: there is a shuttle bus service operating from the car park to the museum and to the 4x4 course. Disabled access is excellent and includes a wheelchair lift on to shuttle.

Food: the restaurant serves a very high standard of full meals and snacks. Children's meals pounds l.75, full meals served between 12pm-2.30pm, pounds 3.25-pounds 4.25, include beef stew and dumplings, coq au vin, savoury pancakes. Picnic area outside.

Attractions: Quad bikes operate weekends and holidays only. Adults pounds 2.50, children over 6 pounds l.50. 4x4 Land Rover off-road experience: Adults pounds 2.50, children pounds l.50. Electric car roadway with mini Formula One cars for children aged six-12 pounds l.50. There is a large adventure playground and a nature trail. Colouring corner and model cars for children inside the museum and other events like treasure hunts are organised at busy times.

Forthcoming events include: 24-26 May Austin Seven 75th Anniversary; 15 June BMC Marque Day; 21-22 June All Rover Rally.

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