The Midland Motor Museum

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The Bob Roberts/Michael Barker Sports Car Collection at Bridgnorth

Motor museums are springing up around this green and pleasant land rather like motoring mushrooms. Last January Motor Sport described the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, we have dealt from time to time with the splendid collection of racing cars at Tom Wheatcroft’s Donington Museum, and we covered the Stratford Motor Museum in 1974—and we have recently visited the important new Midland Motor Museum, at Bridgnorth. This last-named is a display primarily of post-war sporting cars, and a few of what we understand are known as classics (or Grande Classe cars), comprising mainly the collections of Bob Roberts, well-known Council member of the Bugatti OC and his partner Michael Barker, whose interest in Jaguars, Aston Martins and motorcycles rivals that of Bob’s fondness for Ferraris and Bugattis, etc. The Museum comprises a single hall, formed from a vast 18-century stableyard, and you will find it If miles from the holiday town of Bridgnorth (the steam railway, etc.), on your left as you drive out of Stourbridge towards Bridgnorth. The buildings were designed by the Evans Cotterell Partnership of Wolverhampton and consist of the usual entrance-foyer and motor bookshop. A tea-room will be attractively situated in Stanmore Hall, a fine Georgian mansion situated between the car park and the Museum building. A 1 1/2-acre lake, children’s play area, and, for 1979, a 12-acre bird-garden under the care of aviculturist Roy Girdler, will form part of the most attractive 24-acre grounds.

But of course we went to see the cars, which comprise 30 very exciting and immaculate specimens, nicely displayed in this well-lit hall, led by the racing 24-litre Napier. Railton, now beautifully rebuilt, and original except for the disc brakes put on when it was used for parachute-testing after the war, a metal shield over the propshaft which an RAC scrutineer (also post-war) insisted upon, and the rebuilt Brooklands triple exhaust systems. The single fuel filler in the tail is as on the car in its earlier form, and the tyres are Dunlop 7.00 x 19s all round. That this great car, holder of the Brooklands laprecord, really motors will be confirmed by anyone who saw Bob Roberts drive it along the runway at the last Brooklands Re-Union.

Having examined the gleaming silver Napier-Railton, the eye is drawn to a row of Ferraris, six in all. These, all in showroom order but mostly used on the road with some frequency nevertheless, comprise the Daytona which finished 8th at Le Mans In 1972, a 1970 365GTB4, which has run only 40,000 miles, a completely rebuilt 275GTB a 1962 250GTO, found in Germany and which Bob claims is the best of its type in the World, the rebuilt ex-Paul Hawkins 1963 275LM and Bob’s own 1971 Dino “run-about”. So Maranello fans can certainly feast their eyes. . . . The Jaguar display consists of the long-nosed, finned, D-type which Hawthorn drove to victory in that sad 1955 Le Mans race, a short-nose D-type of the same year, raced in America, a nice 1953 C-type and a 1963 E-type coupe, which is on loan. Also Michael Barker’s Alton-Jaguar which he has used for races, sprints, etc. and which he reminded me I went to see back in 1958, in my VW Beetle. . . .

Hardly has one absorbed the beauty and latent power of these fine cars than one is confronted by a 1966 Ford GT40 coupe, and the Aston Martin collection—a very alluring 1955 DB3S which Paul Frere drove at Spa and a 1962 DB4GT. These British sports cars are matched by a fine pair of MercedesBenz 300SLs, a white open two-seater lent by Geoffrey Dunn and a black gull-wing coupe, which Bob Roberts will tell you is as quick, in his opinion, as the legendary lightweight 300SL coupes. The Museum is not entirely devoted to exotics, however. There is a very nice 1939 328 BMW, a 1962 Lotus Elite, a black 1950 Healey Silverstone and, on a stand in the foyer, a 3 1/2-litre show-finished Jaguar engine.

One expects Bugattis, naturally. There is Roberts’ own completely original, spotless 1927 Type 43 Grand Sport which he has owned and used since 1947, without any major mishaps. He confesses that YF 99, Proudly displaying its BOC badge, is perhaps his favourite out of the entire collection and reminds me that when he asked my advice, over 30 years ago, about where to have it rebuilt I recommended Gale, who obviously did a first-class job. Later Bugattis are the black-and-yellow, ex-Ronnie Symondson Type 57S drophead coupe and the far more sedate-looking 1939 Type 57C saloon with its spare wheel enclosed on the front nearside mudguard, Roberts being the second owner, of this one.

Facing the visitors, as it were, are three highly prized exhibits, intended to whet the appetite. These are a truly eye-catching Type 68 9 1/2-litre V12 Hispano-Suiza dating from 1931 and rebodied in Birmingham after the war with a coupe body which could easily be mistaken for the original, and the mechanicals of which have been recently strikingly restored, a 1939 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Barker tourer of notably handsome appearance, and a 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Thrupp & Maherly saloon with its trunk blending nicely into the stylish body lines. Vintage cars are not overlooked completely, because with the aforesaid immaculate Type 43 Bugatti, that French concept of a racing-type sports four-seater which compares so favourably with the heavyweight Bentley (none of these in the Museum yet) and Mercedes-Benz formula of that era, is none other than the 1929 ex-Malcolm Campbell 38-250 h.p. Mercedes-Benz four-seater, with which Malcolm took the Class-B Brooklands’ Mountain lap-record, and gained many other notable competition successes. (The handout says the over-8-litre class, but there was no Mountain lap-record in that category, hence an unfulfilled youthful desire of mine to take it with the 1912 15-litre GP Lorraine-Dietrich, which was for sale at the time for £5. But that is another story.) This great white Mercedes-Benz was acquired recently by the Midland Motor Museum from Alan Clark and still requires a little refurbishing.
Apart from the exhibits in the main hall, the stables around it have been used as annexes, housing the motorcycle exhibits and some rare cars. The latter include a 1951 Talbot-Lago 4 1/2-litre GP single-seater in French blue, which Fangio is said to have raced in America, a 1948 Type 26 Talbot-Lago three-carburetter two-door saloon, and a 1959 Talbot-Lago America coupe with 2-litre BMW engine. These two closed-bodied Lagos rank a very low-built racing single-carburetter, Matchless-engined Morgan three-wheeler with the wide front axle, cable frontbrakes, and devoid of any windscreen. The motorcycles, also housed, with one exception, in these pleasing stable bays, I will just run through for the benefit of two-wheeler enthusiasts. They embrace a 1929 Brough Superior SS100, two beefy racing Nortons, a 1934 International and a 1961 Manx 500, one of those o.h.v. TT Douglase., with a frame like the dirt-bikes, an 1,100 c.c. vee-twin McEvoy which seems to have lost its rockers at first glance, as these pick-up low down on the valve stems, so that the ends of the valves are exposed, 1965 125-c.c. TT MZ, a 1958 125-cc. TT Ducati, a 1950 250-cc. TT Velocette and 1960 7R A JS, 1964 250-cc. TT Honda , 1957 750-cc. NSU Sport Max and 1965 250-c.c. Royal-Enfield, these four all with racing fairings. Next door to these a splendid 1958 BMW “Kneeler” racing sidecar outfit keeps company with a 1954 Ariel Square-Four, a 1936 Excelsior Manxman, a 1967 Velocette Thruxton,  a 1936 BMW.

That’s about it, but the Museum has other exhibits, so intends to change the scene at reasonable intervals. It took from July last year to prepare and will be officially openedby a motoring celebrity on May 25th. Means while, you can see it for £1 a head, children 70p each, OAPs 50p each, until June 1st when adult admission will go up to £1.35. –W.B.

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