• On Motoring Museums
In view of the great heritage on which our Motor Industry has thrived and the enormous and growing interest in everything associated with the history of road transport, it is to the discredit of successive Governments that this country has no National Transport Museum. This may be true also of other countries but at least many of them have excellent motor museums built by private enterprise. The Daimler-Benz “one-make” museum at Stuttgart and the Turin Museum, to name only two, set a high standard which even a State-sponsored display would be hard pressed to improve on.
A tourist attraction, an educational asset, and a prestige advertisement for British skill and craftsmanship a National Motor or Transport Museum should pay high dividends. Yet this is something those in official positions continue to ignore. The popular transport museum at Clapham in Smith London is being dispersed. Certainly we have the Science Museum at South Kensington. But it has to encompass many interests under one organisation, has always appeared to favour aviation at the expense of the motor car and, in spite of issuing various catalogues, never seems able to present its motoring exhibits in a crowd-drawing fashion or to complete for them its expansion and restoration plans, although recently much improved.
It was left to The Motor to form some sort of motor museum back in 1912. This was disbanded on the outbreak of war. Years later the late R. G. J. Nash tried to get the Government to erect a modest building in which to house his collection of early motor vehicles and aeroplanes and open it as a public display. Nothing came of this and he continued to use a lofty shed hidden in a corner of Brooklands aerodrome (his premises enjoyed the whimsical title of “The International Horseless Carriage Corporation, Inc.” and could repair television sets) until several of his veterans were lost when bombs fell on their frail home.
Another opportunity was lost when Brooklands was for sale for £330,000 in 1946. It might by then have become long-in-the-tooth as a race-track but it would have served as a splendid site for a National Automobile and Aeronautical Museum, being nostalgically historic ground, with many permanent buildings already available, situated on a main-line railway, less than 20 miles from London. Again, apathy prevailed and Brooklands was lost. Today the B.A.C., while appreciating its historic significance and extending every courtesy to The Brooklands Society and other interested parties, is using Brooklands as an aerodrome and industrial site and has every right to regard it as such. It has no intention at present of moving out or selling any part of the grounds, but has of necessity had to dismantle recently some of the historic landmarks thereon. So it has been left to Lord Montagu of Beaulieu to endeavour to bequeath to the Nation what no Government has properly provided. Lord Montagu opened his Motor Museum in 1952, at his home at Palace House, Beaulieu. Since then the scheme has been expanded, with a new museum building in 1959, and Beaulieu now attracts well over 500,000 visitors a year, 100,000 of them from Overseas. It is, indeed, the second largest tourist attraction in Britain, after the Tower of London.
Much of the attraction of the Montagu Motor Museum is contained in the fact that instead of harbouring mostly extremely-ancient exhibits which were antiquated before 1900, as the Science Museum tended to do, it shows a representative array of vehicles ranging down the years, so that the continuing development of road transport is well portrayed and those who go there can see makes and models they themselves remember riding in or driving, instead of having to gaze at musty relics dating from before the dawn of practical motoring—although there are some of these. Moreover, the Montagu Motor Museum believes in entering its vehicles quite frequently for suitable rallies and competitions attended by the public. And no matter how essential it is to preserve old cars in museums, it is far, far better for them to be demonstrated in realistic and satisfying action. The Editor of Motor Sport has, for example, through this Museum’s ideals and the generosity of Lord Montagu, been able to drive several different Beaulieu exhibits in the London-Brighton Veteran Car Run, etc.
The time has now come when Lord Montagu considers the Museum too big to remain his sole responsibility. Consequently, he has formed charitable trusts in order to secure the Museum and Library for the long-term benefit of the Nation. His idea is to re-form these as part of a new Beaulieu Museum Complex, divorced from the other attractions at his stately home.
This ambitious project was the subject of a lunch party at the Savoy Hotel, London, in May (his guests drank Beaulieu Abbey Rosé, 1965) when His Lordship outlined his plans before a large gathering of the Press and industries concerned and showed a model and pictures of the proposed extensions. Employing the services of Leonard Manasseh, the well-known architect, and Elizabeth Chesterton, the celebrated consultant, Lord Montagu has provided for a new and bigger Motor Museum and a library and information centre away from Palace House and the Abbey, a new restaurant, hidden car parks connected by a bridge to the public road to obviate congestion in the village, an outdoor arena for Club rallies and tests, and suitable facilities for the Motor Industry to stage pre-view releases of new cars and, indeed, to display entire ranges of its modern products.
This is clearly a most commendable plan, to which we would suggest a track suitable for the demonstration of the Museum’s racing cars, because there could be no greater attraction than that. The Montagu Museum Complex plan was conceived in 1964 and completed by 1966. Lord Montagu was able to tell his guests that a year later the Ministry of Housing and Local Planning had approved it and that all the necessary procedures at local and county level have been passed, so that the local council is now free to issue outline consent.
There is one problem. The cost of the envisaged buildings is in the region of £½-million and the entire project will swallow some £750,000, or five times the amount it cost Locke King to construct a banked motor course, large enough to enclose the whole of the proposed new Beaulieu Complex, 60 years ago . . .
This sum Lord Montagu hopes to raise through an appeal to industry in general and the Motor Industry in particular. By contributing in capital or in kind to the Museum Trusts they would obtain control of a 60-year lease on the Museum and Library buildings and be empowered to buy or own vehicle’s and other exhibits in order to keep them in this country. In his turn, Lord Montagu would lease the necessary land “at a peppercorn rent”, make his collection of cars and books exclusively available to the Trust, and make financial arrangements with it to ensure sufficient funds to meet the annual running of the new Motor Museum.
Presumably the cars which the Trust would be able to control would number about 40, remembering that many of the MMM cars are loan-exhibits. Nevertheless, a formidible heirloom.
The Government, which is concerned with how the population is to make use in future of its growing leisure hours (no problem to those with old cars to restore and modern ones to repair!) and which regards the motorist and the Motor Industry as such good “customers”, taxwise, might have been expected to give the new Beaulieu scheme a substantial grant. But, although Mr. Richard Marsh, Minister of Transport, who attended the Savoy luncheon, is obviously in favour of the expansion and spoke amusingly and enthusiastically of the past great achievements of the Motor Industry, and of its motor racing successes, which the Museum commemorates, he rather cruelly told Lord Montagu he could count on all possible support from the Government—except money.
So, as we shall not get a Government transport museum for the Nation, the Beaulieu Project seems to be the next best thing. Lord Montagu is an ambitious and purposeful person, well versed in public relations, so it is likely that he will be able to raise the large sums of money required to carry out his plans. He has had a good Press. Sir Hugh Casson has agreed to chair the committee which will have the task of ensuring that the New Beaulieu sets a standard of display which will compare with the World’s very best exhibitions. And already Ford, Alcan and B.P. have expressed interest . . . We wish the project the success it richly deserves.
To succeed, however, it will have to get off the ground more effectively than the National Vehicle Trust which Lord Montagu tried to start in 1959 and which, after two meetings at the R.A.C., with Cecil Clutton in the chair, was formed in 1960. Nothing has been heard of this Trust for many years. Lord Montagu offered it the ex-Campbell 350 h.p. V12 Sunbeam (does this preclude this famous racing car from the present project?) and Mr. D. Scott-Moncrieff presented it with a vintage Chenard-Walcker saloon (where is this car now?).