Cotswolds Motor Museum

To have a look at another of the smaller motor museums we drove to the picturesque village of Bourton-on-the-Water, close to Stow-on-the-Wold, on the A429 in Gloucestershire.

Mike Cavanagh, who has been collecting suitable artefacts since 1959, opened this museum in 1978 after his return from South Africa, thus making good use of some derelict cottages which had been part of the Old Mill on the river Windrush. Its theme is to provide a journey down memory lane, rather than just display a number of inanimate motor-cars, and to this end the exhibits are surrounded by the finest collection of motoring memorabilia to be found anywhere, including some 800 old signs and advertising plaques, one of the largest collections of children’s pedal-cars, and period objects in and about the cars. Miniature cars include a one-off Deurmekaar cut-down A7, built in 1927 at Port Elizabeth as a publicity gimmick but fun for children learning to drive.

The cars themselves number about 30, changed from time to time. Among them is Cavanagh’s first vintage car, a Brooklands Riley 9 thought to have run in the South African GP; its radiator has been moved forward to accommodate a 1.7-litre Riley Six engine, following a blow-up in 1947. When Mike’s mother needed a new car he traded the Riley in for £30, but ten years later traced it and bought it back. Keeping it company is the model of the similar car which was once used by Percy Maclure’s youngest son to open speed trial courses before the war; first electric-powered, it was later given a 98cc Villiers engine, raising its speed to around 50 mph.

Another prized exhibit is the 1935 Austin taxi, bought in 1973 and shipped out to Africa before being brought back in 1977. It came off the London ranks in 1951, then served in Birmingham and on the Earl of Aylesford’s estate, and has run at least 700,000 miles; yet even the leather roof-lining has survived holing by umbrellas.

The essence of the museum is atmosphere. Thus we have a reproduction of the village garage run by Jack Lake, who was chauffeur to Dr Corser when he had the first car in the village, a Darracq. Jack’s hat and coat hang over a chair, and 1913 BSA, 1915 Indian and 1921 Sunbeam motorcycles stand in the workshop. Then there is a corner devoted to motorcycle football, with pictures and the ball itself setting off the 1934 Levis and Calthorpe bikes which were ridden by British champion Harold Breach.

Memorabilia abounds: petrol and oil cans, models, china car ornaments including Dalton plates, an early AA Box made of ash, antique petrol pumps, games, 1923 Angela and 1926 Hutchings trailer caravans— the list is endless. Mike prefers original exhibits, and if restoration is required (as in the case of a Riley’s mudguards, and the sides of the Ulster A7 whose Union Jacks so offended German soldiers that they hacked through the body) he prefers to plate behind the holes, leaving most of the structure intact.

Other cars include a fine left-hand-drive BMW 327 cabriolet, an XK140 Jaguar coupe, a rare drophead Standard 8, an equally rare Mk V Jaguar drophead, an early Austin 12/4 tourer, a Rover 8 van, Chummy, Nippy and Swallow saloon A7s, an original 1936 Morgan Super Sports (but with JAP, not Matchless, engine) and a 1934 Riley Kestrel. You can also see a 1950 Sanbeam Alpine, a 11/2-litre Invicta saloon, J2 and TD MGs, an MG Y-type saloon, an Austin 10 Clifton and Morris Minor two-seater, as well as an Indian sidecar outfit with leaf-spring forks and a one-owner 1924 P & M solo bike. But the supporting artefacts are almost more interesting, covering aeroplanes and model boats as well as motoring items. And if your lady is not interested, next door is the Village Life Exhibition.

A modest 80p is charged for entry to the Cotswolds Motor Museum, where quizsheets for children and an excellent 95p colour guide are available. It is open seven days a week, 10am to 6pm from March to November, and in the evenings by appointment. WB