The passing of Lord Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu of Beaulieu on August 31 made me think for the first time in many years about the National Motor Museum he founded back in 1972.
I used to go quite a lot when I was a child and there’s no question that seeing the 1000hp Sunbeam, the Golden Arrow and Donald Campbell’s Bluebird fostered within me a fascination for the subject of land speed record breaking that lives with me to this day.
I have many books on the subject (I’d recommend Man Against the Salt by Harvey Shapiro and Bluebird and the Dead Lake by John Pearson as two of the better tomes, utterly different in content and style but equally fascinating), and will bore for Britain on the subject of who was the greatest record breaker of them all (Breedlove, just), why Donald Campbell was never the fastest man on earth, whether the Budweiser Rocket did or did not actually break the sound barrier in 1979, and the somewhat extraordinary fact that so far as I am aware, JG Parry Thomas is the only land speed record holder to have died during an attempt.
But back to the museum. When I decided to use the passing of Lord Montagu as the front door into this story, my plan had been lament the fact that his museum was such a stuffy, underinvested, unimaginative place that was in no way worthy of being our National Motor Museum, and hope that now it might be provided with a new lease of life and be transformed into an museum worthy of the extraordinary exhibits it contains.
Inconveniently, however, and precisely because the museum was so dull the last time I visited, I have not actually been for many, many years. So before getting stuck in I thought I’d at least check it out first. And it turns out I’m entirely wrong.
I am inherently wary of Trip Advisor as a research tool, because I know how many reviews are posted for the wrong reasons, but when there are 2362 of them, you can be fairly comfortable that the general thrust will be accurate. And when over 2000 of those rate the subject as either ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very good’, it’s probably safe to say you’re looking at a business that’s doing its job the right way and for the right reasons.
The National Motor Museum in 1972
What I should do now is get in my car, drive down to the New Forest and see for myself – and I will, but in the meantime and thanks to wonders of the modern science, I also have access to some of the best informed, high quality brains in the land. Namely yours. So if you’ve been to the National Motor Museum and loved it or loathed it, perhaps you could tell us about your experience and what you’d do to improve it further?
For myself and were I in charge, I would be looking at all and any ways of getting Segrave’s red 1000hp Sunbeam running again in time for the 90th anniversary of the date in March 1927 when it became the first car in the world to travel across the face of the planet at 200mph. Even if only one of its 23.5-litre V12 Matabele engines were coaxed back into life, would you not travel the length of the country to see it stir? Me too. It would be a fitting way also to celebrate what would have been the 90th birthday of the museum’s founder the previous October.