October 2016

Hello, my name is Stephen and I am the Curator at the British Motor Museum. After many hours of checking, packing, moving and re-shelving of objects, our new store for Museum artefacts opened for the public to enjoy over the Summer. We've called it 'Automobilia' because it's a kind of cabinet (or cabinets) of curiosities, full of the huge variety of interesting motoring-related items that we can't display in the main part of the Museum.

It doesn't matter how long you have worked with a collection, as a Curator the process of completing a project involving a particular group of objects naturally means you take a fresh look at them.  Having moved over 3,000, there are plenty to grab one's attention! Here's just a very small selection of items that caught my eye.

Triumph XL90 is one of the more unusual design models that we own. It was the vision of Standard-Triumph stylist E. Pepall; how, in 1967, he saw the car for the year 2000. XL90 had a raft of novel features. On the motorway, the car used electro-magnetic pulses from cables buried in the road to keep on track. An engine governor controlled the car’s speed and a radar unit detected cars ahead and the speed adjusted accordingly.

The car had a plastic body strengthened by an anti-roll hoop. The roof was lined with electro-luminescent substance which, when energised, provided a diffused glow inside the car. The windscreen was designed to vibrate, faster than the eye could detect, in order to throw rain and mist off the screen. The lamp mounted on the roof showed the vehicle’s speed; a steady light increasing as the car went faster.

Pepall's design wasn't far off the shape of a modern MPV, although the predicted price of £2,000 in the year 2000 was, perhaps, a little way off.

Throughout the store you'll find all sorts of boxes and bags that car parts were packaged in. It's fascinating to look at how the type, style and even the language used on the packets changed over the years. One of my favourites is this box for a Lucas 'Calcia Cadet' bicycle lamp from 1930.  It was part Lucas' Cyclealities line of products for cycles, which it ran alongside the  Motoralities range of car accessories. With a wonderful strap line of 'We make Light of our labour' and a proud British-made stamp, you expected a good quality accessory inside the box.


The collection includes many hundreds of awards and trophies, from first prize in famous motor races, to cups for company snooker tournaments and prizes for factory fire-fighting competitions. Many are very traditional trophies but some are more creatively made. This one, for example, a beautiful shaped group of three flowers, was awarded to the winning team of three Triumph TR4s in the GT category at the International Tulip Rally in 1963.

Long before the advent of the sat-nav, the map was the trusted way of navigating British roads. The Webster motor map was a more compact solution for the driver - really a 1930s motorist’s gadget. It saved unfolding a large map in the confines of a car or leafing through the pages of a road atlas.

The navigator simply fitted a cartridge with the map of the area required into the holder. The map was on a scroll so could be wound on to the next section of the route as you motored along. When your journey took you to another place, you simply swapped to a new cartridge with a map of the area of the country you were driving through.

Some of the objects we have in store are awaiting extra conservation treatment.  One such is a Drew & Sons 'En Route' tea basket, dating from around 1911.

Drew & Sons of Piccadilly Circus, London, began in the 1880s as purveyors of ‘gentlemen’s requisites’, including high quality items such as shaving kits, cigar cases, hip flasks, luggage, pen sets and lavish picnic hampers.

The ‘En-Route’ tea basket sets, such as this one, were popular with early motorists and were available for two, four or six people. The contents, including a spirit burner, plates, cups, dishes, cutlery and condiment boxes, were housed in a crush-resistant wicker basket.

Finally, something a little more modern. As history never stops we aim to add newer items that tell the story of the motor industry in the current day, sadly some of them from less fortunate times. One of the more poignant items is this simple union placard which dates from 2005 and the time when MG Rover met its demise at Longbridge.

Not long after the factory had shut its doors we were invited to visit the plant and see what items we might save as a historical record. As we walked through, I noticed in an office window several floors up, a placard from of one the marches that were a familiar sight on the news, as workers fought to save their livelihoods.

These types of object are so often lost, thrown away after the heat of the occasion.

I was determined to find it and went from floor to floor, door to door, until I reached that window. In a single placard it described not only the struggle for jobs and the workers' passion to save a long-standing industry but another defining moment in the story of the modern motor industry.  It was worth the search!

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