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October 2017

What do you remember about 1981? The royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer? The first flight of space shuttle Columbia? The election of Ronald Reagan as US President? The launch of a new James Bond film 'For Your Eyes Only' starring Roger Moore? The discovery of the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean? The first London Marathon? Or maybe the wide array of completely new vehicles that could be found alongside recently facelifted designs on Britain's roads; cars like the Austin Metro, Triumph Acclaim, Vauxhall Cavalier, Volkswagen Polo and, at the more glamourous end, the Audi Quattro.

In 1981 the Austin Metro had just been launched and British Leyland put all their efforts behind promoting the vehicle they hoped would turn their fortunes round. This included providing Lady Diana Spencer with a Metro during her engagement to Prince Charles.

In the Classic Car world, there was another significant event that year when British Leyland Heritage (the forerunner of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust) launched its 'Production Record Inquiry' service. For the first time, the owners of marques which were manufactured by British Leyland could apply for the details of their cars as they were recorded in the original factory ledger. The new service started modestly, with the information being issued on a simple letterhead at the rate of fifty or so a month. As it grew in popularity, a numbered 'Heritage Certificate' was introduced in 1989, which was redesigned in 2001 to meet the requirements of the DVLA who were now accepting it as an official document for a number of purposes, from gaining tax-exemption to re-registering a historic number plate. In 2017 we are on course to issue around 5,500 Certificates for this year alone, to be sent all over the world.

The evolution of the Heritage Certificate, left to right: A 'PRI' letter from 1987, a formal Certificate from 1994 and a Premier Certificate from 2017.

The Certificate itself is not the only thing which has changed over the years. When the service was introduced, build and sales records were still arriving from all areas of Rover Group which still had several manufacturing plants in operation including Longbridge, Cowley and Canley, each producing a large array of marques and models. They were in many different formats from bound paper ledgers, to microfilm and computer printouts. The research was done directly from this wide range of original documents, but over the years wear and tear began to take its toll. So we have embarked on an extensive programme of conservation and digitisation to preserve the records for future generations. It will be some years before the project is complete, but thousands of records have already been repaired and digitised meaning that the originals can be safely stored and scans used to undertake the ever increasing volume of research as the number of enquiries continues to grow.

During the 1980s Anders Ditlev Clausager, the founder of the service, undertook research from build records using a microfilm reader. In 2017, Heritage Certificate Officer Richard Bacchus is able to search the same records as digital scans. Both types of document, however, can be equally challenging to interpret!

As 2017 progressed, a review of the statistics showed that we were fast approaching the issue of the 100,000th Certificate since the service began 36 years ago. We decided a special celebration was in order, so we launched a competition, giving classic car enthusiasts the opportunity to win this landmark Certificate. The prize was to include a Premier Heritage Certificate, along with a Technical Specification, a Heritage Document Wallet and a Family Museum Entrance ticket, valid for one year.

The competition question focused on the year 1981 – the birthday of the Heritage Certificate. British Leyland had just launched the Austin Metro on which it was pinning hopes for a renewal in its fortunes. There was also a link to another famous event of the time, the first Royal Wedding since the 1960s. So our question was – 'During her engagement to Prince Charles, Lady Diana Spencer famously drove an 'emberglow red' Austin Metro. Can you guess the exact date it left the production line?'

To promote the competition, at the beginning of September Deputy Archivist Charlotte Gallant joined the British Motor Museum's Marketing Team at the Goodwood Revival in West Sussex. This is a three-day festival held each September to celebrate the circuit's history between 1948 and 1966. The weather was characteristically varied with torrential rain one moment and glorious sunshine the next. This is the first year the British Motor Museum have attended this prestigious event. To advertise the Vehicle Collection we took with us the Austin A90 Westminster which Richard Pape used to travel from the arctic North Cape in Norway to the African South Cape. As part of the promotion of Archive Services we advertised our competition.

Charlotte promotes our competition to win Heritage Certificate 100,000 on the British Motor Museum stand at Goodwood.

Out of all the entries, the one who guessed closest to the correct date was Mr James Parker, the owner of a 1978 MGB Roadster. Replacing the MGA in 1962, the MGB is a two door sports car built by BMC and later British Leyland until 1980 at their Abingdon factory. The MGB was an innovative and lightweight design for its time, being one of the first cars to include crumple zones and it became very popular in the USA. Mr Parker's Inca Yellow MGB was produced in November 1978 and was quickly dispatched to a well-established, family-run dealership in Birmingham 'Startin's Limited' which specialised in vehicles produced by the Austin Morris Division of British Leyland as well as being a manufacturer of Daimler hearses. The car was registered the following year and bought soon afterwards.

The competition winners, Mr and Mrs Parker, with their Inca Yellow MGB and their prize.

Mr Parker purchased this car about three and a half years ago. A man who has had a long passion for classic cars, he has previously owned a Triumph Spitfire and a Lotus Elan to name but a few. The MG was in good condition when he bought it, already retro-fitted with chrome bumpers and a larger 2-litre engine as opposed to its original rubber bumpers and BMC B-series 1.8-litre engine. Each year Mr and Mrs Parker enjoy taking their MGB to classic car shows and rallies around Britain, their favourite being the annual Cotswold Caper organised by the Gloucestershire branch of the MG Owners Club. Now in its eleventh year, the Caper gets almost 200 MGs attending each year with the proceeds going to a local charity.

The tale of the Heritage Certificate is one that is still going strong. From the seed of a brilliant idea back in 1981, an extensive information service has grown reaching classic car enthusiasts all over the world. The original build and sales records in our care provide the knowledge required to help owners restore, licence, import and export their cherished vehicles; but for many, they are simply valued as a unique 'birth certificate' for their beloved car.

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