The British Motor Museum, nee Heritage Motor Centre, sits on the Banbury Road, Gaydon in the heart of Warwickshire’s rolling farmlands. And whilst Gaydon, both the parish and the village, can be described as, well, small, it does boast a pretty impressive neighbour, the former RAF V bomber base RAF Gaydon, now home to the Museum, the JLR Centre and the Aston Martin HQ. It is also the depository for the British Film Institute’s National Archive which houses the flammable silver nitrate film in a series of vaults. Not a lot of people know that.
But it is not the films, Astons or even 138 Squadron’s Vickers Valliants that we have come to see on this fine sunny April morning. It is the Museum’s famous collection of British cars – the world’s largest – and, of course, the Jags. Since we were last here, in 2015, the place has undergone a refurbishment which includes a separate exhibition hall housing many special Jaguars with some from the James Hull collection together with other notable vehicles laid out over two floors. Let’s dive in!
Opened around February 2016, the ground floor of this two-storey building majors on Jaguars from prototypes to the Queen Mum’s Mark VII. A various selection of BL’s past masterpieces occupies the first floor. The place was packed like Chelmsford Car Auctions, so photography proved challenging but sometimes rewarding. We’ll start with a look at some rarely seen prototypes: the first up, and my personal favourite, was the 2001 R–Coupe Concept in metallic green.
A design by Julian Thompson/Matt Beaven/Mark Phillips and Design Di
rector, Ian Callum, the car was completed in six months and unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show. It was the first four-seat Jaguar coupe since the XJ-C of the 70s. Advanced features included 21 inch alloys, pivoting xenon head lights, and LED fog and brake lights. Traditional materials – wood and leather – were used inside, but in a modern style. The dashboard, finished in anodised aluminium and leather with a simple instrument layout together with an electric hand brake and paddle shift gears, gave an elegant modern take on Jaguar’s signature features … and the full-length centre console incorporated a whisky flask. What’s not to like?
Alongside sat a brace of open-top sports cars. Separated by a decade, they showcased the way that Jaguar design would be heading. The 1988 XJ 42 Prototype, taking styling cues from the E-Type, looked good but did gain a few pounds over the gestation period and ended up owing more to the XJ-S than to any lean E-Type.
It did receive positive reviews in styling clinics but it was never going to fly, particularly with parent company BL in financial trouble. When Ford bought Jaguar, the XJ 42 was canned in favour of money being spent on improving the dire quality of the products.
The 1998 XK 180 Concept Car reminded me not only of the then current XK8 but also of the more recent Project 7, a car I was lucky enough to drive. Launched on the 50th anniversary of the XK120, this vehicle was fully operational, being largely based on a shortened XKR platform and mechanicals. Keith Helfet wielded the pen and ink ending with a shape a little reminiscent of the Le Mans winning D-Types of the ’50s and E-Types of the next decade whilst all the while showcasing a completely modern take for the new century. A truly compact sports car which paved the way for the F-Type which eventually followed.
It seems that you can never go far without seeing a James Bond car these days, and today was no exception. Sue’s favourite was the XKR used by the chief villain’s henchman in “Die Another Day”. One of eight used for Pierce Brosnan’s swan song Bond caper, it featured a full “weapons system” amongst other attributes including four-wheel drive, essential for those car chases across frozen lakes in Iceland. Four cars were so equipped and I think that this was one of them (?)Wander a little further and you’ll see the last XJS Coupe and Convertible and the Daimler Corsica. A great looking car, built as a non-working show car to celebrate Daimler’s centenary and later brought to life by Dave Mark’s Garage. It features an automatic folding hood and a shortened X300 wheelbase. Sticking with the Daimler theme, I spotted a ’95 Daimler 6 Limousine. This one-off was a stretched version of the long wheelbase model which comes with a further eight inches, something which, I venture, we would all welcome. There was an abundance of luxury goodies inside and the whole car was kept in visual proportion by strategically raising the roof line. Nice to see the two-tone colour scheme too.
Doug says that he has space for only 500 words for this article. Well I’ve blown that, and there’s so much more to see! So, let’s save the rest for another time. I will leave you with a great photo of the 2002 Polished XJR Saloon. This display car was an early pre-production X350, specially finished in polished aluminium to show off its new body material, and was used for launch presentations and motor show displays. I make no excuse for the photo. See you later.