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110 Years of Motoring Under One Roof

Coventry was the home of the car industry in Britain, with many of the big names being based in the city at one point.

Now just two are left with major factories – Jaguar and Peugeot. But the highlights of the industry’s glory days, and the cycle industry before that can be seen at the Museum of British Road Transport in Hale Street.

Motor MuseumIt first opened free for Heritage Open Days several years ago. Since then it has thrown out its entry charges permanently.

Many of the vehicles in the collection are used – a 1910 Maudslay often makes an appearance at the major days in the city’s calendar.

This year a 1931Daimler bus will be brought back into service. It was the last rear-entry bus to be in service in Coventry.

Newcomers to the city might be surprised to find out that the museum will only be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

It is due to have a new look entrance as part of the Phoenix Initiative, when it is made a centrepiece of the final section of the millennium walkway.

Here’s a taster of the key dates in the evolution of the museum:

1834     The Annual Report of the Mechanics Institute mentions the formation of a museum.

1937     HW (Sammy) Bartleet presented his private collection of some seventy cycles to the City - these were the first transport items. The possibility of them going on display was considered and a building close to Greyfriars Green thought of as a possibility - war intervened and they were removed from the City returning after the war to be stored in Leicester Causeway.

1952     The City accepts a scheme for £300,000 for the new Art Gallery and Museum as part of city redevelopment plan, to be built on the corner of Bayley Lane and Jordan Well.

1953 The first motor vehicles for the collection are bought by the city council

1960     The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum opens with a collection of industrial exhibits housed inside.  The transport collections consist of eight cars and nearly one hundred cycles.

1972     The collection continues to grow – purpose-built premises are acquired at Falkland Close. It includes 35 cars, 150 cycles, 35 motorcycles.

1974     Open days and weeks are launched at Falkland Close.

1976     The city stakes a claim to have a National Museum of Road Transport after a working party is set up by the Government to look at a national plan for museums.

1977     BL Heritage and the City Council disagree over the ownership of certain historic cars.  The dispute is settled in July.

1977     A Silver Jubilee display for the Queen is mounted outside the Cathedral consisting of 50 cars

1978     The City Council announce draft plans to go ahead with the museum - the decision is prompted by faults at Falkland Close and public pressure after the success of the Queen's Silver Jubilee display.

1980     BL Heritage announce that their collection will not now come to Coventry but will move to Syon Park, London, instead.

5 October 1980 The museum is opened by the Lord Mayor - Councillor Tom McClatchie. The collection now consists 100 motor vehicles, 190 cycles and 60 motorcycles. The final cost of the completed museum was £270,000.

1984     The museum acquires its first Royal vehicle - Queen Mary's Daimler, purchased from Beaulieu.

1987     The museum acquires Thrust 2, the current holder of the world Land Speed Record, and builds an auditorium around it.

1988     Mercedes Benz donate their history of the motor car exhibition and a special exhibition area is developed to display it.         

1988     All major items in the collection are now held on a computer database thus, for the first time, bringing together all information on the main exhibits.

1989     The Motorcycle Gallery refurbishment is completed and re-opens in March.

1989     An exhibition depicting the development and building of the Jaguar XJ40 is opened in April.

1989     Museum's collections now contain 170 motor vehicles, 200 cycles and 75 motorcycles.

1991     The museum opens an exhibition of pedal cars called 'Just like Mum and Dads'.  It  proves to be very popular.

1991     The museum launches its most prestigious special exhibition 'Ferrari - Pride and Passion'.  It features primarily the cars of Pete Waterman of Coventry and proves highly popular, drawing in great crowds.

1992     The museum records record attendances of 87,000 for the financial year and becomes Coventry's most visited museum for the first time, exceeding those with free admission..

1992     Museum reaches agreement to purchase Thrust 2 for £200,000 after 12 months. Stirling Moss, Linford Christie, Roger Black, John Regis, Lord Mayor and the Bishop of Coventry act as patrons.

1992     The museum launches the 'Jaguar - Legends and Champions' exhibition. It is acknowledged as being the finest display of sporting Jaguars ever gathered in one exhibition and includes all of the winners from the SS100 of 1938 to XJ220 prototype, three Le Mans Winners (1953 'C'; 1988 XJR9; 1990 XJR12), XKSS, D Type E2A, XK 120's (NUB 120 and LWK 707) and XJS Touring Car Champion etc. etc.  The exhibition receives great acclaim both locally and nationally.

1993     Acquisition of Thrust 2 by the Museum of British Road Transport confirmed following the success of the National Appeal to raise £200,000.

1993     Peugeot launch the new 306 at the museum.

1994     Museum's 1897 Daimler is completely refurbished to original colours for Brighton Run and in preparation for 1996.

1995     Museum goes on the 'Internet' - one of the first British museums to do so.

1995     The collection now comprises 220 motor vehicles, 230 cycles and 90 motorcycles together with a vast range of archive and other material.

1996     Cathedral Service for the Centenary of the British Motor Car Industry. A naked anti-car protestor disturbs the proceedings, making an appearance alongside the 1897 Daimler.

1997     Museum stages 75th Anniversary of the Austin 7 exhibition.

1997     Thrust SSC. visits the Museum following its World Land Speed Record and attracts over 15,000 visitors in one day - free admission is offered as an experiment.

1998     On 21 March free admission trial is introduced as a trial and receives a phenomenal welcome from visitors.

1998     The museum collections are 'designated' as collections of national importance. The museum is just one of 43 collections in the country to receive this status.

1998     Free admission proving very popular - the previous year's attendance of 63,000 paying visitors exceeded in just 3 months and the decision is soon taken to make it permanent.
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CWN / Heritage / Heritage Open Days / 29 Aug 00

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