For our half-term treat, I took the boys to the newly refurbished and rebranded British Motor Museum (formerly the Heritage Motor Centre). All three of us declared our day to be a hit.
Situated in Gaydon in Warwickshire, the museum was opened in 1993 as a celebration of Britain’s motoring heritage. It has just been refurbished and extended with a newly constructed two-tier Collections Centre added, housing a further 250 vehicles.
I visited the museum not long after it first opened and my overriding memory was of a worthy collection but not one designed with younger visitors in mind. That is categorically not the case now. The main museum is brightly lit and spaciously laid out, with attractive, interactive touch-screen displays to supplement the traditional text-based information boards.
There are two flexible ‘learning spaces’ close to the entrance which are aimed at children (and school groups). The first contained a play area with a variety of car-themed toys, while the second invited kids to construct their own Lego Technic racers and time them on a drag run.
Isaac and Toby were quick to investigate both these rooms, which happily occupied them for an hour and gave them the opportunity to blow off some steam after a long drive up and before tackling the main exhibits.
The museum’s collection, spread between the main building and the Collections Centre, covers the full spectrum of British motoring history. From a 1970 Tyrrell F1 racer and an Aston Martin Vanquish to everyday workhorses such as the Austin Metro and Montego, over a century of British car manufacturing is well represented.
For the classic motoring enthusiast there is plenty of four-wheeled history and other memorabilia.
Not to mention a healthy selection of TV and film vehicles. Younger visitors will recognise a Shaun the Sheep Land Rover Defender, while older filmgoers will want to check out the Austin Powers ‘Shaguar’, the DeLorean from Back to the Future and the Jaguar XKR from the Bond film Die Another Day.
I had figured that a three-hour visit would be about par for the course but between the kids’ activities, the main museum, the Collections Centre, lunch and the cinema (which shows a series of fascinating archive films on a loop), we were there fully five hours.
In the end, it was me rather than the boys pushing for us to leave to get home. I call that a win in my book.
The British Motor Museum’s collection is not as extensive as Beaulieu’s National Motor Museum and it lacks the latter’s Top Gear exhibit and extensive grounds, but it is less expensive and its central location (less than an hour from Birmingham, around an hour and a half from London) makes it more accessible for many families. It’s an excellent day out for car enthusiasts of any age.
10 tips for a day at the British Motor Museum
1. The museum opens daily at 10am (and closes at 5pm) every day except over the Christmas period, so it’s ideal for spring half-term when many outdoor attractions are still closed for the winter. Get there early and let the kids make the most of the learning spaces while they’re quiet. The Lego room was closed by mid-afternoon, so do it early.
2. Admission is £14 for adults and £9 for kids aged 5-16 (under-fives are free), with reductions for concessions, families and groups. (There is no advance booking discount.) If you agree to Gift Aid your payment, your ticket remains valid for a full year.
3. To see the Collections Centre, book yourself on to the one-hour tours that run through the day when you arrive. At busy times these soon fill up and you may have to wait until much later in the day for an available tour. Another reason to get there early.
4. The art deco Junction 12 cafe serves hot meals, jacket potatoes, soup, sandwiches and cakes but it’s not particularly cheap, the selection is limited and the quality is no more than adequate. However, there’s plenty of seating. There are no other food concessions on site.
5. If you’ve had an early start to get there, the cafe serves bacon rolls and sausage baps between 10 and 11am.
6. Tours of the Collections Centre last around an hour – essentially, half an hour each on the two floors. This is plenty but it’s best to ensure the kids have been to the toilet first. You receive a short introductory talk on each floor from one of the volunteer guides and then you’re free to wander around.
7. You can pop in and out of the museum at any time and even the furthest corner of the car park is only 2-3 minutes’ walk away, so there’s no need to carry everything around with you all day.
8. The Motoring Cinema is a good opportunity to give small, tired feet a rest when energy levels start to flag. The seats are comfortable (although there are only about 25 places) and the archive films suitably appealing for adults and children alike.
9. There are a number of small car-shaped pushers available for smaller children – but only about half a dozen, so you may want to bring your own buggy, just in case.
10. The gift shop is small but has a decent selection of toys, models, books, DVDs and other less pricey mementos of your day.
The British Motor Museum is situated in Gaydon in Warwickshire, adjacent to junction 12 of the M40. Further details can be found on the British Motor Museum website.
Please note that I was not commissioned to write this post, nor have I received any payment or other incentive.