UK Motor Museum review

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Reverend Hedgash
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UK Motor Museum review

Post by Reverend Hedgash » Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:04 pm

Hey all,

I recently took my University architectural students on a field trip to the Beaulieu Motor Museum as part of their research for designing a new Landracing Museum at Pendine Sands (a mock project I set for them). As I am sure that many of you would like to visit this museum I am going to give a little review about its success or lack thereof as a motor museum as I thought a number of you might be interested.

The museum, which is the National Motor Museum, is on a site which has an old cistertian monastery whose cathedral was dissolved by Henry the VIIth the remains of which became a manor house that is now medieval cross Scottish gothic, so there is a healthy interest in the site already. It is next to one of the most picturesque villages (which was part of the estate) in the UK with thatched roofs and large river. As most of these old estates suffered from inheritance tax killing their viability, they looked for other ways to generate money. Good old Lord Montague (now in his eighties) was a keen racing driver and decided to turn his estate into the premier location for cars and has some of the most famous cars in the country there including the landspeed favorites.

One car I have been wanting to see since I was a kid was of course Campbell's Bluebird, the one that came to oz. They have it. They also have Golden Arrow, the slug and others as well as a Mercedes worth £16million and other extraordinarily rare cars.

It is probably one of the best collections in the world, but I can tell you it is not one of the best museums in the world. The 1970's building is a shocker with natural light falling like a wet curtain over the internal space, leaving dark and dank underbellies lurking. The cars are crammed in with no real exhibition attempts to explain their histories of give some context about who drove them or any of the successful contemporary ideas of museum exhibition design (that I wont go into here).

To see a car is one thing from one angle. Most cars I have seen before on the web or in books. So it would have been nice as the car is actually there in front of you to see something other than what is already printed in the books etc. Why not show the engines by opening the hoods? why not show the underside by the oft use trick of mirrors on the floor? I am told that most of these cars are operational so why not each car have a recording of the engine running so which we could listen through headphones so that we can really experience what they are like alive? So many opportunities missed. The acoustics were poor and the pathway and curatorial arrangement confusing. It is more a case of putting cars where they fit rather than to any kind of relevant sequence or grouping.

They now have a James Bond exhibit which has brought in 15% more customers which when you look at the stats of 2011 having over 300 000 visitors (adult ticket £20) then that is a sizable interest. Lots of Astons, the underwater Lotus, stunt vehicles, even the one that did the driving on two wheels in the US was there. So again a great collection of cars and definitely people interested to see them but an absolutely lazy ill conceived presentation of them. Such a pity. To top things off this is this crazy monorail which runs through the building every 20 minutes or so opening up the building entirely to the weather. Why anyone in their right minds would want to put several hundred million dollars of museum quality artifacts in a space with uncontrolled humidity is beyond me.

The staff though were fantastic, being very generous with their time and full of stories. We met some mechanics who ended up showing the students the workshop where they were restoring one of Campbell's original Bluebirds and we were able to see it in pieces and the undersides and upsides and outsides and the skilled processes that they were able to bring it back to life. Pity the museum exhibits weren't as good, it would be much better to put the mechanics in charge of that, they clearly had the most respect for the cars and their stories. They are not over restoring the Bluebird it either, they painted it by hand in the dusty shed as that is what Campbell did. Mirror shine? forget it. The UK does very well the "enthusiast" as does the US but maybe there is a bit more eccentricity in the UK version; one mechanic delighted showing the students his scar where his flymo recently exploded taking a sizable hunk of his leg with it. He reminded me of the Colonel.

The building could be made better in a number of ways but the simple fix would be to remove about half of the cars to offsite storage. This would give space for each car to be viewed on various angles as well as incorporate all sorts of historical and contextual information. I would then replan where they all are so their are clear identifiable paths of story and work on telling that story with multimedia and images and artifacts of the day. Then I would rotate cars from storage so that it would encourage repeat visits to the museum, maybe even a seasonal display. I would control lighting better, create better floor surfaces for the cars to sit on and be "read". Finally Some boxing up of the spaces are required to control sound (particularly since so many of the visitors are school groups and they are generally very noisy.). I would move the monorail outside the building again and restore some semblance of preservation to the cars within. I would greatly increase storage as well as space for the mechanics to do their work properly. This is really what it is all about isn't it? The celebration of the mechanics' skill? Why compromise what you are meant to celebrate?

There was also a "Top Gear" display which I wont even give the dignity of commenting upon apart from the franchise has long ago lost its mojo and just recycling its past successes only reveals how dead it is today.

Overall it was worth visiting though, my childhood dream come true to see this Bluebird. But I cannot feel somewhat let down by the lake of care or even veneration in these vehicles. This Bluebird is such a significant car in its history globally and in particular of the UK, that it seems somewhat sad that it is not presented as such.

One other thing regarding salt is that one of the mechanics told me while he was changing something a huge gush of salt came out of the car so even this old girl has its secret storage compartments of where it gets in. Given the accident it had and the speed at which it travelled through the stuff I am not surprised that they are still finding it.

One amusing thing about the British is their love of dogs. Dogs were not allowed in the museum but there was a dedicated dog waiting room downstairs!

I could write for weeks about how better to use this collection as it such a good one but that sermon is for another forum.

Rev H-gash
Trying to use my design skills for niceness instead of evil
DLRA Member#412

Stayt`ie
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Re: UK Motor Museum review

Post by Stayt`ie » Tue Jan 15, 2013 9:50 pm

further to the good Rev`s sermon above,, if you plan on going to Goodwood or the Brighton Speed Trials, Beaulieu is just down the road (south of Southampton) and it would be well worth planing on spending the full day there, :D , thay have a very good cafe , and theres also an old Manor House/Castle that will keep the misses happy and outta your way, :lol: 8)
First Australian to ride a motorcycle over 200mph at Bonneville,,,

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