I love car museums. They are great places to see some of the most interesting engineering creations of the last 120 years in the flesh, properly preserved and curated in an appropriate environment. And if the museum overtly caters to enthusiasts, that’s even better.
Likewise, a good car show is something to enjoy, maybe to an even greater extent: with a wide and varied selection of cars, usually arriving under their power with (sometimes) quietly proud owners and admirers in tow (extra points for bugs on the windscreen).
A combination of both, however, is ideal and makes a great day out for everyone. It is how I spent the 27th of April, with a trip to the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, near London. As it coincided with the annual Drive It Day for the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs, many places, including Brooklands, hosted events of one sort or another.
Finished in 1907, Brooklands was the first purpose built motor racing site in the world, and was also the site of the country’s largest aircraft manufacturing facility by 1918. I’ll save you the long story, but suffice it to say that motor racing finished in 1939, with aircraft manufacture (both subassemblies and main structures), ceasing around twenty-five years ago. It is therefore one of the more unique museums you’ll see, with its combination of large sections of the historic banked circuit along with aircraft manufacturing buildings, amongst which is the one where Sir Barnes Wallis worked for many years. Aircraft ranging from the Sopwith Camel to Concorde have substantial links to the design and manufacturing work that happened at Brooklands for nearly eighty years.
Some of the banked circuit remains, but the site is now partly used for various industrial purposes. There is a large Mercedes-Benz test and demonstration centre on site, as well as a museum of motor racing and aviation centred around the original race circuit buildings and associated sheds, many of which are subject to building conservation orders. And it was at this area that the vehicle at the top of the page was presented, beneath the wing of an ex-BOAC, ex-Omani Royal Flight VC10 (built at Brooklands in 1964, it was the last large aircraft to land there in 1987, when it was donated for preservation).
To give a little contemporary context, this is a shot of London Heathrow around 1970, showing an Air France Sud-Aviation Caravelle, with two Ford Transits, a Bedford TK and two Karrier baggage holds or galley serving trucks in the foreground.
The collection shown here had been assembled under the wing of the VC10, effectively recalling what it would have been like on the airport ramp at a British airport it the early 1970s, complete with the branding of airlines that are no longer around. Neither are the van builders….
First up is the Bedford CA crew van belonging to BOAC, British Overseas Airways Corporation, the (then) nationally-owned, long haul international carrier, operating such aircraft as the VC10, the Boeing 707, the Boeing 747 and, of course, Concorde to New York and Washington. BOAC is now part of British Airways, of course.
This example was built in 1961 at Bedford’s Luton factory, and based on the regular CA van but equipped with windows and some rather basic looking seats. It would have been used for shuttling aircraft crew and engineers around, possibly spending most of its life airside.
Today it is permanently exhibited at the museum, but also working in its retirement around the museum site on various maintenance tasks.
This crew bus is obviously based on the same van as the ice cream van I saw recently–I think I have now seen more Bedford CAs this year than in the last five!
Sitting alongside the CA is a Bedford HA; in this case, a 1978 example decked out in the colours of BEA, British European Airways and now the part of British Airways that provides European services. The 1978 van’s paint scheme is actually a recreation, as BEA merged with BOAC in 1974 to create BA, but we’ll let that pass for today.
The Bedford HA was the commercial version of the Vauxhall Viva HA series, originally shown in 1963 with a 1057cc engine. This later version has the familiar 1256cc version of the Vauxhall OHV engine, and lasted until 1983, when it was replaced by the Bedford Chevanne, based very closely on the estate version of the Vauxhall Chevette (T car).
The HA van was one of the three dominant products in its market place for most of the 1960s and 1970s, along with the Ford Escort vans and the Morris Minor. After the Minor was discontinued in 1971, the HA was the preferred choice of British Telecommunications (now BT Group)–the national telephone infrastructure provider–and was one of the most familiar shapes in the British townscape of the 1970s. There may be fewer than 100 left in Britain today.
And the other two? The Morris Minor is perhaps the most fondly remembered British car, more so than the Mini in some ways. Every family will have a Morris Minor story to share, and the commercial versions were always there as well.
Here we have a 1958 Minor pickup, being used by DAN-AIR, a small, independent charter airline operating from London Gatwick airport on some scheduled, and many chartered, operations. The pickup was always less common than the van (Europe has never really gone for pickups in the way North America has) but you can see the appeal of the (cheaper) pickup when running back and forth from the hangar to the gate, quickly putting the lost baggage and critical spares in the load bay.
The Minor, at this time, had a 1.0 litre OHV engine (actually an Austin unit, not a Morris one) and was already ten years old as a design. Updates also included the replacement of the split screen with a larger single piece item.
This Minor van is a 1970 example, painted in the colours of British Caledonian Airways, which was another independent airline, flying charter operations with DC-10s at the time. By now the Minor had an 1100 cc engine, but received precious few changes otherwise. It was, after all, a product of the British motor industry.
This van was a staple of Britain for thirty years, and is without doubt the most recognisable and best remembered of this group.
And finally, proof I was at Brooklands–well, you can’t do this anywhere else in the UK, or Europe! Go here to help do something for perhaps the most important piece of combined car and aviation heritage in the world.