National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, U.K.
A 13th-century abbey; a 16th-century palace; an 1875 Grenville steam carriage, probably the oldest running self-propelled passenger-carrying road vehicle; 20th-century land-speed record breakers; and a contemporary oversized orange Mini, neither historic nor fast: The National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England, has assembled these and other automotive thrills into one must-visit package.
Comprising 250-plus vehicles, the world-famous collection celebrates 800 years of British history and almost 140 years of automobiles, from early days to modern times, including family vehicles, great sports cars, early motorcycles and commercial vehicles.
At the head of the Beaulieu River, the village of Beaulieu is in New Forest National Park, near South-ampton and Bournemouth, two hours from London by car or train to Brockenhurst, where taxis are available to the museum.
In April 1952, Edward, Lord Montagu, opened up his ancestral home, Palace House at Beaulieu, to the public for the first time. Formerly the Great Gatehouse for Beaulieu Abbey, built in 1203/04, Palace House has been home to the Montagu’s since 1538 during the reign of Henry VIII, who dissolved the country’s monasteries as part of the English Reformation.
Edward’s father John, Lord Montagu, was a pioneering motorist and founded an early motoring magazine, The Car Illustrated, so he showed a small collection of five veteran cars in the entrance hall of the house.
“The collection grew from these humble beginnings, moving to purpose-made buildings in the grounds of Palace House to become the Montagu Motor Museum,” says Ben Wanklyn, its public relations executive. In 1972, a 70,000-square-foot building was opened as today’s National Motor Museum.
Car and Outside-the-Car Experiences
Automotive activities include Jack Tucker’s Garage, which recreates the sights, sounds and smells of a typical country garage from the 1930s and the talking crash test dummy in Driving Change, an interactive display exploring motoring innovations and technologies including alternative power in the future.
On Screen Cars displays TV and film favorites including Del Boy’s Reliant Regal as featured in the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses and the flying Ford Anglia used during the filming of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. A recent addition is Dr. Who’s much- loved car Bessie.
Special museum displays also include “For Britain & For The Hell Of It” featuring Beaulieu’s land speed-record cars; “The Motorcycle Story”; “Grand Prix Greats and Road, Race and Rally,” with F1, rallying, trials and drag racing exhibits as well as clothing, trophies, photographs, film and video of both track and road racing from the start through the present.
Nonautomotive attractions include a film presentation and an exhibition of the daily life of the Cistercian Monks, founders of the abbey. In the Palace House, visitors can see late Lord Montagu’s private apartment, including his library. An exhibition, “The Lady and the Rebel,” tells the story of two extraordinary Montagu women, Pearl Pleydell-Bouverie and Elizabeth Montagu.
Beaulieu has opened the newly restored Victorian Kitchen at Palace House where you can see Lord Montagu’s cook preparing authentic dishes on the range during school holidays. Her homemade cakes, biscuits and preserves are also on sale in the kitchen shop. Another section of the palace was the country’s first Soviet Russian art gallery.
The exhibition, “Secret Army,” tells the story of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which trained secret agents at the Beaulieu ‘Finishing School’ during WWll. “The agents were trained at large country houses scattered across the Beaulieu Estate before returning to occupied Europe to work with Resistance groups,” he says. “Many did not return.”
Outside, enjoy the Victorian Flower Garden, the informal Wilderness Garden, dating to the 1770s, and the Ornamental Kitchen Garden laid out on the site of the original 1872 Palace House kitchen garden. Visitors can ride the monorail for an overhead look at the museum or the replica 1912 open-topped London Bus.
All year, the Beaulieu schedules automotive events. Among these are April 29, 2018, when “Simply Audi” will celebrate the marque in one of the museum’s numerous rallies, and on June 24, Beaulieu will mark the 70th anniversary of the Land Rover.
New for 2018 is “The Luxury of Motoring,” comprising 28 glistening Lalique glass miniatures of the most luxurious cars ever and tells the story of their design, their owners and the chauffeurs who drove them.
The new Chief Engineer Tour opens the door to Beaulieu’s workshop, where visitors meet with National Motor Museum Manager and Chief Engineer Doug Hill, who began as an apprentice at Beaulieu 40 years ago. And, the new-look “World of Top Gear” reflects the changes to the BBC motoring show with the impressive Ssangyacht, built from the “world’s ugliest people carrier” and a marine feature displaying boat challenge vehicles.
Here’s a look at some of the holdings of the National Museum:
•1903 De Dion Bouton 6hp Model Q – The Montagu family has owned this since 1913, and it began the museum collection as one of the cars first displayed in Palace House in 1952. Since that decade, this pioneering car has been a regular entrant in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.
•1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost – This began as a limousine, continued its life as a hearse and then morphed into a tow-truck. Edward, Lord Montagu, acquired it in the 1950s and restored it with a replica Barker Roi des Belges body.
•1972 Outspan Orange Mini – Six of these distinctive vehicles were built between 1972 and 1974 to promote Outspan Oranges. They were constructed by Brian Waite Enterprises Ltd. and incorporated many components from the popular Mini. Five were used for advertising in Britain, France and Germany while one was shipped to South Africa. Sweet!
•1967 Lotus 49 – The sole survivor of the 1967 Lotus team cars, this Formula 1 landmark racer was built on the eve of that year’s British Grand Prix for Graham Hill and then used by the ace driver for the rest of the season. Kept in working order, the Lotus often appears at shows and events.
•1930 ‘Blower’ Bentley 4.5-litre Supercharged – This is one of the museum’s vehicles appearing frequently at events across the United Kingdom and Europe.
•Bluebird CN7 – On July 17, 1964, Donald Campbell set a new World Land Speed Record of 403.10 mph/ 648.73 kph in this car, powered by a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus 4,100-horsepower gas turbine engine.
After a disastrous crash at Bonneville, Utah in 1960, the tail fin was added. Lake Eyre, South Australia, was then chosen because it was a desolate, flat salt plain, but a series of frustrations delayed the final record for two years.
The Beaulieu attraction, including the National Motor Museum, is open every day except Christmas Day. For more information, see beaulieu.co.uk or call 01590 612345. All attractions are included in the standard Beaulieu admission entrance. Tickets can be bought in advance online at beaulieu.co.uk. Follow the museum on Twitter @Beaulieu_Hants, Facebook at /nationalmotormuseum or Instagram @national_motor_ museum.
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