British Motor Museum

Fasten your seatbelt as we take a look at the rise and rise of the Midlands’ European shortlisted British Motor Museum

After being rebranded four years ago and with a steady stream of exciting and vibrant ideas ever since, the British Motor Museum has become a real gem of the Midlands. Now it has been recognised as one of the best three museums in the UK in 2019 – and could be about to be named the best in Europe.

The museum at Gaydon, Warwickshire is in exulted company, joining Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol and the D-Day Story in Portsmouth as the British trio shortlisted for the prestigious European Museum of the Year Award. If the Motor Museum were to claim the title at a ceremony in Sarajevo later this month it will follow on from last year’s winner, London’s Design Museum. Impressive to say the least.


The award promotes innovative approaches in the museum sector, particularly in the public quality of exhibitions and new developments. This being the criteria, there’s no doubt that the Motor Museum ticks all the boxes – and some.

Being a museum about cars in the Midlands and their history and place in modern society presents its own unique challenges. After all, for decades the Midlands was the British car industry with legendary names and badges rolling off production lines manned by tens of thousands of workers. For the older generation it’s a case of looking back on what they remember as a golden age – but for youngsters growing up in a hi-tech, social media crammed, rapidly-moving world, the museum has to provide much more than nostalgic badges, bonnets and bootlids.

The fact that the museum has adapted so well can be seen in the numbers. Visitors have increased to 300,000 – this includes museum and conference visitors – with museum footfall up 50 per cent since the £1.1million refurbishment and rebrand from the Heritage Motor Centre to the British Motor Museum in 2015.


School visits have also grown steadily largely due to curriculum-led programmes and a travel support grant, with the museum welcoming nearly 16,000 pupils. It’s innovative Mini Motorists under 5s activity sessions are free and take place on the third Monday of every month. Designed specifically for children aged under five, the sessions have a different theme each month such as Fire Engines, Racing Cars, Jaguars, and celebrating the Mini’s 60th birthday and includes a mix of activities such as crafts, story-telling and playtime.

An outreach programme sees the museum team take objects related to the collection to community groups who are unable to visit, mainly nursing homes and dementia units. Museum managing director Julie Tew said: “There’s been a massive shift in what people expect from a museum. They were once seen as rather dusty places intended solely for people who were seriously into a subject. We took a brave decision and changed things and at the core is delivering a family offering which is much more engaging and makes learning and experiencing fun and exciting for all ages.”


Those experiences are delivered by a relatively small team of 80 permanent members of staff and a further 50 volunteers who undertake roles and projects including guiding in the Collections Centre, vehicle restoration, community outreach and school holiday activities.

The museum’s programme of events for 2019 reflects its mission to inform and entertain. Highlights include the 60th anniversary of the legendary Mini with the museum holding three weeks of Mini Madness family activities over the Easter school holidays, followed by events including a Classic Mini Mosaic World Record Attempt in August with more than 600 classic Minis spelling out ‘Mini 60’.

The successful Gaydon Land Rover Show and National BMW Festival with Europe’s largest gathering of BMWs also feature, as well as the UK Slot Car Festival this month, the Vintage Motor Cycle Club Banbury Run and the Buses Festival, Retro Truck and Large Model Aircraft Shows. In July, an exciting new exhibition, The Car. The Future. Me, will open and explore futuristic car design and how we will interact with the cars of tomorrow. “It’s an opportunity to spark curiosity and see how we may travel in generations to come,” said MD Julie.

Such is the breadth of the museum’s offering, it was awarded a VisitEngland Visitor Attraction Welcome Accolade in February, one of only a very small number of venues each year recognised by the tourist organisation’s Quality Scheme. The museum was also awarded Full Accreditation by Arts Council England and has even appeared on Channel 4 TV.


For the second year running, the museum’s food offerings have also been rewarded, its gluten-free kitchens winning a gold in Focus on Gluten and silver in the Cafes and Teashops category at the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards.

The museum also boasts impressive refurbished conference and events facilities which are going back to the market from July after a four-year exclusive use deal with next-door neighbours Jaguar Land Rover. Like we said at the beginning of this piece, there’s a lot more to being a successful museum in 2019. Julie summed it up perfectly: “We shout loud and proud.” Hear, hear, we say…