Since the early days of motoring in Britain when a man with a red flag had to walk in front of a vehicle and they were limited to 2 mph in towns and 4 mph in the country, Brits have had a fascination with motor cars and motorcycles. So much so that today there are many museums, of all sizes and types, dedicated to this mode of transport through the ages. There are a number of websites that cover the Motor Museum scene but recognising the wide interest that visitors to the CSI website have, I wanted to offer an insight into this aspect of “Classic Cars”. What follows is not an exhaustive list of British and Irish Motor Museums but it does cover the most prestigious and interesting ones. If you find yourself in the vicinity of any of them I hope that these brief descriptions will encourage you to make a visit.
British Bubblecar Museum
Microcars or bubble cars are a significant part of British motoring history. An alternative to full size cars, these small, fuel efficient vehicles were powered by engines of less than 700cc in size. There have over 50 microcars on display, many in thought provoking dioramas. Examples of Bond, Isetta, Reliant, Frisky and Bamby to name but a few. There is also a row of recreated shops for you to explore, memorabilia, a gift shop and a cafe – great for afternoon tea! The museum is located at Langrick near Boston, Lincs. For more information click here.
British Motor Museum
Gaydon’s British Motor Museum is one of the world’s largest collections of historic British automobiles with nearly 300 vehicles under its roof. The exhibits focus on the story of the British motor industry, revealing the roles of the drivers, designers, factories, workers and cars as Britain’s automotive world leadership flourished. New for 2021 is the special exhibit celebrating the Jaguar E-type’s 60th anniversary – a landmark year for Britain’s most iconic sports car. The venue hosts several shows and events each year, including the National Metro and Mini Show and the Gaydon Land Rover Show. For more information, click here.
Brooklands Motor Museum
Brooklands is an evocative name in British automotive lore. As the location of Britain’s first purpose-built motor-racing circuit, home to Vickers and Concorde aerospace manufacturing, and the namesake of some of Bentley’s finest models, it is also one of the UK’s best automotive and aviation attractions. The link with the aviation industry is a consistent theme throughout the museum, as it displays some of the famed pre-war aero-engined cars such as the 24-litre Napier-Railton that once raced around Brooklands’ banking. After visitors have seen the array of cars and aeroplanes on display, they will also be given the opportunity to stand on the historic banking of the track and explore the World War Two air-raid shelters. For more information, click here.
Cotswolds Motoring Museum
The quintessentially English surroundings of the Cotswolds is a fitting place for a museum that aims to provide a “nostalgic glimpse” into 20th-century motoring. The collection includes examples from a plethora of historic British car marques, including Austin, MG, Jaguar and Triumph, as well as vintage motorcycles, caravans and automobilia. The star of 1990s TV show Brum is present at the museum, the very place he escaped from during the intro of each episode. Adding to this is the exhibit of a blacksmith’s shop that demonstrates the transition from horses to automobiles. For more information, click here.
Coventry Transport Museum
Coventry is touted as being the UK’s motor city, and is home to Jaguar Land Rover, so it’s no surprise that the Coventry Transport Museum boasts the world’s largest publicly owned collection of British cars. The 670 exhibits range from two of the fastest cars on the planet, Thrust SSC and Thrust 2, to commercial vehicles and bicycles. An 1897 Daimler Wagonette is a particularly interesting display, and is one of the oldest-surviving British cars; its archaic motor is devoid of spark plugs and revs to just 750rpm. The Wagonette is also steered with a tiller and has headlights powered by candles, demonstrating the rapid development of the motor car over the past century. Another must-see attraction is a 4D simulator, in which visitors ensconced into the cockpit of Thrust 2 are transported to a speed of over 700mph. For more information, click here.
Great British Car Journey
This new attraction’s carefully curated selection of around 100 cars tells the story of the British motor industry over the past 100 years. Visitors are guided by an electronic tablet that helps to interactively introduce the forefathers of the once-dominant UK car industry: Herbert Austin and William Morris. The museum’s exhibits offer a hearty dose of nostalgia, featuring once-ubiquitous cars such as Austin Allegros, MG Maestros, Minis and Ford Cortinas. A unique attraction of the Great British Car Journey is that it provides the opportunity for visitors to get behind the wheel of a range of classic cars, from the Austin 7 to the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit as part of the ‘Drive Dad’s Car Experience’. For more information click here.
Haynes International Motor Museum
Best known for his iconic manuals, John Haynes opened the Haynes International Motor Museum in 1985 with 30 cars from his personal collection. Today, Haynes’ legacy is honoured with a comprehensive collection of over 400 cars and motorcycles from the late 19th century and into the modern era. The museum launched its popular Breakfast Club back in 2015, and this is set to return when the museum fully reopens. The Breakfast Club events are scheduled for the first and second Sunday of every month for Future Classics (post-1980) and Vintage and Classics (pre-1980) respectively. As well as boasting one of the finest automotive collections in the UK, the museum also has its own karting circuit. For more information, click here.
Lakeland Motor Museum
Situated in the verdant surroundings of the Lake District, the Lakeland Motor Museum hosts a stunning collection of 140 classic cars and bikes. The Campbell Bluebird Exhibition is a definite highlight, featuring some of Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell’s most famous machines including the 1935 Blue Bird car and 1967 Bluebird K7 hydroplane, in which Donald was tragically killed at the nearby Coniston Water. Oddities such as the replica 1885 Post Office delivery pentacycle and 1930s dodgem car add to the intrigue of the museum’s collection. You’re guaranteed a memorable day out. For more information, click here.
National Motor Museum, Beaulieu
The National Motor Museum sits in the picturesque grounds of the Beaulieu estate in the New Forest and is deservingly regarded as one of the UK’s greatest automotive collections. The museum has an eclectic range of more than 280 vehicles, from an 1875 Grenville Steam Carriage to a 2012 Lotus E20 Formula 1 car. Other attractions are a recreation of a 1930s garage, the Shell Heritage Art Collection and a treasure trove of automobilia. Visit on the weekend at 2pm for the chance to hear one of the museum’s vehicles start up, and get the most out of your visit with a free guided tour from 12 noon daily. For more information, click here.
National Motorcycle Museum
From ABC, Abingdon and Advance to Wooler, Wulf II and Zenith, this is the largest collection of British motorcycles in the world, with over 1000 machines from 170 different manufacturers spanning around three centuries. There are a number of temporary special exhibitions, as well as events including antiques and collectors’ fairs. click here.
Silverstone Interactive Museum
This cavernous museum was once home to Wellington bombers during World War Two. Today, the museum aims to inspire the next generation with more than 60 interactive exhibits in which visitors can immerse themselves. The hands-on exhibits include the chance to operate a wind tunnel, participate in a pitstop and climb into a replica Formula 1 car. More intrepid visitors can even get the experience of flying a Wellington bomber. As the home of British motor sport and one of the oldest tracks on the Grand Prix calendar, it’s no surprise that Silverstone’s museum features a tantalising selection of racing cars and bikes, including Nigel Mansell’s iconic ‘Red 5’ Williams FW14B and Barry Sheene’s 1979 Suzuki motorcycle. Guests will also get the chance to drive in a cutting-edge motion simulator as well as experience an Ultimate Lap in the museum’s special-effects cinema. For more information, click here.
Bo’ness Motor Museum
Bo’ness Motor Museum, situated in the heart of Scotland, only 15 miles from Edinburgh and 30 miles from Glasgow, is a great all-weather attraction to visit with something for all the family.
The museum founder, Colin Anderson, is a James Bond enthusiast and this is reflected in both the classic cars on display and the theme of the whole venue. Memorabilia, period signs & displays make this not only an interesting exhibition in its own right but also educational.
The collection also features cars from both TV and film, 007 stage props and posters. For more information click here
Jim Clark Motorsport Museum
Located in the Scottish border town of Duns, this award-winning museum was opened by Jackie Stewart in 2019 and documents the life and racing career of Jim Clark, one of the greatest racing drivers of all time. The exhibits document Clark’s humble beginnings and modest character as the son of a Scottish sheep farmer, and tell the story of how he came to dominate the world of motor sport, winning the 1963 and 1965 Formula 1 World Championship and Indy 500. Clark’s entire trophy collection resides at the museum, along with his iconic Lotus 25 Grand Prix car and Lotus Cortina. Attendees are given an exhilarating taste of a 1960s F1 car in the museum’s simulator, and can also get hands-on with various interactive exhibits. For more information, click here.
Moray Motor Museum
Based in the centre of Elgin (the capital of Morayshire, close to the Cooper Park), Moray Motor Museum is housed in a light and airy old mill building, part of which dates back to the era of the Cathedral when the Bishops of Moray held sway; it was used by them as a grain mill. The Moray Motor Museum houses a superb collection of veteran, vintage, classic cars and motorbikes.
Most of which are on the button ready to go, added to this are the model cars and automobilia which make this a visit not be missed. For more information click here.
Myreton Motor Museum
A large collection dating from 1899 to the 1970’s. On display are cars, bicycles, motorcycles, commercials, period advertising, posters, enamel signs, pedal cars, petrol pumps and other related automobilia.
Located in East Lothian, to the east of Edinburgh. For more information click here
Llangollen Motor Museum
Your visit to this lovely museum is sure to be interesting and informative. It demonstrates the charm and character of our motoring past and in itself, it is a charming place, oozing with character. The museum is a much loved family run business. If you have your own interesting motoring memories you will find a ready ear to listen to them. The star of the collection is “Humphrey”, a 1962 Triumph TR 4, winner of many Concours d’Elegance events. The New Imperial Motor Cycle offered practical every day transport in 1935. The example on show at the museum spent the year 2000 as the only British Motor Cycle in the Millenium Dome. Also on show is the oldest Motor drawn Caravan in Britain and a 1950`s Garage Scene. Pedal cars Include Austin J40 And Pathfinder. For more information click here.
Swansea Bus Museum
The museum’s impressive collection consists mainly of vehicles that ran under the banner of South Wales Transport and later First Cymru. Two excellent examples of the famous London Transport Routemaster never fail to catch the eye of visitors. The museum is also home to a fascinating selection of British and American cars, vans, Land Rovers, early commercial vehicles together with an iconic fire engine that is a survivor of the battle to contain the flames of Swansea’s horrific Three Night’s Blitz. for more information click here.
Isle of Man
Isle of Man Motor Museum
The core of the Museum’s collection is the Cunningham Collection. Assembled by father and son team Denis and Darren Cunningham over the past 30 years, this unique gathering of both historically significant vehicles and cars with very personal family stories led them to privately fund the establishment of the Isle of Man Motor Museum in order to share their passion. We are also honoured to host over 250 other vehicles on loan from other enthusiasts and collectors. For more information click here.
Kilgarvan Motor Museum
This is a family run museum where you get personal service and you can browse the exhibits at your ease. The owners are passionate about classic and vintage vehicles which they are dedicated to preserving. The museum represents a little part of Ireland’s motoring heritage and is located in the southwest of Ireland just south of Killarney. It’s in the heart of some of the best driving roads in Ireland with stunning scenery to match. For more information click here.
Museums we’ve been to –