Story and Photos by Jonathan Sharp
It’s funny; I have driven, and flown hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to visit various car museums, shows and race meetings around the world, and yet I had not visited the National Motor Museum (also known as the Beaulieu) less than two hours west of my home on England South Coast, for nearly 20 years.
The National Motor Museum is located in Beaulieu Hampshire deep in heart of the New Forest. The museum was founded by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu in 1952; I will tell you a little bit more about Lord Montagu in part two. I have dim memories of visiting Beaulieu with my parents during the late 1960s before holidaying on the nearby Isle of Wight. Those memories are rather less about the cars then on display and more of the monorail built around the grounds and the replica veteran London bus that one could take a ride on, both of which are still part of the Museum today.
On a rather grey day just before Christmas I decided that I needed a car fix and having remembered that since the museum had revamped its display of Land Speed Record Cars (more in part 3), the obvious place to go was Beaulieu. I was kind of expecting to be the only person visiting the museum on what was a late December Thursday prior to the start of school holiday, so I was rather surprised to find on arrival plenty of cars in the visitors car park, but not enough to spoil my visit.
It is interesting to compare Beaulieu with the French National Museum in Mulhouse (Schlumpf). The content of Mulhouse is no doubt stupendous but the cars displayed are dusty and the placards by each car contain very little info and many spelling mistakes. The cars in the main Beaulieu building are all beautifully clean and kept that way by an army of volunteers, cloths in hand, touring the exhibits and removing every speck of dust that dare to land on a fender. The placards are informative, and should you wish to know more about the item on display you can always ask a member of the staff or the volunteer team, all of which are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic If they do not know the answer then they will direct you to the National Motor Museum Trust who are the custodians of the collection who probably will know the answer.
The museum is more than just a collection of cars. It also tells the story of motoring over the ages with various hands on exhibits and a fantastic display of automobilia in various glass display cases located throughout the building. The cars in the main are all gems, no matter whether they are a V16 BRM or a VW Beetle. Many of them are demonstrated at various events throughout the season, Goodwood and the London to Brighton Veteran car run being particularly popular. I had expected my visit to only take up a few hours but I arrived mid-morning and I was one of the last to leave at closing time and even then I had not fully seen ever thing on display.
Having sent my thoughts to the Editor, he then asked me to compare Beaulieu with the the Museo Nationale dell’Automobile in Turin and the two Ferrari museums. It’s difficult; the two Ferrari Museums have a much more limited scope, as their job is mainly to tell the Ferrari story, so it is not really fair to compare them. As to the Museo Nationale dell’Automobile? I think both the Turin and Beaulieu museum both tell the history of the motor car exceedingly well. Both do so from the view point of their respective nations. So to sum it up, you need to visit both, in fact you need to visit all four!