Car Il­lus­trated,

New Zealand Classic Car - - MotorMan -

Napier, Bri­tain’s old­est rac­ing car; the 1950 BRM V16 rac­ing car; and a Lotus 49 For­mula 1 car once driven by Gra­ham Hill. The BRM was ac­quired with the help of a grant equiv­a­lent to more than NZ$200K from the Bri­tish Govern­ment’s tech­nol­ogy preser­va­tion fund.

The 1920 Sun­beam 350HP, with its 18.3-litre V12 en­gine, broke the Brook­lands lap record at 123.3mph in 1922 in the hands of Kenelm Lee Guin­ness, and, three years later, Mal­colm Camp­bell took the car to 150.87mph on Pen­dine Sands. This mon­ster was un­earthed in Lan­cashire years later and sold to the mu­seum in 1958.

Two other Bri­tish record-break­ers are must-see ex­hibits. The first of th­ese is the 1927 1000hp Sun­beam with its sim­ple chain-driven lay­out. It has two Sun­beam aero en­gines, one in front of the driver and the other be­hind. The Sun­beam was driven to 203.79mph at Day­tona Beach and driven once at Brook­lands in a slow demon­stra­tion lap with just one of the en­gines op­er­at­ing. The other ve­hi­cle is Sir Don­ald Camp­bell’s 1961 Blue­bird, ru­moured to have cost more than £100K (well north of NZ$2 mil­lion) and, of course, crashed heav­ily at Utah. Re­built for the 1964 record at­tempt at Lake Eyre in South Aus­tralia, Blue­bird even­tu­ally clocked up a record-break­ing speed of 403.1mph.

Also on dis­play is a 1907 Itala with its 14-litre 120hp en­gine. This car won the Coppa Della Ve­locita race at Bres­cia the same year it was built and was re­puted to have a top speed of 100mph. Other rac­ing gi­ants in­clude a 1907 Mé­tal­lurgique May­bach, a lux­ury Ed­war­dian ma­chine that was a con­tem­po­rary ri­val of Rolls-royce and Mercedes-benz cars and was up­dated by the owner in 1920 to ac­com­mo­date a huge 1910-era May­bach en­gine as used in Zep­pelin air­ships. The 12.4-litre Grand Prix Benz from 1908 weighs 1000kg, is chain driven, and lacks front-wheel brakes — fac­tors said to make driv­ing this beast at 100mph ‘lively’.

There re­ally is some­thing for ev­ery­one at Beaulieu, with more mod­ern metal, in­clud­ing cars such as the 1965 Lotus Cortina that won Sir John Whit­more the Euro­pean sa­loon car ti­tle, a 1966 Ford GT40 MKIII, a 1955 Ford Consul Mk1 con­vert­ible, and a 1957 Mercedes-benz 300SL Gull­wing.

Along­side the re­ju­ve­na­tion of ex­hibits is the task of keep­ing the col­lec­tion in work­ing or­der. Tyres are kept at run­ning pres­sure, cool­ing sys­tems are topped, and ev­ery en­gine is turned or op­er­ated at least once a month. As an ex­am­ple, the mu­seum’s 1906 20/30hp Re­nault has clocked up sev­eral thou­sand kilo­me­tres since it ar­rived at Beaulieu.

In 1962, Mon­tagu co-founded Vin­tage Tyre Sup­plies, a com­pany that is still the world’s largest sup­plier of orig­i­nal-equip­ment tyres for vet­eran, vin­tage, and clas­sic cars. The world­fa­mous Beaulieu Au­to­jum­ble be­gan in 1967, in­spired by the swap meets that Mon­tagu saw in the US.

The writ­ten word

The mu­seum’s li­brary ser­vice in­cludes more than 4000 books and bound vol­umes of spe­cial­ist mag­a­zines dat­ing back 120 years and at least 30,000 cat­a­logues and man­u­als. Ref­er­ence staff an­swer queries from all over the world, and say that, apart from the UK, the bulk of re­quests orig­i­nate from Aus­tralia and New Zealand — the na­tions that boast more vin­tage cars per capita than any­where else in the world.

Jour­nal­ism runs through the fam­ily. John Mon­tagu was founder and editor of an early mo­tor­ing mag­a­zine, which was launched in 1902. In the ’80s, his son

wrote a vet­eran and vin­tage col­umn la­belled ‘Lordly Progress’ in the Bri­tish weekly. He also wrote a book on the his­tory of Jaguar, one of 21 books he wrote cov­er­ing mo­tor­ing and her­itage top­ics.

Au­thor and his­to­rian Nick Bald­win once coun­tered any crit­i­cism that, with all its side at­trac­tions, Beaulieu is a fun fair. He claimed that, al­though run very much as a com­mer­cial ven­ture, it had a deadly se­ri­ous side. “The ready-to-drive con­di­tion of the cars, the his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance of the col­lec­tion, and the enor­mous ar­chive that backs them all com­pare very favourably with the best in Europe,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Bald­win, the Mon­tagu cars are a great ad­ver­tise­ment for work­ing mu­se­ums in­stead of dead col­lec­tions, of which there are too many. He be­lieves that, when cars do not work any­more, the life just bleeds out of them. “You only have to look at them to see it’s gone,” he said.

New Zealand visit

In Auck­land in 1964, Lord Mon­tagu told me he be­lieved all mu­seum cars should be used. As many as pos­si­ble of the Beaulieu col­lec­tion, he said, were raced, hill-climbed, and run in other speed events. He be­lieved the car had come of age as an his­tor­i­cal an­tique and peo­ple rec­og­nized its im­pact on mod­ern so­ci­ety and were start­ing to make se­ri­ous col­lec­tions.

He added that Beaulieu had a pol­icy of avoid­ing repli­cas, and he would not want to do what the Schlumpf mu­seum did in dis­play­ing as many as 170 Bu­gat­tis.

“We are the only mu­seum that has four land-speed record cars, and all have a strong Bri­tish con­nec­tion,” he said.

While point­ing out that there were “an aw­ful lot of col­lec­tions” around the world, Lord Mon­tagu com­mented that there were few mo­tor mu­se­ums and they were dif­fer­ent: “Most of what you see and hear about are col­lec­tions. Mu­se­ums are dif­fer­ent. They at­tempt to tell the story of the cars, and to sur­round them with the arte­facts and relics of the time.”

Mon­tagu be­lieved col­lec­tions do not tell a story; rather, they tell the story of the per­son who did the col­lect­ing.

Lord Mon­tagu’s main rea­son for vis­it­ing New Zealand was to spread “the in­ter­na­tional side of the move­ment”, and he thought that there was no rea­son for clubs here to feel re­mote. In ad­di­tion to vis­it­ing Western Springs, he gave lec­tures in the main cen­tres and at­tended vin­tage and vet­eran ral­lies in Palmer­ston North and Tau­marunui.

He brought with him to Auck­land — I am un­sure why — a se­ries of Rex Hays mod­els that traced in minia­ture the de­vel­op­ment of Grand Prix cars from 1906. Made to one20th scale, th­ese su­perb mod­els were per­fectly de­tailed and in­cluded a Type 59 Bu­gatti with com­plex pi­ano-wire wheels.

Lord Mon­tagu was highly en­thu­si­as­tic about the “vir­tu­ally empty” — apart from wan­der­ing flocks of sheep — South Is­land roads, which he said were so good for vet­eran car mo­tor­ing. When the Haast Pass opened in 1965, Lord Mon­tagu won his class in the vet­eran and vin­tage rally driv­ing a Prince Henry Vaux­hall.

A won­der­ful legacy

To­day, the Beaulieu col­lec­tion has more than 250 ve­hi­cles. The mu­seum is of­fered as many as 20 cars a week to add to that num­ber, al­though just one a month is con­sid­ered for pur­chase. Lord Mon­tagu sug­gested that 100 ve­hi­cles is about enough for most vis­i­tors to view in one sit­ting, so there was lit­tle point in a mu­seum dis­play­ing too many ex­hibits. Ini­tially, he had no col­lect­ing pol­icy, ac­cept­ing what­ever came along. Early ex­hibits in­cluded a Prince Henry Vaux­hall bought for the equiv­a­lent of NZ$900, a vet­eran Re­nault for NZ$800, and the chas­sis of a Rolls-royce Sil­ver Ghost for a mere NZ$200.

Each time I vis­ited Beaulieu, I found new trea­sures to ex­am­ine, prob­a­bly be­cause of hav­ing missed them on pre­vi­ous vis­its — trea­sures such as Count Louis Zborowski’s 19-litre, 230bhp Benz aero-pow­ered Brook­lands racer and the su­perb 1912 His­pano-suiza Al­fonso with its 3.6-litre four­cylin­der en­gine. A close look at the Suiza can re­veal to the viewer the nick in the steer­ing wheel that de­flected a bul­let fired dur­ing the Ir­ish Re­bel­lion of 1916; alas, it killed the driver. The awk­ward-look­ing Pen­ning­ton Au­to­car from 1896 — a two-seater with a 1.9-litre twin-cylin­der mo­tor — could seat five and cruise at 70kph but only five ex­am­ples saw light of day. And vis­i­tors might not ap­pre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cance of the 1903 60hp Mercedes — note­wor­thy not be­cause of its 9.2-litre en­gine or 120kph top speed but for pi­o­neer­ing what would be­come the con­ven­tional lay­out for car con­trols.

Lord Mon­tagu has left be­hind a won­der­ful legacy in the Na­tional Mo­tor Mu­seum, surely one of the finest and more com­pre­hen­sive mo­tor mu­se­ums in the world. The mu­seum stands to­day as not only a me­mo­rial to the achieve­ments of the pi­o­neers of the past but also a na­tional gallery of mo­tor­ing and a trea­sure chest for lovers of fine cars. This is the stately home of mo­tor­ing and a trib­ute to the in­spi­ra­tion and ded­i­ca­tion of the third Baron Mon­tagu of Beaulieu.

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