Fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of unique photos and draw­ings needs its own build­ing. CCW in­ves­ti­gates

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News Analysis -

Hid­den in the Rootes Ar­chive Cen­tre is a trea­sure trove of clas­sic his­tory that – cur­rently – is al­most im­pos­si­ble for or­di­nary en­thu­si­asts to en­joy.

When CCW vis­ited last week, we saw ev­ery­thing from photos of crash test­ing to a half-scale di­a­gram of a Hill­man Imp. It truly is a re­mark­able col­lec­tion.

But un­less the ar­chive gets a new build­ing, you’re un­likely to see much of it be­cause there’s only enough space to dis­play a tiny frac­tion of the arte­facts.

Those run­ning the Rootes Ar­chive Cen­tre are hop­ing for pub­lic and cor­po­rate dona­tions to reach a tar­get of £175,000, which would al­low them to move out of the cur­rent rented premises in the for­mer Al­can Lab­o­ra­to­ries site in Ban­bury, Ox­ford­shire and buy a more suit­able home. The ap­peal was lauched at the 2015 NEC Clas­sic Mo­tor Show and about £40,000 has been raised so far.

But why is it so vi­tal that this huge col­lec­tion of Rootes Group his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial finds a se­cure new home? The core of the col­lec­tion dates back to 2004, when As­so­ci­a­tion of Rootes Car Club (ARCC) mem­bers res­cued Rootes En­gi­neer­ing Depart­ment’s ma­te­rial from the Stoke fac­tory in Coven­try.

By that time, what had been Rootes had passed through the hands of Chrysler and Peugeot so, un­like other Bri­tish mar­ques, the Rootes Group has no big cor­po­rate con­cern look­ing out for it. By con­trast, Jaguar, Ford and Vaux­hall have their own her­itage sec­tions and the Bri­tish Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion/Bri­tish Ley­land con­stituent com­pa­nies have the Bri­tish Mo­tor Mu­seum at Gay­don look­ing af­ter their past. This is de­spite Rootes once be­ing a ma­jor part of the Bri­tish motoring scene, with much-loved car brands such as Hill­man, Hum­ber, Singer and Sun­beam.

The cen­tre is looked af­ter by en­thu­si­asts from the Rootes Ar­chive Cen­tre Trust (RACT) and the ARCC. Fi­nance comes from ARCC clubs as well as out­side dona­tions. It is reg­is­tered as a char­ity so is able to utilise some of the financial ben­e­fits of this sta­tus. But ris­ing rents are now mak­ing its sit­u­a­tion much more dif­fi­cult.


The stock of his­tor­i­cal items is mas­sive. ‘There are over 150,000 mi­cro­fiches, dat­ing from the Chrysler days,’ ex­plains Matthew Oll­man of the Trust. ‘These in­clude parts, assem­bly and draw­ings. We pur­chased a batch mi­cro­fiche scan­ner only a few weeks ago, so we’re now in the process of digi­tis­ing this, which will al­low us to sup­ply stuff via com­puter.

Then there are the pho­to­graphs, cov­er­ing things such as public­ity shoots and crash tests, 32 fil­ing cab­i­nets of orig­i­nal en­gi­neer­ing blue­prints, and six fil­ing cab­i­nets of A3 draw­ings. Some of the mi­crofiched items date back to the 1930s, and the draw­ings to the 1950s.’

Else­where is what the vice-chair­man of the ARCC James Spencer calls the ‘ob­so­lete store draw­ings’ – un­cat­a­logued and stored in card­board rolls. He’s in the process of sort­ing them out.

‘We’ve done about 4500 so far, but that’s about a quar­ter of what’s here. Go­ing through this has re­vealed some quite in­ter­est­ing stuff.’ To il­lus­trate the point, he picks a tube at ran­dom, and pulls out a plan of an Imp-based sports coupé that never went into pro­duc­tion. ‘Now, that’s a sur­prise to me!’ he says.

The ar­chive is avail­able for the pub­lic to browse, and there are open days on the first Sun­day of the month from May to Septem­ber. The ma­te­rial has also been used to al­low re­man­u­fac­ture of scarce parts by clubs and com­pa­nies.

‘We were given the op­por­tu­nity of start­ing the ar­chive cen­tre and it’s im­por­tant we keep it go­ing,’ says Trust chair­man Gor­don Jarvis. ‘We are one of the few clubs lucky enough to have a col­lec­tion like this. And we want to pre­serve it for the fu­ture, for every­body to en­joy and learn from. This could be an ex­am­ple to other clubs to con­sider do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar for them­selves.’

www.roote­sarchive cen­tre.org.uk

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