‘ROOTES ARCHIVE MUST BE SEEN'
Fascinating collection of unique photos and drawings needs its own building. CCW investigates
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.’