Parp, parp. I’m the kind of person who just about knows one end of a car from the other. You certainly wouldn’t catch me waxing lyrical about alloy wheels or torque. Or watching Top Gear.
That’s why I’d given the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon a wide berth, despite it being a mere 10-minute ride from the totalcontent studio. However, they’d recently laid on a one-off exhibition called ‘Science Fiction at the Movies’, which promised plenty of Star Wars and Dr Who relics — the kind of thing my boys are deeply into. And we had friends coming for the weekend, so it seemed an ideal opportunity to check the place out.
Parked in the middle of a former RAF base, in the middle of nowhere, the imposing circular building looks like a covert high-security government headquarters. You might expect to find all kinds of Roswell-like experiments going on in there, but actually it’s packed with over 200 significant British cars — from decidedly the humble, to land-speed record breakers and James Bond stalwarts. But it’s not at all fetishistic or petrol-heady. In fact, the place offers more of a social and cultural history, the outer perimeter representing a road travelling through time, with the earliest cars at one end, gradually making way for more contemporary fare.
For me — apart from the astonishing FAB 1, Lady Penelope’s pearly-pink wheels from the 2004 live-action Thunderbird’s movie — the great revelation was the trove of retro type and ephemera. The place was chock full of posters, ads, signage, logos and hand-rendered typography. I found myself slavishly photographing walls, grilles and odd bits of lettering, and reminding myself not to be so closed-minded in future. Particularly loved a poster for Dunhills’ Bobby Finders, glasses-cum-binoculars which promised to “spot a policeman at half a mile even if disguised as a respectable man”.
Cars, whether we like it or not, are a telling symbol of progress and popular culture. With headlights on full beam, Gaydon took us on a nostalgic and occasionally quirky tour of Britishness through the ages. I’ll be jumping into my car with a better camera for a return visit soon.