British Motor Museum

It has been quite some years since I first visited the British Motor Museum.
After attending the AMHT’s 19th birthday party we found the museum to be on the way home, so we stopped for a visit.

I remember the museum being in the same building it is now, but containing considerably fewer cars. Now it is a treasure trove!
There are hundreds of beautiful examples from British car history across various categories. In addition there is now a second building open to the public which holds more cars from the collection. The ground floor is entirely dedicated to Jaguar. Upstairs there is a variety of marques represented covering decades.


The Jaguar E-type is of course very well known, but I prefer the D-type ‘long nose’ as pictured here.
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As is to be expected, there are quite a few classic Minis on display. Three of these are Monte Carlo Rally winners. I always did like a Mini with seemingly too many headlights. They just pull off the rally look quite well.
There are also several film cars; from Back to the Future to Thunderbirds and Judge Dredd.
And let’s not forget the speed record attempts! Those cars look positively futuristic. They are also considerably smaller than I imagined.
There is a cinema which shows car and race related old films all day long. Obviously I didn’t want to stay in the cinema too long, but it is tempting. There are some interesting features on offer.


Two of the classic Minis that won the Monte Carlo Rally in the 60s.
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I realise I cannot possibly do the place any justice by trying to describe everything I saw. There is simply too much.
It’s wonderful to see so many marques represented that no longer exist. There are also many that were still around in my lifetime, but are now gone. It’s a bit nostalgic, but also a wonderful trip down memory lane.

The information provided is quite extensive, which I always find important in a museum. I suppose the only ‘downside’ is that I couldn’t really find a logical route through the museum. That didn’t make the experience any less fun, however, as you can easily find your own way. With a map you can even decide what marques or categories you’d like to see first.


In 1907 the car’s interior and ‘dashboard’ were distinctly different from now! (Rover 20hp)
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Even though we had several hours to explore the museum we did not see everything. This is a museum I’ll want to visit again, not in the least due to the sheer number of cars and variety. There is a car to love for every petrolhead out there.

The pros and cons of going to Le Mans

They won it.
Aston Martin Racing won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their class. And I was there when it happened.

It goes without saying that I am very happy about that. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a very hard race to complete, let alone win. She has been referred to as a cruel mistress and not a year goes by without motorsport fans experiencing at least some sympathy for competitors who see their race ended due to misfortune. It’s a roller coaster of emotions. But…is it worth going? I thought about that before I booked, but even more so when I was there. I found out that every reason I could think of to go was also a reason not to. Let me explain.


The GTE Pro class winner: Aston Martin Racing’s #97.
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The Race of all Races

Or, as I like to call her, the Mother of all Races. The 24 Hours of Le Mans started way back in 1923. This year was the 85th time the race was held. It’s a 24 hour endurance race with 60 cars on the grid. In short: it’s a big race.
There are some races that belong on the motorsport fan’s bucket list and this is definitely one of them. You probably should go at least once in your life.

So what are the pros of going? Well, there is obviously nothing that can replace the atmosphere at a race track. When you’re at home watching a race or perhaps with a group of friends, it’s still nothing like the real deal. The track is iconic, which in itself can be another reason to go. And it has a museum which is filled with race cars and other special cars (like a Citroën 2CV which went around the world in the 1950s!). If you’re there you also get a chance to attend the drivers’ parade on Friday evening. If you go early enough, you can also go to the signing session on the Tuesday before the race.

Makes you wonder if there is a con to this? Yes, there is. Strangely enough, if you go to the trace track you see less of the race than you would at home. At home you have television coverage (in most countries, at least) and so many different camera angles. At the track you see the action where you are and nowhere else. Considering Circuit de la Sarthe is almost 8.5 miles (just over 13.5 km) long, there is an awful lot you won’t see, even if you have a massive screen nearby.


A very recent addition to the museum is the race car driven by (among others) Frédéric Sausset – a quadruple amputee – last year. Inspiring to say the least…
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Weather

It’s June and it’s in France. Quite a lot of people think that is the perfect combination, but if, like me, you struggle with temperatures over 20 degrees you may want to have a think.
This past weekend I experienced temperatures between 26 and 32 degrees. Thankfully there was a breeze, but when that wind drops at a time it’s over 30 I find it hard to breathe. At the same time I saw a large group of people happily sitting outside without any shade chatting and laughing. It really is a personal preference.

Another thing to take into consideration is the food in France. In my experience they are not very keen on vegetarian food. Being a vegetarian myself I can tell you I did struggle finding appropriate warm food. On the other hand I had expected that. So we ended up shopping on Friday morning as supermarkets can provide pretty much anything you want.

If you suffer from asthma or hay fever have a very good think about this. I found the whole experience to be very dusty. The car was unrecognisable after a few hours. I was wearing shoes, socks and full length jeans the entire time and had dust up to my knees on my legs. It goes everywhere. On the Sunday there was a lot of dried grass flying around as well. Probably not the friendliest of places if you have any respiratory condition.

People who have been before have told me they have been to Le Mans during horrible weather. And, again, with the track being so big, you can easily have warm weather on one side and rain on the other. Basically it’s best to be prepared for anything.


Labre Competition’s Corvette was this year’s art car.
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Travel

Depending on where you live you’d have to consider how you want to get to Le Mans. I opted for driving from South Yorkshire, taking the ferry from Dover to Calais and drive on to Le Mans. My friend and I did travel down in two days. We had accommodation for the Wednesday night near Dover so we wouldn’t have to rush on Thursday morning to get the ferry. The drive from Calais was about 4.5 hours over toll roads (another consideration!). However, we did do the entire trip back in one day.

Of course you can also fly in, fly-drive, take a bus, go by train or a combination of any of these. I spoke to a lady who had come from Dallas. She obviously had to fly in, but I’m not sure how she got to Paris airport. The option you pick will also be influenced by your budget. Driving in your own car, like I did, is not the cheapest option (from the UK at least), but I really enjoy driving so will gladly spend the time and the money for that experience alone.

Getting there is one thing. How about the daily commute? Where is your accommodation and how will you get from there to the track? You could spend a long time every day getting from your hotel to the track.
This year I opted for glamping. A tent was already set up for us when we arrived, including air beds, bed linen, a small table and two chairs. Ideal, but obviously a little bit more expensive than a camping plot for you and your tent/camper. Another bonus to this is that our camp was near the Porsche curves. We had access to one viewing area which was only available to whoever booked with this particular company. On the other side of the track there was another viewing area, but this was less restricted. I went to both and enjoyed the views from each.


The Porsche Curves are very well known and make for great viewing.
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A new level of cool

Above I mentioned a lot of factors to take into consideration when deciding to go to the 24 Hours of Le Mans or not. There is one more.
Even people who don’t care about motorsport are in awe when you tell them about this. In the eyes of pretty much everyone else out there you are cool. The very fact that you are willing to travel a long distance and brave the elements just to see a race baffles them, but they also admire you for it. If that matters to you, you now have another reason to go.

For me it was quite simple: wherever Aston Martins race I will try to go. I love WEC most of all, so Le Mans was a must for me. Despite the fact I didn’t see that overtake on the Corvette, I was there when my team won the Mother of all Races. And that is an unforgettable experience.

British GT, Silverstone, 10 and 11 June 2017

British GT at Silverstone is something a little bit special, because it is known as ‘Silverstone 500’. It’s a three hour race.
I think British GT is a great series anyway, but having a race this long on the agenda is a bonus. In addition the support races are quite good too!
The only thing you can never be sure of is the weather. And this year Silverstone decided on sunny with clouds and a lot of wind. So much wind that the commentators mentioned it as it affected the cars out on track.


The Aston Martin of the defending champions was having issues, which was reflected in their result.
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As usual I attended the whole weekend which allowed me to enjoy as much of the supporting races as possible. I had never witnessed a Caterham race before. It was a lot more exciting than I expected. To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting. However, seeing 4 cars fighting for the first spot at the very end of the race is more than you would expect from anything other than Blancpain. It was great to see and I ensured I caught another Caterham race the next day.

My favourite cars with faces – the Ginettas – were also having the time of their lives. The Ginettas did not only have their own series and races, they are also part of British GT itself.
Ginetta race cars are available for various classes, so in some cases they race with what one would consider the ‘big boys’ and definitely hold their own!
They may look cute…these are serious race cars and the races are quite something to watch!


Cars with faces…you can’t go wrong.
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For some reason they (whoever ‘they’ are) decided to do something weird this weekend. The result? A 1965 Routemaster (yes, that’s a double-decker bus) joined the British GT cars on track. Judging by the video from on board the bus it really was going about as fast as it could. Compared to the race cars it was seemingly standing still.
Regardless of reason, it was quite the sight and I do like the Routemasters. There’s always time for a laugh…

British GT itself had five Aston Martins on the grid. What a treat! Next to that there’s of course the Bentley Continentals and I never say no to a few McLarens or Lamborghinis out there.
The Aston Martin of Jonny Adam and Derek Johnston had power steering issues (as in: they lost it) and this was clearly reflected in the result. Derek Johnston started the race and spun on the first lap due to this issue. Defending the championship is not as easy as some people may think, especially with bad luck like this.


The 1965 Routemaster out on track.
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The race was exciting from start to finish, which did not come as a surprise to me. British GT is quite unpredictable. Especially in a longer race like this one anything can and will happen.
The Team Parker Racing Bentley took the first spot after a stellar drive, but it would be unfair to say that even the last car to cross the finish line didn’t try as hard as they could. This is hard racing, just three hours long.

Of course I should also mention that it was Supercar Sunday. I have to say that the organisers and I do not agree on the definition of supercar, but there were definitely some mighty fine cars on display. Lamborghinis and McLarens were rubbing proverbial shoulders with Maseratis, Aston Martins and Audis (of the R8 variety). Quite a few of these took to the track during the lunch break, providing some very nice sights for the public. Supercars or not…I was not complaining.

Old and new at Morgan

Visiting car manufacturers is rapidly becoming a new hobby.
Initially I expected to see the same thing over and over, but nothing is further from the truth. At Audi I saw a lot of robots and automated systems at a vast location with thousands of people. In contrast, Lotus, Bentley and Aston Martin prefer the human approach; a lot is done by hand. Their factories are also quite small in comparison.
At Morgan it’s like going back in time. And it’s great.


A Morgan three wheeler at the museum
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Either before or after the factory tour you can visit the museum. As I was early I went there first to see the vast amount of information on display. There are a number of cars, all either significant or just plain gorgeous, and a lot of smaller items. It’s not a very big museum, but it’s filled to the brim with Morgan related stuff.

The factory tour takes you through the entire company minus the paint shop. A very nice difference is that at Morgan they encourage you to take photos throughout. This allowed me to update the social media channels that go with this blog while the tour was ongoing. A very rare treat indeed.

Martin Webb, Morgan’s archivist, was our tour guide. Considering his role I expected him to have a lot of knowledge of the company and I was not disappointed.
For example: he told the group that the company was founded in 1909 by Henry Morgan and it has been in its current location for 103 years.


The creation of the wooden frames.
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Currently Morgan has four models and each is built differently. The tour took us through each area so we could see the chassis being built up to a complete car. The aluminium panels are laser cut by another company, but other than that everything is done by hand. You will not find an assembly line or a robot in this place!

And while I’m at it, let me set the record straight. Apparently a lot of people think the chassis is made of wood. This is incorrect. The frame is made of wood – ash, to be exact.

Despite the fact building a Morgan is a very manual thing, modern techniques are used. For example: there are old fashioned methods being used to change several layers of quite flexible ash to one very sturdy part of the frame. However, they also use a modern method of putting wood panels which need to be moulded and/or glued together in a big bag and then sucking the air out (see below).


A modern method in old fashioned surroundings.
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Needless to say the roof and interior of the cars is also made by hand. While walking through the trim shop you get to see the various materials and their colours. Martin enlightened us with a story of a customer who wanted a pink car with a pink roof. Unsurprisingly it’s not most people’s first choice, but it does illustrate you can choose things which are normally not on offer.

After the trim shop the last work is done on the cars before they go to the inspection area.
After that we got treated to a quick look in the workshop of the three wheelers. Obviously Morgans stand out between other modern/new cars, but the three wheelers are a world onto their own. A car with three wheels and a motor engine on the outside (up front) – so confusing you can choose to use it as a car (wear your seatbelt!) or a trike of sorts (wear a helmet, but not your seatbelt).
I’m not quite sure what I would do, but I have to admit that they look like a lot of fun. I certainly wouldn’t mind driving one just to see what it is like.


The bays in the inspection area.
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Morgan is one of the companies where you can easily get a factory tour. They are very proud to show around 30,000 per year – they do several tours per day.
Considering its lengthy history and the fascinating manufacturing method I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in cars. This tour was great fun and very insightful. I’d do this again in a heartbeat.

Blancpain GT Series Endurance, Silverstone, 13/14 May 2017

The Blancpain Endurance race at Silverstone is one of the hightlighs of the year. The grid is massive and the cars diverse. The racing is unpredictable (as is the weather), so excitement is as good as guaranteed.
This time around we decided to also get grid walk tickets.


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Support races

Blancpain always has a number of support races which are highly enjoyable. My favourite however is still Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Almost any type of race is great to watch, but there is something special about a large number of Huracans on a track.
I can only assume the cars’ specs will be fairly similar, but even if that’s not the case, racing is always quite close, causing some very exciting moments. There’s a lot of good action to watch. And of course the cars look amazing on track…as if they were built for it.

Pit walks

There were two pit walks during the weekend.
On Saturday there was no autograph session. It was therefore rather quiet, but it did give better access to the cars.


The #8 Bentley – VERY up close and personal – during the Saturday pit walk.
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The second pit walk was on the Sunday which included the autograph session.
I always enjoy the pit walks, with or without autograph session. It’s a good time to get a bit closer to the cars and, if there is an autograph session, have a chat with the drivers. Most really seem to enjoy the interaction (read: banter). I always make a point of seeing my favourite team/driver(s) to wish them well for the race.

Grid walk

This was the first time we got grid walk tickets, just to see what that is like.
As expected it is nothing like the pit walks. During a pit walk the garages are open, sometimes the drivers will be there and it’s quite relaxed overall.
A grid walk means you are walking among the cars ready to start a race. There’s team members working on the cars, drivers are preparing to get into the cars and it is very busy!


The one and only Aston Martin on the grid during the grid walk.
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Of course you can get really close to the cars on the grid walk, but at the same time it feels a bit rushed. You have to wait at the side of the track for all the cars to arrive and only have a few minutes to walk the actual grid.
It understandable the public have to be out of the way when the cars drive up and you also don’t want to be in the way of the people working on the cars or preparing to drive. But simply due to the number of people I didn’t find it as amazing as I was told it would be.

I would say it’s an interesting experience and I wouldn’t advise against it, but it’s not really for me.

The main race

Blancpain never disappoints.
I think the races are unpredictable due to the large grid and the variety of cars. In the races I have seen so far you usually cannot predict who will win. Silverstone was no different.
It seems inevitable the safety car will come out, but usually not so often it impacts the viewers’ enjoyment.


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I cannot put into words how exciting it is to see that enormous grid come around the corner, preparing for the rolling start. When those lights turn green all hell breaks loose (including the thunderous noise that goes with it!).
For three hours I find myself at the edge of my seat, trying to keep up with the changes in position.

I’ve seen a few Blancpain races now, both at the track and on television, and I am certain I will be seeing quite a few more.

AMOC Spring Concours 2017

In 2016 Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. told the world that they would open a new site which would become the factory for the DBX. The location was an old MOD site at St Athan, Wales.
In early 2017 the site is still mostly empty so the Aston Martin Owners Club took the opportunity to host their Spring Concours there. Let’s see: AMOC (very good at hosting ‘parties’), AML (very good at being at the right place at the right time) and AMHT (very good at displaying the best of Aston’s history) together at one location. Yes, that’s a must see.
So off to Wales we went.

AMOC hosts a Concours twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. If, like me, you don’t know what that is: the club’s members bring their cars and these cars are judged. In short: there’s prizes up for grabs in several categories. One thing is for certain, you can expect the best examples to be there.
In this case reportedly around 700 Aston Martins were present. Considering several halls were in use, each of them huge, I believe that number to be accurate.


One of the halls was only beginning to fill up when this photo was taken. The entire hall is twice this big.
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The Aston Martin Heritage Trust was also there with, among others, a DBS display to celebrate this model has now been around for 50 years.
As if that wasn’t enough, there were several very special cars to be seen. There was the unveiling of the Red Arrows Edition Aston Martin Vanquish S, while previous special editions were on display nearby.


Red Arrows Edition Aston Martin Vanquish S
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I was very happy to see the Valkyrie. Even though I had already seen her in Geneva, I thought it was very good that people who may not have had the opportunity (or the wish!) to go to Geneva now had a chance to see her to. She got a lot of attention, which is not surprising. This car is something else.

My personal highlight was definitely the CC100. This car was created for the company’s centenary celebrations. Only two were made, so chances are very slim indeed to ever see this one anywhere other than in a magazine. But there it was.
An added bonus is that one of the designers involved in that project was at the Concours. It is a very welcome extra being able to talk to him for a while and get his perspective on the project and the car.


Aston Martin CC100
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And the list doesn’t end there: DBR1, Lola Aston Martin, One-77 and the Vulcan. All present and set up in such a way that everyone had a chance to have a good look. There were several Lagondas and I even spotted two Cygnets.
There was so much to see that after 4.5 hours I had to give up. Not only did I have quite a drive back home, but the sheer number of cars was a bit overwhelming. However, that drive (several hours) was very much worth it.

Just think: that very same evening they probably had to clear everything out, because the next day construction on the factory started. The Concours will very likely never be held here again.
It was an epic and unique event.

87th International Motor Show, Geneva

After a long break I went back to the Geneva International Motor Show last year. Aston Martin presented the DB11 and I thought I couldn’t be more excited. I was wrong.

Initially I was not planning to go to Geneva, but then Aston Martin broke the news they were bringing three premieres to the show. I got the chance to go on Tuesday (press day), which meant I could not possibly resist.
I did mention last year that the show elements I had grown accustomed to have mostly disappeared. This is not the case for the first press day. Everything starts on Monday afternoon, as in the evening the Car of the Year is revealed. On Tuesday the day is filled with press conferences and these are shows! The manufacturers bring often more than one of their VIPs, promotional videos are shown and most don’t shy away from a light show.


The quiet before the storm, or – in this case – the Aston Martin stand before the press conference.
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It is impossible to see all conferences, because they follow each other in quick succession and you’d have to run from one hall to another at times. I managed to catch the conferences of Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche and Aston Martin.
Especially Lamborghini stood out for me. The actual presentation itself wasn’t that long (as in: not a lot of talking). They alternated between live presentation and a few videos and it was one of the videos that got my attention.


Video courtesy of Lamborghini

After leaving WEC at the end of last year’s season Audi Sport have now presented their DTM challenger: the new RS5. They presented the car simultaneously with its road going sibling. In addition they confirmed their manufacturer team entry for Formula E’s 2017/2018 season. There’s a lot going on at Audi.

Bentley presented the EXP 12 which is an electric car. Style wise it fits in perfectly with the Continental and the Mulsanne. It looks amazing and I hope we get to see and hear more about it soon. Between the BMW i8 and Bentley EXP 12 I think we can safely say electric cars are stepping away from looking boring.

I didn’t make it to the Volvo conference, but was right next door (at Aston) when their conference happened. I had already seen all the Volvos were wrapped up in cocoons (different, to say the least). The presentation seemed to focus mainly on how natural the car is, how great it feels, etc. Considering they were presenting the XC60 I think they totally missed the mark.
Having owned a Volvo 440 and test driven the S90 I am amazed at how horrible the XC60 is. However, I should take into account it’s an SUV and I’m not a fan of SUVs in general. There’s only a few I like, for example the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5. They at least prove that an SUV can still have nice lines and it doesn’t have to be massive.


Volkswagen Arteon
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Volkswagen and I are not really friends, but there are a few models I like. On trips to the Nürburgring I have driven an EOS and a convertible Golf. I fully believe they should have left the Scirocco alone. I also think the CC is one of the sexiest things on four wheels ever built. Safe to say I haven’t quite made my mind up about VW.
When strolling over their stand I was pleasantly surprised by the Arteon (pictured above). It has all the things I like about the CC while still being recognisably Volkswagen. Very nice indeed.

It was great to see so many race cars at the show. Ford brought their WEC racer, Rebellion brought their LMP1 car. Abt was there with their Formula E car. Toyota had their LMP1 car at the stand including a part-car display where you could have a better look at the cockpit.


A look inside the Toyota LMP1 car.
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Last year Aston Martin shook up the car world by presenting what was then called AM-RB 001. It’s low, it looks mean (yet smooth), its aerodynamic characteristics are created by Adrian Newey, it’s very fast and will be road legal (yes, really).
The day before Geneva they revealed the lady’s name: Valkyrie.

Not surprising then that it was very busy at the Aston Martin stand when the time for their conference came. Even though the car has been shown already and further details have been released in the past year, it still draws the crowd. Who wouldn’t want to see this with their own eyes?
Now I have seen the car for myself I can confirm she’s a sight to behold. I find it unbelievable that you can sit behind the car and look underneath it from rear to front. Especially the rear is quite high, despite the car being very low overall. It will be very interesting to see (and hear!) this car when a working prototype is completed.


Aston Martin Valkyrie
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Aston Martin also had a surprise for us: AMR.
They took the opportunity to launch a new brand which will be bringing racing technology directly to road cars. The Rapide AMR looks surprisingly sporty for such a big car and wears its makeover quite well. I understand the Vantage AMR Pro will be track only whereas the Rapide AMR will be a road car.
As if this wasn’t enough they also brought a special Q edition of the DB11 and a Vanquish S Volante. I am still drooling now…

Going to the Geneva International Motor Show on press day has been a privilege. It gave me the chance to have a much better look at the new cars and to hear the details from some pretty important people.
I can’t make any promises, but I will certainly try to get press passes to this show and other shows/events. It will allow me to get that just that little bit more to write about.