You’ve Read The Repair Manuals, How About A Visit To The Haynes Museum?
Photography by Will Broadhead
Somewhere in the south of England I’ve taken my place in the snake of traffic that has log-jammed another stretch of road. The A303 used to be a lot more fun than this I’m sure, and as the asphalt serpent curls past the ancient structures of Stonehenge, my mind is taken back to times when the road network wasn’t quite so well subscribed. I’m in desperate need of an antidote to this motoring misery, and some 60 clicks on the odometer later it appears on the horizon. A fabulous piece of architecture leaps up from the green landscape, red and white curves resplendent in the morning sun. The Haynes International Motor Museum is a fine sight for sore eyes, and if was even half as good looking on the inside, I knew I would be in for a treat.
Despite everything I’d arrived earlier than expected and beaten the SatNav’s eta by a clear half hour (even my electronic aids have no faith in the UK’s road network it seems), and the Haynes’ curator, Matt, greets me in the carpark as he arrives for work himself. The museum was first established in 1985 by John H. Haynes OBE—yes, the same man of Haynes Manuals publishing fame—and the vehicles that make up his museum’s inventory of 400 or so exhibits are as varied as the cars he’s inspired so many DIY’ers to wrench on.
Before I’m allowed up close with the cars and bikes though, I am put into the care of the site’s workshop manager, Bradley. The museum itself is a registered charity, whereas the workshop that cohabits the site exists as its own business, taking care of and restoring vehicles under the curation of the museum, whilst also having a roster of private clients. All profits are then donated to the upkeep of the museum. Matt tells me later that because of this, the museum is entirely self-contained and takes no charitable support from the government nor donations from companies like the national lottery, a fact they are all very proud of and for good reason.
The workshop is a fascinating place, and with the mix of clients that come in you’re just as likely to see a family hatchback on a ramp as you are something a little more exotic. Bradley proudly shows me around all the facilities and what’s going on inside, including a ground-up restoration that was currently happening to an Aston Martin DB4; the rebuilt engine was on display and the body was just entering the final stages of restoration before being sent out to paint. As well as that, there are MOTs happening on a Mk1 Land Rover, an immaculate TR6 is up on the ramp, and a Corvette is in for a new stereo to be fitted. It’s a mix, is what I’m saying.
As much as I adore being in amongst the tools of the workshop though, I’m itching to see the vehicles on display and soon have my want granted with an informative tour led by Matt, who’s knowledge and passion for everything in the collection is obvious from the outset. As we walk and talk, the variety of machines in here starts to become apparent, ordered as it is into different zones. There are contraptions here from the dawn of motoring, including a 1903 Oldsmobile whose origins are very firmly set in the Somerset county the museum resides in. There are plenty of very early machines like this, as well as examples of newer options such as a sumptuous Bentley Arnage that sits in amongst the other luxury cars on display.
Indeed, the story of motoring is told across the ages here, but not in the usual dull chronological order that often stifles the air of museums. Here we find collections of red cars grouped together, collections of cars from around the world grouped next to mini’s and micros, venerable Jaguars and Aston Martins opposite more outlandish custom motors and there are many more halls yet to explore. There is also a huge collection of American cars, with the usual Stingrays and Chargers, but also some stunning vehicles from the Auburn and Duesenberg stable. It’s a fabulous and at times anarchic mix of metal that constantly surprises you—a welcome break from the fastidious, library-like ordering in many places I’ve visited before.
Of course, like any great auto museum, there is more than just the cars themselves to look at, and the variety of paraphernalia and automobilia is just as impressive as the stars of the show. This supporting cast provides depth and dimension to the stories of the autos, whether it be the collections of toy cars that details the career of Stirling Moss, or the wonderful period workshop apparatus that adds life to the story of Morris, I find myself as much immersed in the props as I am the engines.
Coupled with the insightful films and information boards that are there if you need them (somehow, they manage the trick of being absolutely huge, but not in your face), it is clear that the museum has a well thought out educational effort as well. Indeed, Matt tells me that teaching and inducing in the curiosity of all age of visitor is a central part of the museum’s mission, with a purpose-built educational facility on site for children and adults alike.
It takes Matt and I a good three hours to walk through the exhibits, and despite—or perhaps because of—his knowledge and excitement about the collection he curates, it feels like I’ve just spent the morning with one of my buddies. Just two enthusiasts, talking cars and sharing the knowledge and anecdotes about our favorites. But I knew that when I drove home my mind would be full of new information and many things to Google. That’s the kind of place this is, vast, well stocked, educational and informative, but mostly just a whole heap of fun for someone who’s interested in vintage motoring.
I’d extend a big thank you to Matt, Clair, Bradley, and the rest of the team that took so much time out of the day to make me feel welcome. I know my visit was a memorable one, and I hope to see you all again soon!