Embarking on studying as an Automotive Journalist at Coventry – the cultural centre of England’s automotive industry for so many years – it would have been naïve to simply gloss over the rich tapestry of automotive heritage right in front of me, housed under the roof of Coventry’s world-famous transport museum. How glad I am I took the opportunity to visit this excellent catalogue of the industry that underpinned this area of the country for so many years. Writes Sean Carson…
Exploring the museum truly is a voyage through the journals of transport, from the very early days of the motor vehicle right up to the machines engineered and refined to the nth degree that we know today as the automobile. Entering the museum and its first exhibition, I’m overwhelmed by a false sense of nostalgia, fuelled by grainy black and white images and films of a bygone era that I never experienced. Names such as Alvis, Singer, Hillman and Humber that have now all but been confined to the annals recall stories for Coventry of a time when it stood as a bastion for the UK motor industry; the Detroit of England.
As you move on through the museum you’re witness to some pieces of automotive design that appear quite alien in a modern world. As a petrolhead growing up alongside a motor industry constricted by ever tightening legislation, it is refreshing to see the lack of constraints designers and engineers had throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s in the form of cars like the Triumph Italia 2000 (no matter how many styling cues it shared with the Ferrari 250 GT SWB and California) and the iconic, original GT car, the Jaguar E-Type.
From the beautifully formed to the ruthlessly functional the transport museum posses it all. Moving on through the exhibitions you are suddenly confronted by the 633 mph, jet-propelled behemoth that is Thrust2. From the huge intake for the centrally mounted Rolls-Royce Avon engine to the seemingly under-sized brakes everything is scarcely believable, designed and developed to achieve one goal, the land speed world record – which it held for just over 14 years. That is until Thrust SSC came along. 633 mph is fine in the way that Nescafé is fine until you have tasted your first properly made espresso complete with rich, golden crema.
I imagine supersonic travel is much the same. Lurking in its pseudo-World War II hangar, resting on its wheel chocks, the 110,000 bhp ThrustSSC remains the fastest (and surely most thirsty, drinking fuel at a rate of 18 litres per second!) car on earth today, recorded at a sound beating 763 mph. Pushing the boundaries in this sense is all well and good and I’m all for it, but in this instance it was not these two high velocity vehicles that stole my heart. Standing amongst some distinguished company such as a Maserati 250 F, the legendary Tyrell P34 and two Chevrons of B8 and B16 vintage is a wonderfully proportioned ’72 Porsche 911 S/T producing an astonishing specific output of nearly 100 bhp per litre from its air-cooled 2.5 litre flat six.
As a devoted 911 fan it is a car that embodies a great number of values I respect and is therefore why it is the star of the show for me. In truth though, we should be thankful that these wonderful machines, whatever their appeal are on show for us today and be mindful of the plethora of motoring history intrinsic to this area. Here’s to the next 100 years of the automotive industry in the Midlands.