The Heritage Motor Centre is the country's largest, purpose-built transport museum. On display are around 200 vehicles from the world's biggest collection of historic British cars. Built around the perimeter of the main exhibition hall is a 150-metre-long, three-dimensional Time Road.
This "road" travels from 1896 to 1999, and along its length visitors can see changes in road surfaces, clothing, road signs and vehicles. Most people choose to start their journey in the 19th century where the first motorised vehicle on display is the 1899 Royal Riley Tricycle.
This exhibit is a graphic reminder that the first motor vehicles were little more than motorised versions of well-established forms of transport such as carriages, bicycles and, in this case, tricycles. The only modification to the standard design was the addition of an engine, fuel tank and a box to carry the battery and ignition components.
The driving experience offered by the Riley is in stark contrast to the effortless, comfortable, quiet and relatively safe motoring we enjoy today. The front brake is no more than a pad of rubber pushed down on to the tread of the tyre - not very effective in the dry, completely useless in the rain. The rear brake is different: it's useless in the rain and the dry. The vehicle has no clutch, so every time it stops the engine stops. The rider then has to restart the engine by pedalling, but not before the controls on the crossbar are properly adjusted. Ignition timing and fuel mixture were critical, but the throttle position was of no consequence. It had no effect on the engine speed whatsoever. The speed of the Riley was controlled by turning the ignition switch on and off.
The ignition system was powered by a battery, but there was no means of charging, so the battery needed to be taken from the vehicle and charged before each journey. Failure to do this - or driving far enough to flatten the battery - would result in the engine stopping and leaving the rider with no alternative other than to pedal home.
Trevor Lord Trevor Lord is head of education at the Heritage Motor Centre, Banbury Road, Gaydon, Warwick CV35 OBJ. Tel: 01926 641188. The centre is open every day apart from public holidays from 10am to 4.30pm