Chariots of fire

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Be it a royal limousine, James Bond's babe magnet or a penny-farthing that takes your fancy, you can be sure there is more to it than cogs and gears. Laurence Alster roars into wheel life.

Ever since Sean Connery drawled "the name's Bond, James Bond", in Dr No, car and motor cycle manufacturers have fallen over themselves to have 007 drive one of their models - complete of course with state of the art ordnance - in the latest Bond adventure.

The results can be seen at The National Motor Museum, in Beaulieu, Hampshire. Visitors can view Bond's remote-controlled BMW 750iL from Tomorrow Never Dies and the amphibious Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me.

Film clips also show the cars in action, while an extensive storyboard display shows how the scenes were planned and shot.

The 300 vehicles in the main collection include outstanding examples of such famous or unusual vehicles as the 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, a Model T Ford from 1914 and advertising specimens such as a Mini that looks like an Outspan orange, plus a 1924 Daimler shaped like a bottle of Worthington beer.

Many of the cars are set among attractive tableaux, one of which shows the workings of a typical 1930s country garage. In the Motor Works Interactive Gallery, visitors can also use working models to learn about the car's electrical and mechanical systems.

* The huge Haynes Motor Museum at Sparkford in Somerset does have one very frustrating feature - the exhibits carry very little information. But the extent and quality of this collection is otherwise remarkable.

If all eyes are immediately drawn to the million-dollar, cobalt blue 1931 Duesenberg J in the main hall, there is much more that is, according to taste, astonishing, disgusting or plain daft. The 1950s and 60s American behemoths, for example, complete with "dollar grin" radiators, wraparound windscreens, rear fins and rocket tail lights, all set against a background of contemporary rock hits. Rather more elegant, but not nearly as exciting are the Daimlers, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. Boy and girl racers will boggle at the dozens of exhibits in the Hall of Motor Sports, among them two cars once owned by Stirling Moss, plus Graham Hill's Lola Cosworth. And if the 1959 Ford Popular and the 1967 Wolseley Hornet look quaint, the tiny, battery-powered Sinclair C5 (remember?) now looks plain crazy. Then again, some might ask themselves why we are so mad about cars in the first place.

* Coventry has long been home to some of the most famous names in British motor car manufacure, a fact the Museum of British Road Transport celebrates in style.

The Memory Lanes display in particular serves local interest by transporting visitors through re-created city streets from the turn of the last century to the 1930s.

The museum also features an impressive array of vehicles used by royals past and present, the most opulent being the limousine favoured by Queen Mary in 1935, and the State Landaulette enjoyed by George VI.

Both were made by Daimler, just one of more than 130 car manufacturers whose names were once associated with the city.

A video and photography exhibition traces the history of royal motoring. This proves that, unlike some continental royal families, ours has always preferred the comfort of four-wheeled vehicles from Coventry.

The impressive cycle section, with its hobby horses, boneshakers, penny-farthings and mountain bikes shows why Coventry was once known as the cycle capital of the world.

* Once a landmark in the development of speed on the ground and in the air, Brooklands is now the site of a museum that stands on part of the original 1907 circuit, the world's first purpose-built motor racing track.

Brooklands also saw the first flight in a British-built aeroplane in 1908 and, later, the development of aircraft such as the Sopwith Pup and Camel.

The main motor-racing attractions include, in Fastest on Earth, vintage racers, alongside tributes to such great names of pre-World War Two British motor racing as Malcolm Campbell and John Cobb.

Haynes Motor Museum Sparkford, near Yeovil, Somerset BA22 7LH. Tel: 01963 440804. Open daily Mar to Oct, 9.30am-5.30pm (until 6.30 during school holidays), daily Nov to Feb, 10am-4.30pm Admission: (groups of 15+) age 5 to 15, pound;2.25; 15 and above, pound;3.15. One adult free with every six pupils or students. Education officer: Michael Penn.The Museum of British Road Transport Hales Street, Coventry CV1 1PN. Tel: 024 76832425. Open all week from 10am to 5pm. Admission free. Education officer: Steven Bagley.Brooklands Museum Trust Brooklands Road, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 OQN. Tel: 01932 857381. Admission: pound;2.50, children, adults and helpers free. Open for school visits Tuesday, Wed, Thurs and Fri during term time.The National Motor Museum Beaulieu, Hampshire SO42 7ZN. Tel: 01590 612345. admission, 4 to 12: pound;5.30; 13 to 17: pound;5.70, students over 18: pound;8.25; May to Sept, 10am to 6pm; Oct to April, 10am to 5pm.The James Bond Cars exhibition ends April 2001. Education officer: David Corbett.

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