If you look at most modern cars you’ll notice that they could almost be the same car irrespective of the badge on the bonnet. In years gone by you didn’t need to see the badge to know what make of car was coming towards you. Classic cars were never the automotive white goods that many new cars seem to have become as manufacturers increasingly share parts and merge plants. Irrespective of whether they’re veteran, vintage, classic or modern classic they invariably raise a smile and engender a patience rarely seen on our roads nowadays.
In those bygone motoring days, the British motor industry was a powerhouse even though latterly the conglomerate that was British Leyland lacked the ability to compete with foreign car makers. At the time British cars were looked down upon as poor quality, with dubious reliability and a lack of features. Now the very cars we were so disparaging about have been all but lost in the roads of time.
There’s a motoring attraction in Derbyshire though that aims to change all that and bring together motoring memories of your old cars, maybe your parent’s cars, and has over 100 British cars housed in a museum with a difference.
The difference is that you can actually drive the cars! The Great British Car Journey is based in the village of Ambergate about 30 minutes north of Derby in the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
Inside the museum there is a wealth of cars and each one has a QR code that you can scan with the hand-held PDA that guides you round the displays. It’s not a vast space but so interesting you’ll not find it difficult to lose several hours.
I recently had the chance to sample a few of their cars and naturally went for models from my younger days, a Triumph TR7 soft-top – I bought myself one as a 21st birthday present – an Austin 1300GT that was even in the same colour as my Dad’s, a Ford Granada MK1 that was a model featured in the 1970s police programme The Sweeney and finally a 1938 Wolseley 14 that was one of the cars used by actors Honeysuckle Weeks and Michael Kitchen in Foyle’s War. I had a smaller Wolseley 10 before I lost garage space so it bought back memories of vintage outings.
Stepping back into modern classics such as the TR7 and 1300GT, although great fun, makes you realise that even if modern cars are a tad bland, they are so much more comfortable and useable. The classics are much more fun and both the TR7 and Austin 1300GT were surprisingly nippy and you had to drive them, as opposed to more modern fare that almost drives itself. As daily classics both would be useable and practical in terms of space. You also find visibility is much improved in older cars because the level of safety features in modern cars wasn’t there and modern designs are sleeker with less glass area and rely on sensors and cameras.
The real vintage cars can also be useable on a more local level and the Wolseley I drove had no problems in terms of being difficult to drive, had hydraulic brakes and would cruise happily at 50 mph. You still need to have your wits about you in terms of looking much further ahead than you would in a modern car, and the lack of power steering makes itself known at low-speed manoeuvres.
The Great British Car Journey and Drive Dad’s Car are unusual in that they will appeal to both car enthusiasts and non-car enthusiasts alike.
Words by Mark Slack