Nestled in the centre of what can only be described as the hideous concrete monstrosity of Coventry is a gem: the Coventry Transport Museum. I know what you’re probably thinking: “That sounds boring.” You’d be wrong! It’s brilliant, as we discovered yesterday on a spontaneous and slightly Alan Partridge-esque Friday afternoon outing.
The museum should really be called Coventry Road Transport Museum, as disappointingly, there’s nothing on aviation in there (a surprising absence given Coventry’s importance as a manufacturer of the Spitfire). However, it’s the country’s largest museum of road transport, and it’s packed full of amazing vehicles of every shape and size.
On entering the museum, you’re taken on a journey through the history of the motorcar, with loads of fantastic old cars like these:
There are old bicycles too, like this precarious-looking penny-farthing. You wouldn’t get me on one of those things; if I recall correctly, the first one was ridden by a chap who was 6ft 6, so he probably wasn’t so concerned about it being a long way to fall.
A few parts of the museum were done up to place the vehicles in their context, like this one:
Coventry was once the car manufacturing capital of the country, and there were also recreated workshops to give you a sense of what early car manufacturers and garages would have been like.
Of course, Coventry is also famous for having been ruthlessly bombed during the Second World War, and a part of the museum took you through a ‘Blitz Experience’, going through darkened rooms with the sounds of shelling and air raid sirens. Continuing the wartime theme, this car was the Humber used by Field Marshall Montgomery from D-Day until the end of the war. It was transported to Normandy just after the D-Day landings but fell into the sea as it was being unloaded. However, the Field Marshall ordered it to be retrieved and cleaned up, and he went on to drive 60,000 miles in it. It became known as ‘the Victory Car’.
At the more modern end of the car spectrum, the star exhibit was ThrustSSC, the twin-jet-engined car that holds the world land speed record and was the first to officially break the sound barrier. Its engines are the same Rolls Royce engines used in the F-4 Phantom II fighter jet, and remarkably, it weighs 10.5 tonnes, which makes its speed record all the more impressive. We boarded a simulator designed to simulate what it’s like to go in the ThrustSSC, which gave a sense of what it’s like to go supersonic. I noticed two things particularly. The first was that inside, it’s designed to be like an aircraft cockpit, so Lee and I felt at home! Going supersonic, it did feel as though we were about to take off in it, and I also thought how easily one could lose control of it. The other thing I noticed was that on slowing down, because you’ve been going so fast, it feels like you’re almost at a stop when you look at the speedometer and you’re still doing 200mph. Exciting stuff! When you come off the simulator you walk down the ramp and wait in front of a screen, which lifts up to reveal the actual machine itself:
On closer inspection, you can see how all the paint has been burned off the side by the powerful after-burners:
After this you go through a most interesting section of the museum, designed to make you think about the issue of conservation. There are several vehicles here that have not been restored – just left in the condition they were found, like this one:
Although it’s nice to see the restored cars in all their former glory, I’m more fascinated by the ones that haven’t been restored; left to the ravages of time, they seem somehow to make the past feel closer than when they’ve been cleaned and repainted.
The rest of the museum housed models of various vehicles, some more modern cars including the De Lorean, and a good collection of old motorbikes and bikes. At the end is an excellent shop full of things that would appeal to those who are nostalgic about the past (e.g. me).
Details below if you’re interested in visiting Coventry Transport Museum. Apparently it’s having an £8.5m makeover, with work starting in March and continuing into next year, so we’ll definitely be paying it another visit in a year or so’s time!
Admission: free! Visitors are encouraged to buy the £4.99 souvenir guidebook. ThrustSSC simulator – £1.50 per person.
Opening hours: 10am – 5pm.