Many car companies are looking to their past glories to find inspiration for future products. The Volkswagen New Beetle, the Porsche Boxster, the Chrysler 300M, the Jaguar S-Type, the Ford Thunderbird, and BMW Z8 connect directly to the distinctive vehicles that helped put the companies on the map in the first place. To make sure that the past is not forgotten, some car companies have established museums dedicated to the preservation of the important and earliest examples of the marque. One such museum is the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Museum in Coventry, England.
Jaguar's museum was established in 1983 and was initially housed in the entry way to the Browns Lane factory. But space was cramped and the company was unable to showcase anything but its most important cars. Salvation came two years ago in the form of a commitment from Ford to help build a new museum building on a piece of property adjacent to Browns Lane. The Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust became a registered charity and a registered museum, which provides definite tax advantages and ensures the future of the collection. Because Jaguar owns Daimler and Daimler had absorbed the Lanchester Motor Company in the 1931, the museum is dedicated to these three marques.
Currently, the museum has 114 cars, ranging from an 1896 Daimler to the very first production S-Type, which arrived fresh off the assembly line in Castle Bromwich at the end of last January. The museum has set as its goal to obtain the first and last production car of each of the cars that Jaguar makes in the future, so the collection will represent not only the past but the current model range. The collection is displayed in three groupings: pre-war cars, racing cars and production sports cars and sedans. The pre-war part of the collection contrasts the mammoth Daimler sedans of the turn of the century with the diminutive Swallow-bodied Austin Sevens of the '20s and '30s upon which Sir William Lyons founded his automaking empire. Later in the '30s came the incredibly beautiful SS100 sports cars and various sports sedans, and the museum has several examples.
The 1950s were the time when Jaguar truly made its reputation by competing in events around the world. This era is well represented in the Heritage Trust by cars like Ian Appleyard's famous NUB120 Jaguar XK120 Alpine Rally car. The company also has a C-Type and a pair of D-Type sports racing cars from its successful Le Mans efforts in the early and mid '50s. These cars look incredibly elegant next to the purposeful, business-like lines of the XJR-9LM that brought home Jaguar's sixth Le Mans victory in 1988.
Amazingly, the cars are not surrounded by ropes or guards. You can run your hand along the flanks of the British racing green 1954 prototype of the D-Type as you walk past it. The museum regularly sends its cars to classic car events like the Mille Miglia and the Goodwood Festival, where they are still driven hard by journalists and guest racing drivers. Against those risks, a few finger prints probably don't matter too much.
Even with all of the space of the new museum building, there is still not enough room to show more than about a third of the collection. Curator of vehicles Tony O'Keeffe delights in rearranging the cars constantly and often enlists the help of visitors in pushing old cars into their new places. There is also a glass-walled workshop where visitors can watch mechanics restoring the collection's vehicles.
The cars that are not on display are kept in an old warehouse in the plant. Called Sleepy Hollow, it is literally an Aladdin's cave of Jaguar, Daimler and Lanchester automobiles. Many one-off prototypes from the seventies and eighties are kept here as well as several more significant racing cars and production models. Curator O'Keeffe will take you there if you ask him while visiting the museum.
Aside from displaying its past glories, the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust also serves as an archive of information. In the past, the archive room above the vehicle collection was primarily used for research by Jaguar employees. This year, however the room has been opened to outside researchers and other parties who wish to find out more about the history of Jaguar, Daimler or Lanchester automobiles.
The Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Museum is located adjacent to the Browns Lane Factory in the city of Coventry. There is no admission charge, and the facility is open weekdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. until around 4 p.m. and recently has been open on Sunday afternoons from around 1 p.m. until around 4 p.m. Call ahead on 44-(0)1203-405581 in England to check on the hours; www.jaguar.com/uk/jdht