From a large, innocuous bunch of keys Robert Lewis unlocks the door and switches on the lights of the single-storey building. The effect is mesmerising. Bathed in subdued light, we’re surrounded by mouthwatering cars from the Fifties to the Eighties. Next to me is a vivid orange Lamborghini Muira. Centre stage is a silver Mercedes SL Gullwing. In the far corner stands a brutish black Lamborghini Countach. Around the perimeter are colourful petrol pumps with illuminated globes, all adding a further feeling of drama to the effect. On the walls are advertising hoardings dating back to the start of motoring. To one side is an office with its own extensive motoring library. It’s a stunning introduction to Robert and Tanya’s very personal motor museum.
‘My wife and I are keen sailors,’ reveals Robert. ‘We kept a yacht in the Mediterranean and spent our free time sailing. We’re passionate about cars and one day in 2006 we just decided to sell the boat and begin collecting cars. We went to Monte Carlo to buy a Mercedes-Benz 280 SE Cabriolet once owned by Cher at a Bonhams auction. Sadly it was withdrawn. Then I saw a beautiful black Mercedes 300SC Cabriolet and bought it.’ The 300SC takes centre stage alongside the Gullwing. With nowhere to keep it Robert acted swiftly and bought a farm. Here, purposebuilt barns were quickly erected and today they form the nucleus of the museum. The current tally stands at around 45 cars.
Just 11 Lagonda Le Mans replicas were built. Sunbeam’s 3-litre twin cam hemi engine produces a healthy 90bhp.
We walk on, through a short narrow corridor and into the pre-war suite. Here, the elegance of Thirties motoring emanates from each example, from a diminutive Austin Swallow to the majesty of Lagondas. In the centre is a Ford Model TT breakdown truck. Behind lurks a British Racing Green replica Lagonda race car.
1939 Lagonda Le Mans replica
‘When I started the collection I decided to concentrate on Lagondas rather than Bentleys. This is a copy of a 1938 Le Mans car; only eleven of these models were built. I bought it seven years ago. It was previously owned by Dick van Dyke who rallied it, entering events like the Atlas Mountain rally – it won its class in the Tulip Rally.
‘It has a 4.5-litre V12 engine with downdraught SU carburettors to clear the bonnet. You get in by climbing on the seats and then sliding your legs astride of the steering wheel. It has a central throttle – you only make the mistake of pressing the wrong pedal once.
No driver’s side door on the Sunbeam – the handbrake and gearlever get in the way. Robert’s wife Tanya fell in love with this Lagonda V12 saloon the moment she sat in it. Small part of Robert’s extensive automobilia collection. Robert likes to work on his cars but also has a full-time mechanic. This Alvis Speed 20 Vanden Plas SA’s gearbox requires some learning.
‘It took a great deal of restoration. We stripped it down to the bare chassis and changed it back to its original specification. For example, when it was rallied the exhaust was routed over the top of the rear axle. Since then we’ve raced it extensively. It has won quite a few races and last year we entered it at the Spa Classic and Classic Le Mans. At the latter the battery was flat so it had to be push-started. Then I clawed my way up from 65th to 11th place.
‘During my early ownership, while being driven by a great friend of mine, it had a serious accident at Donington and was rebuilt by Rob Stacey, our resident engineer. More recently, Rob rewired it. There are no silencers so it’s hugely noisy. There’s no speedo and the suspension is very hard. Even so it’s great fun to drive.’
1926 Sunbeam 3-litre Twin Cam
By complete contrast we move to the back of the museum to focus on a delightfully elegant Sunbeam Super Sports Tourer. ‘This was bought in 2010 and took a year and a half to restore. When I saw it I thought it looked beautiful. It oozes elegance and it’s easy to imagine ladies sitting in the back wearing huge hats and the driver with enormous whiskers.
‘The body is by Sunbeam with a single nearside front door because the gearstick and handbrake are on the driver’s righthand side and would get in the way. In the rear there’s single door on the offside because, when it was built, it was thought to be the safest side to get out.
‘We began restoring it by taking the body off and only got a little way when we thought, “maybe we shouldn’t have done this”. It was a complete restoration job including the chassis, body and an engine rebuild. Everyone who worked on it did a fabulous job. To start it after a period of non-use we use a Fairy Liquid bottle to squeeze fuel into the system. Once running we re-connected the fuel line. Using it every day, the fuel wouldn’t have a chance to drain back. It’s a nicer car to drive than a Bentley, with better ride quality. The only issue is double de-clutching down the ’box, but the gearbox is silky smooth.’
1935 Alvis Speed 20 Vanden Plas SA
In stark contrast to the tall Sunbeam we move to the glorious Vanden Plas bodied Alvis alongside. ‘I fell in love with this Alvis at the Essen Show in 2010 and bought it on the spot. The coachwork is sublime. It is a wonderful example of true automotive art. I can easily look at this car rather than a picture in my house.
‘When we bought the Speed 20 its condition was fairly close to what it is today, though we have done our usual refresh programme and we are continuing to do more work on it now. We are going to fit new air cleaners and tune the engine. ‘The tourer-type hood arrangement deflects wind from those in the back while there’s a recess in the rear floor for ladies to use when they were wearing fashionably long Thirties-style dresses.
‘It drives very nicely although the crash gearbox takes a little getting used to and the chassis does flex a lot over uneven road surfaces, causing it to rattle and shake. ‘A while ago we had a group here from the Alvis Owners Club and a chap came up and remarked, “Lovely car Mr Lewis, it looks better now than when I had it.” ‘When we go out it in people just crowd around, the Speed 20 is so regal. However, the last trip I did very memorable because I broke down and had to be brought home with the car on an AA low loader.’ Next, we move on to one of Robert’s prize pre-war possessions, its provenance making it very special indeed.
1939 Lagonda V12 Saloon
‘For many years this Lagonda was the personal transport of Earl Howe. It was on display at the Bonhams Christmas auction at Olympia in 2007. The lines are very graceful. Tanya sat in the back and fell in love with it, saying in very royal tones, “Drive on, James” – it’s that sort of car. ‘There’s been an effort to make the body aerodynamic, with the wings fared into the front apron. There’s great attention to detail. There are wind/rain deflectors covering the side windows and there’s even a water outlet to drain the sunroof channels with chrome plates set into the roof.’
As we walk back into the main salon Robert explains the responsibilities of looking after his museum. ‘I am the custodian of my cars, which will then be passed on. I don’t buy cars because they are the best of their breed or for their speed, but as examples of automotive art. ‘Importantly, the events we run raise money for charity. For example, a local group raised £26k in a day from their visit.’
1955 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing
‘I saw the Gullwing at Kienle’s workshops in Ditzingen, Germany. It had just arrived and was a suitable basis for a restoration. ‘The firm has amazing workshops and it does work for clients such as the Sultan of Brunei and the King of Morocco. I said I wanted the very best restoration. When I went to collect it, they pulled the dust sheet back and it was the most amazing sight I’ve ever seen. Tanya was speechless.
‘It was flown direct from Kienle’s to Pebble Beach in California by Boeing 747 to take part in the Concours d’Elegance and was runner up in the Mercedes class. My second drive was to enter it in the Salon Privé Best in Europe event at Syon Park in 2012, and it won.
‘Ventilation is a severe shortcoming of the Gullwing and we cooked in the heat at Pebble Beach. When we stopped at traffic lights I’d raise the door just to get some air into the cabin. Alternatively the side windows can be removed and slotted down behind the front seats.
‘The Gullwing has lost nothing of its enormous attraction. There is not a vicious edge on it. The wings curve down gently to the protectors at the apex of the front wheelarches. The rear wheelarches also have protectors, the wings gracefully run round to the sloping tail.
‘There is no part of this car that does not flow and harmonise. I never cease to be entranced by it lines.’
Finally, we walk across to another building which houses the spacious two-lane workshops, the domain of his fulltime mechanic Rob Stacey who carries out all the intricate engine rebuilds.
1951 Jaguar XK120 3.4 litre
Lurking in the rear, behind his C and D-type Jaguars, is the object of our visit, a sleek Jaguar XK120. ‘I bought it at the Bonhams Goodwood Revival auction in 2007. It was in average condition and has been fully restored, including the drivetrain, body and interior. We’ve left a lot of the race equipment on the car in place including the fire extinguisher system and the suspension anti-roll bar location points.
‘Since the overhaul my wife and I have driven this car extensively, including racing it. Once we managed to take the exhaust off we were driving so hard. Next to the E-type the difference in body envelope outline is obvious. It reflects the elegant styling so prevalent of the late Forties.’
As we walk out of the workshop I ask Robert what car he’d most like to add to his collection. ‘A Talbot-Lago Teardrop,’ he says, his eyes growing misty at the thought.
RESTORATION AND REFRESH
‘A lot of enthusiasts feel that patina and originality is important. Very few people restore pre-war cars to concours condition. When a car arrives here it is put through our workshops. If it’s in good condition we give it a freshen up; the engine comes out and it’s checked over because all our cars are used and I don’t want it to break down on the road. Rob Stacey handles the mechanical responsibility while bodywork and interior trim work is still sent out to specialists. However, we do have facilities to shotblast and respray smaller items on-site.’
ARTEFACTS FROM A BYGONE AGE
Among his petrol pumps Robert has three examples of the Theo Multiple Pumps made in Liverpool. A lever selects the fuel provider and a second controls the amount of fuel to be served. ‘They were very inaccurate,’ says Robert ruefully. ‘They were exhibited at the London Motor Show in 1930. But the design only lasted about two years because petrol companies didn’t like the name Theo on the globe.’ Robert then turns to a very early petrol tester. ‘The customer placed a one (old) penny piece into the dispenser, placed his lighter under the dispensing nozzle and then tested the lighter to see if the petrol quality was satisfactory. There were no health and safety regulations in those days.’
Gullwing’s beauty still stuns Robert – if not its ventilation. Robert and his wife have raced this Jaguar XK120 – one time losing its exhaust in the process.
|ALL THE VEHICLES|
|1933 Alvis Speed 20 SA, 2000cc|
|1930 Aston Martin International 2/4 Sports Tourer|
|1960 Austin-Healey 3000 MkI|
|1931 Austin Seven|
|1930 Austin Swallow|
|1937 BMW 327 Cabriolet|
|1962 BSA M21 Motorcycle combination & sidecar|
|1950 Citroën Light 15 Traction Avant|
1961 Daimler SP250 Dart
1966 Ford Lotus Cortina Mkl
1972 Ferrari 365 GTC/4
|1925 Ford TT Truck Takelwagen|
|1950 Frazer-Nash Le Mans replica|
|1967 Jaguar E-type Series 1 convertible|
|1936 Jaguar SS 2.5 litre Tourer|
|1937 Jaguar SS100|
|1951 Jaguar XK120|
|1954 Jaguar Mk2 3.8 saloon|
|1951 Jaguar C-type|
1955 Jaguar D-type
1933 Lagonda 2.0 litre
1935 Jaguar SSI Airline
1939 Lagonda V12 Le Mans
1938 Lagonda V12 saloon
1965 Lamborghini 400 GT
1934 Lagonda M45 P2
|1970 Lamborghini Miura P400S|
|1974 Lamborghini Countach|
|1939 Leyland petrol display ﬂatbed truck|
|2008 Mercedes-Benz S500 LWB|
|1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing|
|1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SC Cabriolet|
|1934 MG K1/K3|
|1934 MG PA|
|1935 MG race mechanic’s van|
|1951 MG TD Roadster|
|1960 MGA 1600|
|1965 MGB roadster|
|1933 Morgan 3-wheel Supersport|
|1934 Morris 10/4|
|1996 New Holland 7635 tractor|
1956 Oldsmobile Super Rocket 88
1925 Renault Type NN light van
1926 Sunbeam 3-Litre Super Sport
1938 Triumph Dolomite 2.0 Roadster
1958 London Taxi SX4 black cab
|1958 Triumph TR3A|