And so – following two and a half years of building work – the new (and improved) Haynes International Motor Museum is finally open. Glance across to the Museum as you head down the A303 towards Yeovil, and you’ll no longer be greeted by the sight of scaffolding and tarpaulin. It has to be said, the new Museum is a proper job.
PetrolBlog was invited to attend the grand opening of the new Haynes International Motor Museum. Being a West Country attraction, Haynes has always felt like PetrolBlog’s local Museum, which may explain why we hadn’t noticed the ‘International’ element of the Museum’s name before. Apparently, it has always been there, we just hadn’t noticed it.
But then, Haynes International Motor Museum has always felt a bit home-grown. Like someone’s private collection you just happened to have wandered into. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, we’ve always preferred Haynes to Beaulieu. It comes across as an enthusiast’s Museum, as opposed to Beaulieu, which – whilst very good – is perhaps a more generalist affair. And Beaulieu has a global reach, helped in part by its phenomenally successful Autojumble.
The Haynes International Motor Museum had to adapt. Cramming 400 cars and motorcycles into a converted sawmill is all well and good, but today’s tourists require much more than that. And – perhaps just as crucially – Haynes needs to ensure these visitors spend extra cash when they get to the Museum. So it’s no surprise to discover a swanky Café 750 (named after John H. Haynes OBE’s first book) and a new gift shop.
There’s also the curiously titled ‘Engine Rooms’ which – rather than being a literal description of rooms that would excite the likes of James May – is actually a suite of function rooms. It’s a name which – whilst sounding good in a marketing meeting – doesn’t work quite as well in reality. On two occasions, I was approached by visitors enquiring if there were actual engines in there. But then I was wearing a name badge.
Two old chaps – who were about as cheerful as Eeyore on a Monday morning – went away muttering something about it being a stupid name and probably something about things being different in their day.
But that aside, the new Haynes International Motor Museum is excellent and far more befitting of its International moniker. No longer do you enter the Museum around the back, through a tired reception area and an equally tired café and gift shop. Instead, visitors enter via an impressive foyer in the middle of an equally impressive new building.
It cost £5 million of private money to complete. Or – to put it another way – about a fifth of the price of a Ferrari bought at auction. Money well spent, we say.
On the day, over 500 guests assembled in the Somerset sunshine to watch the Hon Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, formally open the new Museum. The guest list included mayors, councillors, celebrities, CEOs, chairmen, managing directors and other very important people. So quite what PetrolBlog was doing there is anyone’s guess.
Following the grand unveiling, we waited in the sun as the 500 or so people made their way into the new Museum. Our strategy was, a) to enjoy some rare sunshine, and b) to allow the crowds to disperse, meaning we’d be able to wander about with no fear of being rushed.
We needn’t had worried. Some fifteen minutes later, we entered the Museum, only to find it surprisingly light on numbers. Where did everyone go? Had Haynes installed a new disappearing act machine? Or had some giant sinkhole opened up in Somerset?
The answer was of course, the free buffet being served in the Merlin Suite. It was packed with guests, proving that some things in life are more desirable than cars. This was no bad thing, as it left the Museum delightfully accessible for the enthusiasts amongst us to enjoy the exhibits.
The new layout gives the cars much more room to breathe. Whilst the famous Red Room still resembles a packed private collection, the other cars are nicely displayed within themed halls. The American Collection, for example, is huge and very good. The Minis and Micros Collection is appropriately small, with a fun ‘Paint-a-Car’ feature, where visitors can virtually paint a classic Mini.
A certain Edd China was having a good time with this, no doubt enjoying the chance to do something without Mike Brewer barking orders at him and expecting things to be done quickly and on the cheap. That said, we weren’t that impressed with his attempt to create a Paul Smith-style paint job.
Complaints are few and far between, but the lighting in the Century of Supercars hall is a little dim and fails to show the cars in their best light. Which is a shame, especially considering it includes a Lamborghini Countach.
But we’re nitpicking really. If you haven’t been to the Haynes International Motor Museum before, you really should. And if you have been before, they’ve done enough to warrant a second visit. With a host of family attractions, including a go-kart track, a children’s play area and a soft play bus, you could easily spend the best part of the day at the Museum. And it’s only two minutes off the A303.
We’ll leave you with a comment made by one of the guests as he got back into his Volvo V50. A Haynes volunteer remarked on the sound of a Ferrari California that was exiting the car park. The Volvo owner’s response was “I can’t stand cars to be honest, they bore me to tears”. A view which, we suspect, would have been shared by many people attending the launch.
But not us. We’re proud car enthusiasts and the Haynes International Motor Museum simply fuels our desire. A grand day out.
We’ll leave you with some of the most PetrolBloggy things we found on the day. For more photos, head across to MSN Cars.
All images © PetrolBlog.