WORDS: DAVID LILLYWHITE | PHOTOS: BRITISH MOTOR HERITAGE
For two decades, four shipping containers have hidden a challenging problem for British Motor Heritage, the UK company best known for its bodyshells and panels for Minis, MGs, Triumphs, Morris Minors and Jaguar E-types.
This story first appeared in Magneto issue 15.
The contents of the containers? An estimated one million historic documents: technical drawings, design sketches, advertising posters and more. The containers are filled with plan chests, with each drawer holding up to 500 documents each.
“Actually, the estimate of a million drawings could be way under,” says Graham Payne, who took over as managing director in late 2020.
So what to do with this incredible archive? And how did it end up in shipping containers for so long? The answer to the second question is rooted in BMW’s sale of Land Rover to Ford in 2000. It’s said that the Blue Oval didn’t think it was getting value for money, so BMW threw in Gaydon’s British Motor Museum.
Deep in the museum’s basement at the time was the well organised archive of drawings – in which Ford had no interest at all. And so British Motor Heritage was given just 48 hours to clear the basement – which remarkably it achieved, filling those four huge shipping containers.
The containers became rather an embarrassment, taking up valuable room on a BMH storage site and being impossible to enter fully in order to access the precious drawings. So, what to do? The decision was made to digitise them, working through drawer by drawer, case by case, container by container. Each drawing would be scanned and backed up, in triplicate. At the time of Magneto’s recent visit, 40,000 had already been scanned.
The oldest found at that point were technical drawings for a 1906 Wolseley, yet it’s the sheer variety that stuns. There are 1946 plans for the Lode Lane Land Rover site, but there’s also a drawing for a factory hand cart. There are original Lucas posters and a wealth of technical drawings showing the details of every part of now-classic British production cars.
The work continues, so by the time you read this, thousands more drawings will be on the system. Meanwhile, BMH’s core work of producing original-spec components continues to be honed alongside the maintenance and repair of existing press tools, rediscovery of old tooling, updating of the factory including LED lighting and solar panels and, most importantly, improvement of production efficiency.
Additionally, more companies are being bought up to ensure product availability – one of the latest adds carpets to the existing extra ranges of Tex mirrors, wipers and other original-spec accessories. It’s a busy time for British Motor Heritage… More details at www.bmh-ltd.com.