7th November 2014
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National Motorcycle Museum LIVE
30 years ago, the bike museum at Brum opened its doors for the first time. Mike Jobson attended the initial opening and then the 30th anniversary open day...
The original opening of the National Motorcycle Museum back in 1984 and the 30th anniversary celebrations shared some obvious similarities: it was warm, sunny weather and a large number of motorcyclists attended together with an even larger number of car-transported people. Back then, I remember getting up early one bright morning to travel from Hampshire to attend the opening of the new museum. The sight and the sound of one Mr G Duke riding his Manx Norton through the main entrance, and into the area which currently houses the shop, remains with me to this day. So suddenly, in what seems like the blink of an eye, 30 years have passed and there I was again.
Since the original official opening by Geoff Duke, I have visited the bike museum on countless occasions. These visits have included corporate conferences, Norton Owners’ Club AGMs, waiting for flight arrivals at Birmingham Airport, and of course just visiting to look at all of the bikes. No previous trip was quite like this visit. The Open Day was (obviously) a celebration, one well worth holding in my opinion and equally well worth attending.
The entrance foyer had some beautiful Fred Walmsley racers on display, a Manx Norton ridden by that nice Mr Dunlop in the IOM and a Matchless of the G50 variety. They were glistening in the sunlight which streamed through the glazed entrance.
Then to the inner foyer and its truly magnificent display of Norton racers, from world championship winning outfits to the first British bike to be a Daytona Beach winner; Peter William’s Commandos to the Norton Challenge. Also in attendance were TT-winning Triumph Daytonas and Frank Melling’s V8 Genesis. Mouths watered and cameras flashed: grown men could be seen dreaming, nay fantasising, about what might have been if only...
Then we entered the autojumble. This was compact but well laid out and with a lot of good jumble, rather than the oft seen tat that fills acres of ground at other rather well known jumbles. I am uncertain how busy the jumblers were but I did notice a number taking time off to view the bikes.
Then to the museum proper. All motorbikes. All beautifully restored, despite the fire. All British, hence the name of the museum itself – it is ‘national’ meaning not a nationally-owned collection, but a museum of nationally (British) produced motorcycles. Sadly, with very small exceptions, many of the bikes on display come from British manufacturers who have since been consigned to history. How did we manage to lose all of those companies in so very few short years?
Four halls contain hundreds of bikes of all sizes and types. All colours and all forms of mechanical ingenuity (or not). Single cylinder two-strokes to Ariel Square Fours. Gold Stars to the only known example of the Pick Motorcycle (made in Grantham, I seem to remember). Bantams to Bullets and NUT to SOS: a bike for everybody.
Then to the basement. That's rather a cruel description really, because it is a fully-fledged function room with stage and all facilities, and is two floors below ground. (Maybe a cellar, then?) Here we were treated to the outstanding presentation skills of Steve Parrish discussing motorcycling event with many well-known names. Phil Read, Les Williams, Mick Grant, Norman Hyde, Norman White, Trevor Nation and Brian Crighton were all involved. Regaled we were with tales of great achievement against the odds, disorganisation at times but above all the passion and love of motorcycle racing flowed from that stage and we were all truly entertained... well, my mate Ron and I were anyway.
Then on to Hall 5. All those rotary racers lined up against the wall. Black ones, red ones, white ones and blue and yellow ones. Add them to a heady mix of Matchless G45s, Cotton Telstars, Greeves, Manx Nortons, Seeleys, etc: the list simply goes on ad infinitum (or until you reach the final hall of the museum).
Combine all of this into one event in one place and the day was over far too soon. Perhaps they should have introduced a 42-hour day for this event!
The National Motorcycle Museum is open all year round apart from Christmas Day. See www.nationalmotorcyclemuseum.co.uk
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