EVER wondered what it’d be like to drive an Austin Seven? That’s the question I was pondering the other day when I was presented with a line-up of old cars and asked which one I’d like to have a go in – but the neat innovation here is that absolutely anyone can hop behind the wheel.
In this case the Seven quickly morphed into a Hillman Imp because there was a substantial queue building up for the pre-war motoring pioneer, but I was more than happy to head back to the Sixties and revel in that car’s joyously revvy Coventry Climax engine, light steering and agile handling.
Equally, I could have had a shot in a Triumph TR7, a Ford Capri, a Morris Minor or a Vauxhall Viva.
So can you, because it’s the USP of a new classic car museum that opened its doors for the first time last weekend.
I make no apologies for the Great British Car Journey being nowhere near Sefton or West Lancashire – it is, in fact, in Ambergate, a stone’s throw from the Peak District in Derbyshire – but if you’re even vaguely interested in old cars I’d definitely recommend doing the two-hour drive to go and check it out.
Any attraction inspired by a bloke buying an Austin Maestro, which is exactly what inspired CEO and car nut Richard Usher to set up this stash of British classics, has got to be worth a punt.
If you’re looking for Jaguar D-types and Bentley 3-litres than this isn’t the meander through motoring history for you, but if you remember the North West’s roads being packed with Vauxhall Chevettes and Ford Escorts than this is the nostalgia trip for you.
It’s got plenty of both, and Austin Allegros, Morris Minors, Sunbeam Rapiers and Standard Vanguards chucked in for good measure.
There are 150 old cars at the museum’s disposal, and around 30 of them are regularly doted on so that paying visitors can sign on the dotted line, get behind the wheel and go for a drive around the site’s test track.
That, for me, is what makes the Great British Car Journey stand out, because it’ll fire up the imagination of people who might not normally be interested in motoring. It’s one thing seeing a Capri gathering dust behind the stanchions and velvet ropes, but another entirely to actually hear a Cologne V6 at full chat and to feel what it’s actually like to sit low down behind a bonnet that seems to stretch out forever.
Equally, even if you’re well versed in 1970s or 1980s cars, you might not know what it’s like to run around in something much older – hence my itching to get into the Austin Seven, because I’ve never driven one before.
Anything that gets people fired up about old cars has got to be a good thing, and I’m already looking forward to my next visit.
Maybe the queue for the Seven will have died down by then…
David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly