The journey through a business park on the outskirts of Weybridge in Surrey did not bode well for an exciting day out specifically after the delights of the M25 on an extremely busy morning.
But the parking was easy and well sign-posted (and free) so things were looking up as we walked towards the entrance of Brooklands Motor and Aviation museum – a rather faded arch over a bridge across a small brook. But the appeal of this very unassuming museum soon started to manifest itself. Instead of an overly commercial venue, it is rather quaint – staffed by knowledgeable and enthusiast volunteers.
The museum itself compresses an assortment of buildings and outbuildings, one of which is the original clubhouse for members of the exclusive Brooklands Automobile Racing Club (BARC) from the times during the 1920s and 1930s when Brooklands had its heyday as a major motor racing circuit.
You can now see only part of the original racetrack although one of the steepest sections and the home straight have been preserved. Unfortunately most of the other sections of the track has now factories and other buildings built on it.
Much of the appeal of this place lies in the unexpected – old aeroplane sections, seemingly abandoned vintage delivery vans, old London buses and all manor of other vehicles – even an old Unigate milk float. Many of these vehicles are simply awaiting the army of dedicated volunteers who give their time, skills and energy to be involved in the history of this remarkable museum restoring and renovating these vintage cars and vans. The museum is fortunately enough to have one of the largest volunteer workforces of any museum in the UK.
Malcolm Campbell, the World Land Speed Record holder, had his office, workshop and showroom at Brooklands from 1926 until around 1935. It was here that his successful 'Blue Bird' racing and world record-breaking cars were often shown, displayed and even built . The same building he used now houses a collection of vintage racing cars and record breaking cars, motorcycles and bicycles. There is also an exhibition about the many speed records achieved at Brooklands in it's heyday, and by Brooklands drivers, riders, mechanics and engineers around the globe.
Of course Brooklands is not just a motor museum but also an aviation museum with wonderful examples of vintage aircraft, WWI and WWII bombers such as the hurricane as well as an example of the harrier jump jet.
Brooklands was a major center for aircraft design, construction and flight testing for much of the 20th century. And a manufacturing center for such well known companies as British Aerospace, Hawker, Sopwith and Vickers. No other single place in Britain, possibly even in the world, has succeeded in achieving what this center did. Nearly 20,000 new aircraft of nearly 250 different types were first flown, manufactured or assembled at Brooklands.
The museum also houses the replica Vickers VIMY in which pilots Steve Fosset and Mark Rebholz in 2005 recreated the first non-stop flight of John Alcock and Arthur Brown across the Atlantic in 1919. (Note that Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic from New York to Paris in 1927 was the first solo flight across the Atlantic – he was actually the 19th person to cross that great ocean non-stop)
It is even possible to view a decommissioned VC-10 that was made at Brooklands and used to be the private aircraft of the current Sultan of Oman – complete with luxury seating and 2 bedrooms. Although sometime now it is a marvellous insight into how the other half live. There is even the opportunity to sit in the cockpit and learn a little about how to fly an aircraft from a retired pilot.
But despite the most exciting part of the day was the "Concorde Experience". Concorde parts were made at Brooklansd in the 1970s and 1980s and then transported to Filton in Bristol for assembly. So, when Concorde was decommissioned in 2003 a shell of the first ever production Concorde built in Britain (but was used for spare parts) was donated to Brooklands by British Airways. It was completely renovated by a volunteer workforce and fitted out with seating as well as an exhibition area at the rear of the plane. in 1974 this very same Concorde became the first aircraft ever to carry 100 people at twice the speed of sound – 1,350mph. For those who always longed to fly in Concorde but never quite managed to save up the £ 6,000 it cost for the return flight to New York then you can still learn about this amazing plane's history and actually get to sit in it and view the cockpit. One of the regular volunteers is even a flight engineer with 22 years experience flying Concorde.
For true aviation enthusiasts there are also plenty of aircraft engines and information on how they work as well as the excitedly named Stratospheric Chamber – once used to simulate high-altitude conditions when stress-testing aircraft.
So for those interested in vehicles of all sorts from racing cars, vintage vans and motorbikes, and some of the earliest aircraft produced through to supersonic jets, this unassuming museum is a real treat.