Opened in 2001, the London Motor Museum is currently home to one of the biggest collection of privately owned American, European and Japanese custom car collections in the United Kingdom. There’s a Volkswagen Microbus over the front archway, that (a little outdated) holiday-themed Morris Minor parked out front, and a small theater inside showing episodes of Top Gear. Needless to say, it looked like an exciting place. Also, as a brief housekeeping note that you may or may not have picked up on by now: Forgotten Metal has officially moved to London! “Officially,” in this case, meaning “temporarily.”
That’s right: Forgotten Metal will be reporting from the island of rain, large clocks and beans-on-toast for the next three months or so. Long gone are the days of big American muscle cars and land yachts. In their place are now small, unreliable sport cars and hulking- uh- even more unreliable luxury cars. So pretty much business as usual, but with a certain European flair. We kick off with this: the London Motor Museum. This place is the brainchild of Elo, a man who according to his website, made his money in fashion design and modeling, then turned his attention to another passion: cars. And, as the 1972 Reliant Regal Supervan (the three-wheeled yellow thing in the picture above) hints at, what an eccentric collection he’s amassed.
Despite the promising exterior, the inside of the museum proved to be a little bit more of a mixed bag. First though, the good stuff. This was the first car next to the door, and my god it’s a pretty one. It’s a Lancia Fulvia, from around 1974. These were big rally cars in their day (Lancia as a whole was pretty successful at that sort of thing), and the Fulvia was one of the crowning jewels. It didn’t make a ton of power, admittedly, only around 80 horsepower. However, the Fulvia benefited from being very lightweight, so it was a sprightly little front-driver. It had a nifty V4 engine too, which is a configuration that you really only see in old Fords and Saabs.
Parts of this place lend themselves to some truly epic search-and-find style pictures. Like this one. Here’s a bunch of lovingly restored classics, and some things that you really don’t see everyday either. That’s a Mercedes 190e Cosworth third back on the left. And it’s an Evo II. That’s a great car: one of those really early BMW M3 competitors. The second in on the right is a beautiful Jaguar XJ Series II. And then there’s the light blue Ford Sierra RS Cosworth in the lower left hand corner, which, like the Mercedes, was a homologation special famous on the touring car and rallying scene in the 1980s.
And then there were these two. The Lamborghini Countach and the Ferrari Testarossa. Think of all the great rivalries the world has seen. New York and Boston. Coke and Pepsi. Tom and Jerry. Now add these two to the list. In the white corner, the Countach is the 5000 QV model, one of the last to be produced, and is powered by a 455 horsepower, 5.2 liter V12. And in the red corner, the Testarossa (the Italian word for “redhead”) features a 4.9 liter “Colombo” flat-12 developing 390 horsepower. Both were the flagships of their respective brands, and the definition of glitzy excess in the 1980s. Plastic celebrities and wall street investors drew up allegiances with either Lamborghini or Ferrari. The rivalry was fierce. People genuinely drew lines in the sand. Actually, because it was the 80s and most of this took place in Miami, it was probably lines in the cocaine. The point stands, though. Bitter rivals, these two.
There were some stranger things as well, like these three Maserati Biturbos that have been outfitted for a road rally of some kind. This sort of makes sense, because Elo is apparently a major presence on the Gumball rally circuit, but what gets me is his choice of Biturbos. The Biturbo is largely considered to be not only the worst car Maserati has ever built, but is in the running for one of the worst cars Italy as a whole has ever built. They were unreliable, the build quality was spotty even on the best of days, and it wasn’t all that fast. But hey, at least it’s ugly.
Hey look, some movie cars. It must be said, this is only a very small taste of the collection that was on display, a collection that featured the Dukes of Hazard Dodge Charger, Starsky and Hutch’s Ford Gran Torino, and James Bond’s Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. Here we have Mr. Bean’s Mini, Herbie the Love Bug, a deceptively small Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the blue Ford Anglia from the second Harry Potter film. Remember George Barris from the Porsche 550 story? He designed a bunch of the cars in this section, which was pretty interesting to see him show up again.
Unfortunately, there was a bunch of this sort of thing as well. Custom cars. Now, I am a big proponent of car culture, and I believe that art and passion can come in many forms. This however, just doesn’t do it for me. It’s too garish, too loud. To me, modifying a car is saying that you know better than the manufacturer, which in some cases may be true, but in the case of Tyler the snowboarder who dropped by Pep Boys one day is certainly not. I feel like this is more me than the builder or the museum, though. Clearly a significant amount of time and effort went into these cars. It’s just not my thing, so sue me.
This is a little more my speed. The London Motor Museum had a positively delightful selection of microcars, which is a great subculture. This one in particular caught my attention. This is a Vespa 400. Yup, that Vespa. Vespa the scooter manufacturer, a point which becomes evident when you look at the 400’s engine. It has a two-cylinder, 400 cc (hence the name) engine which put out a positively earth-shattering 14 horsepower. It was a two-stroke as well, which made it even more quirky.
So some good, some bad at the London Motor Museum. That being said, the collection on display was diverse enough to hold some pretty great surprises, like this Rover P5 Coupe. That’s the joy of car museums. Most times you walk in knowing exactly what to expect: some pristine classics, oversimplified placards, and bad music playing through tinny speakers. And that’s fine. But every once in awhile, you’ll come across something truly staggering. Diamonds in the rough, almost. It’s that surprise factor that keeps me, at least, on the hunt for places like this. Alright, that’s enough rambling for now, but be sure to check back in to see what forgotten treasures can be found in the back alleys of The Big Smoke. Ta!