Hidden Gems – the Isle of Man’s Motor Museums

Isle of Man Motor Museum
Isle of Man Motor Museum

Ask most people what major tourist attractions can be found on the Isle of Man and they will probably come up with the Laxey Wheel, the Isle of Man Steam Railway, or maybe the Manx Electric Railway. All worthy and fascinating attractions in their own right, yet not, for any petrolhead, the star attractions of this green oasis anchored off the North-West coast of England.

For tucked away in the North-West corner of the island are two fascinating, indeed almost unique collections of motoring history to be found anywhere in Britain. Both are located within metres of each other, on what was once the wartime airfield of RAF Jurby. Indeed, the smaller of the two – the Jurby Transport Museum – like many of the buildings on the surrounding industrial estate, is an unusual piece of history in itself, as it’s clean modern-looking reclad exterior belies the fact that it was originally a World-War 2 steel-framed aircraft hanger, built to a standardised design developed by the MoD and manufactured by the Tees-side company, Head Wrightson.

1896 Upper Douglas Cable tramcar

1896 Upper Douglas Cable tramcar

The Transport Museum is entirely volunteer-run and contains a host of vehicles and other machinery to put a professionally-funded museum to shame. Perhaps one of the most intriguing exhibits is an 1896 tramcar from the Manx Electric Railway, which despite its name was originally cable hauled, in the manner of the famous San Francisco network. What is particularly unusual about this exhibit is that it was rescued in the 1960’s from being part of a domestic bungalow! Indeed, the fully volunteer-restored tramcar was formed of two cars forming the bungalow, and in commemoration bears the numbers of both, one at either end.

As an old busman, I was also pleased to see what must be one of the few Dennis Dart SLF’s in preservation, a Marshall-bodied example dating from 1997. Also in an advanced state of restoration was a Leyland National, another product with which I was involved. The Transport Museum is free to enter, although donations are, of course, gratefully received.

Just part of the collection in the Isle of Man Motor Museum

Just part of the collection in the Isle of Man Motor Museum

Just metres down the road from the Transport Museum can be found the very modern Isle of Man Motor Museum, an altogether bigger operation with a modest entry charge. Don’t be put off by this, however, for the contents are truly mind-blowing. The heart of the collection was assembled by the Cunningham family who have clearly spent a lifetime tracking down a huge range of unusual machinery. Ever heard of a Cubitts tourer, for example? Me neither! Or a Murena, created in 1969 by a pair of rich Americans who were upset that their Porsche was too small to take their skis, so they developed their own and rather stylish Grand Tourer. How about a supercar produced by a wealthy Frenchman as a present for his wife, although how many wives would appreciate a sports saloon with a Formula 1 race engine is perhaps debatable! The intriguing thing about these, and the rest of the collection, though, is that they were not fanciful concept mock-ups, but real, working, vehicles albeit manufactured in very limited numbers.

A 1969 Murena, believed to be the only one in Europe and one of only 5 in existence

A 1969 Murena, believed to be the only one in Europe and one of only 5 in existence

American products feature strongly in the collection, with the theme again being on the unusual and eclectic rather than mainstream machinery. A 1965 Lincoln Continental Government limousine once used by American President Robert Macnamara, and complete with Presidential bumper flags, for example, is almost unique, for most similar vehicles have been jealously retained by the U.S. authorities.

1965 USA Government Lincoln

1965 USA Government Lincoln

Not many of these in the UK - a 1954 GM PD-501 Scenicruiser once operated by Greyhound

Not many of these in the UK – a 1954 GM PD-501 Scenicruiser once operated by Greyhound

Bigger American memorabilia include a General Motors Greyhound coach and a huge LaFrance articulated fire engine of the sort which will be familiar to anyone who recalls the epic 1970’s film Towering Inferno. One definitely tongue in cheek exhibit is the 1975 Custom Cloud, an amusing Chevrolet-based pastiche of a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. The story goes that this example, sold to a Midlands businessman, was originally kitted out with the classic Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy Flying Lady bonnet mascot. When a photo-shoot was organised outside a Rolls Royce dealership, the garage was not amused, and asked for the car to be removed. Shortly thereafter, the Spirit of Ecstasy mysteriously disappeared whilst the car was parked nearby. Undaunted, the mascot was itself soon replaced by a pastiche, this time a horned devil thumbing its nose at the world!

1975 Custom Cloud

1975 Custom Cloud

A novel replacement for the iconic Rolls Royce Flying Lady - a silver devil sits proudly atop the Custom Cloud radiator

A novel replacement for the iconic Rolls Royce Flying Lady – a silver devil sits proudly atop the Custom Cloud radiator

Fans of British vehicles are not forgotten, however, with exhibits such as the drophead Humber used by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip during a visit to Australia, featuring bespoke modification at the request of Prince Philip, notably pull-out sunscreens to protect the knees of the Royal rear-seat passengers!

Highly appropriate to the home of the TT races, two-wheel enthusiasts will appreciate two huge mezzanine floors packed with a proliferation of motorbikes of all vintages, from off-roaders to full-house superbikes.

These words can only scratch the surface of what is at the Motor Museum, and a visit to both this and the Transport Museum are highly recommended. Just allow plenty of time, as the visits can easily take up most of a day. Fortunately, refreshments are ready to hand, in the shape of the Guardhouse Cafe, an innocuous wooden building adjacent to the Motor Museum. This is a museum piece in its own right, originally being a wartime Canadian Cedar-clad structure once used for detaining misbehaving military personnel, but now providing hungry tourists with an excellent range of snacks, hot and cold meals and drinks!

The Isle of Man Transport Museum and Motor Museum – a must – see for any visitors to the island.

Interested: find out more on the Museums websites:-

http://www.isleofmanmotormuseum

http://www.jtmiom.im

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