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  • JULIE WHITE

The Visitor Centre today is ... Haynes Motor Museum

Get revved up for truly one of the best car museums in the world.

For the very first report to be published on this site, I decided to start with the one visitor centre that I have recommended most in the last few years.

It's not necessarily a brand name everyone will have heard of. For those of us in the UK of a certain vintage, we know the brand well. For those of you not from these shores, then maybe this will be a brand you'll enjoy learning about.

For anyone, petrolhead or not, let me try and convince you to make the trip to see this brand home, as it's quite spectacular.

I have visited many car collections, big and small, all over the world, but there is one stand-out example that I always recommend, the multi award-winning Haynes Motor Museum in Somerset, UK.

Home to the UK’s largest collection of cars and motorbikes, this collection has something for everyone, from casual visitor to car enthusiast, the history lover and modern day throttle fanatics. I hope that you visit.


Brand History

The Haynes brand has produced its iconic car manuals in the UK since 1965. The cutaway drawings and step-by-step photographic instructions within the covers became an essential piece of kit for all car owners, and I have owned and used many.


Founder John Haynes OBE (1938-2019) had a passion for all things motoring, evident in his impressive car collection, but also in his desire to make car maintenance less daunting, and from simple beginnings, his hugely successful Haynes Publishing Group emerged.


John was born in what is now Sri Lanka in 1938 and grew up on a tea plantation, with space to run and play. He moved to England in 1951 to attend boarding school and started his own business, cleaning and maintaining his classmate's bikes. He earned enough money to buy a barn find car and his love of motoring grew from there.


He wrote and animated his first car manual in 1956, while still at school, on building and restoring his '750' special Austin 7, selling all 250 copies of the 48-page booklet in a week. His career in motoring manuals had begun.


After leaving school, John joined the Royal Air Force to complete his National Service,

working in logistics, which allowed him to pursue his passion for motor racing and publishing. The first Haynes manual, as we now know it today, was published in 1965 for the Austin Healey Sprite, at a time when the best-selling car, the Morris 1100, cost the same as the average annual salary.


The business expanded rapidly throughout the 1970s and moved into headquarters in Sparkford, Somerset, UK.


In 1974 the Haynes Publishing Company was set up in Los Angeles, California, and the company expanded enormously and floated on the stock exchange. In 1995 John was awarded an OBE for Services to Publishing.

John Haynes sadly passed away in February 2019, aged 80, after a short illness.


To date over 200 million Haynes manuals have been sold around the world.


In 2020, Haynes was acquired by French firm Infopro Digital, one of Europe’s largest independent group leaders in B2B information and technologies, for £114.5 million. The brand had already shifted its focus toward digital products, and since 2020 all new Haynes manuals are in electronic form only, with the back catalogue remaining available in print.


Visitor Centre Design

The Haynes museum opened in 1985 with a collection of just 33 cars, donated by John Haynes himself, but as the collection grew, new premises were required.


John looked for exhibition space and found a disused Second World War American munitions depot in Sparkford, Somerset, England.

A new building was opened in 2014, following a £5 million revamp and 10 years of planning. Haynes Developments Holdings Ltd was the main contractor, whose company director is John's own son Chris Haynes.

The museum now houses exhibits, displayed in multiple halls, on themes such as the American Dream and Dawn of Motoring, and there's even a room dedicated to Speedway motorbikes. The vehicles on show were those John loved and bought and there's a real focus on preserving heritage engineering methods.


Auction houses must have loved him, as John continued to amass a huge car collection during his lifetime, and he donated over 450 vehicles to the museum.


Before you visit you can see what cars are on show online.


During the lockdown, the spaces were updated again and reopened to the public in May 2021, and we were lucky enough to visit a few months later. The halls have been reimagined and items displayed in contextual settings. It is so well done and exudes the passion of the man behind the brand.


There really will be something of interest for every one of the 125,000 visitors the brand welcome a year. It's quite a legacy.


Reception Foyer

Before you even start the tour, you're greeted by some horsepower. There's a changing display of cars here and when we visited we saw Formula 1 cars from Williams Racing.


John Haynes OBE – The Man, the Manuals and the Museum

The museum used the pandemic closures to bring more content to the exhibits. One new exhibit that I found engaging, told the history of John himself, his ever-supportive wife Annette and his passion for his family and all things motoring.


It must have been hard to condense such a fascinating life down into a few exhibition panels, but the visitor really does get a sense of the man behind the brand.


One particular artefact I enjoyed was his well-travelled briefcase, given to him by his father for his 21st birthday. He used it throughout his National Service in the RAF and continued to use it his entire life. Battered by years of service, John never saw the need to replace it.

You even get to see the original hand-cranked Gestetner mimeograph duplicating machine John used to create his manuals when he was serving abroad. Not often recognised, but John was also an artist and designed the Haynes logo himself, using his favourite colours, red and yellow.

The iconic pen and ink drawings that featured in the manuals from the 1970s to 1990s were mostly drawn by Terry Davey, who had worked as a signwriter for the British grocery brand Tesco. Truly works of art, the drawings have been reproduced across the walls of the exhibition space. There's an article by Car and Classic on Davey available online that's worth a read.


The Red Room

This room has to be seen to be believed and my photographs won't do it justice.

A stunning selection of over 50 red sportscars, of all vintages, greet you in this hall. Here you get to discover why red is such a popular colour in motoring, what it symbolises around the world and why it is so emotive. John Haynes wanted you to appreciate the lines and styling of the cars, without a clash of colours interfering with your view. Mission accomplished!

There is everything in here from Italian sportscars, British classics, and muscle cars like the 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am to a pretty 1968 Triumph Spitfire Mark III.


Williams F1 – The Drivers and the Driven

This exclusive exhibition focuses on the Williams F1 team and was superb. There were cars on show that had been driven by the likes of Nigel Mansell and Valtteri Bottas, plus a film and plenty of Formula 1 facts.


Enzo Ferrari – The Man and the Machine

If you love Ferrari, then you'll enjoy this exhibit where you learn about Enzo's story in his own words and on film. Find out about the prancing horse and how the name Ferrari ‘Dino’ originated.


The Dawn of Motoring & Veteran and Vintage

Your journey starts with some of the oldest vehicles in the collection, from notable names such as Benz, Daimler, Oldsmobile, Rolls Royce and Renault.

There are some great displays here, with interactive video screens, exploring the history of the car brands.

A fascinating exhibit showcased how behind every successful man, is a tough and intelligent woman. In this case, it was Bertha Benz and the displays and videos showed how she made the first long car journey, a 104km drive, which was reported in the newspapers and created a demand for her husband Karl's brand.

There are working models and information panels, and several buttons to press and levers to turn for the little ones.

If, like me, you love a good typeface or font, a dial, switch or a petrol can, then there are plenty of terrific examples in here.


Memory Lane

Feeling nostalgic? The Memory Lane hall holds many fine examples of everyday British motor cars from the 1940s to the 1970s, cars that, depending on your own vintage, you or your parents or grandparents might have owned.

A particular favourite was the adorable, green 1958 Standard Ten Saloon produced by the British Standard Motor Company.

There was even an example of my grandfather's Triumph on show. Now that brings back memories of going for ice cream in the summer as a child and the leather seats burning our legs.

And the star of the show for me was this classic RAC breakdown van. I want one!

What was particularly good was to see a recreation of a historic vehicle repair shop, which you could walk around, looking at all the motoring components and paraphernalia. This would be a terrific resource for reminiscence therapy for those with dementia, something very close to my heart personally and something that many museums don't investigate deeply enough.


Hall of Motorsport

Opened in 1997 by the legendary British Formula One driver, Sir Sterling Moss OBE, there's a hall full of all types of racing cars.


The American Dream

Want to see over 100 years of Stateside motoring history? There's a huge hall of American cars waiting for you, packed with Packards, Fords, Chevvies and more, with audio-visual displays, timelines and information on all the major companies.


Wheels around the World

One of the most eclectic collections of international cars I've ever seen is housed in an enormous gallery. Minis, muscle cars, micro cars, movie cars and motorcycles. It's all here.


British & World Motorcycles

There's even a large gallery for those that prefer two wheels, not four.


Top Trumps and brass rubbing

Younger visitors are given plenty to entertain them. There are brass rubbing stands and a Top Trump trail, the Haynes Motorland outdoor playground with coin-operated go-karts, an interactive garage and a scaled-down road system. There's even an onsite Karting circuit (bookable separately) which is fun for all ages.

The museum also runs events for children throughout the year such as Easter egg hunts, so they really will be kept busy.


Food and Retail

There's a large café and a well stocked shop for those car-related gifts. They also have a coffee van outside.

Should you need a manual, there's plenty on offer.

Since 2021 they have an area outside called The Paddock, where car clubs can meet, which is also the site of their monthly Breakfast Club for themed car events. If I lived closer I'd be attending them for sure.



In conclusion

The Haynes Museum is worth every penny and is a fabulous day out no matter what your car knowledge is. I spent 6 hours at the museum, including a quick coffee and a cake. Now you might like to read and photograph everything as I did, but just the sheer number of vehicles on show demands at least a few hours of your time.


It has enough information to be interesting without being overwhelming. The museum had a well-defined one-way system in operation when I visited, and I never felt rushed.


It could do with a little more seating around the museum exhibits, but that could have been removed due to Covid. Your feet might get sore, as there's so much to see, so make sure you take a break along the way in the café or grounds. If there had been a bit more braille on show or some models visitors with sight loss could have felt, then that would have made it pretty much perfect. The noise levels for all audiovisuals were just right and it's a bright and open space with wide aisles. Visitors who require a carer can claim a free carer's day ticket to make their visit even more comfortable. You can even pre-book mobility scooters.


While they do have plenty of things to do for younger children, I saw many that got frustrated with not being able to touch the vehicles on show and noticed that many guests with younger children couldn't spend as long as they might have wanted around the displays. I certainly remember those days! The brass rubbings were being used by young and old alike and the playground was not too crowded. My advice would be to visit with the kids, and then return maybe without them, perhaps for one of their themed events so you, and your fellow car enthusiasts, can get the most out of your experience.


And what of the engagement and advocacy? I have certainly recommended it highly to everyone since. But there's more than that. Before I visited I knew of and had used the manuals and that was my only connection to the brand. After my visit, I really felt a deeper connection. This was a family business run by a family man. The first gallery, based on John's story, was engaging and authentic, and instilled a real sense of a life well lived, by a man who cared for his business and his family. The cars you see after became even more special because we, the visitor, had been given the context first. This is not just a collection of cars, but John's pride and joy. That's why, after visiting, that I tell people that his contribution to motoring is as important as the likes of Ferrari and Ford. John's passion to educate gave us manuals that demystified car maintenance for the masses. His legacy should not be overlooked, and neither should his museum.


Make the trip. It's worth it.


How much are tickets?

Always check with the venue for up to date prices.


Adults £17.50

Over 65s £15.50

Child 4-15 £11.00

Under 4s Free

There are also concessions for those with disabilities and for serving police, fire and ambulance workers and the Armed Forces.

If you need a family ticket, there are options for them too.

They also offer gift vouchers and annual passes.


I paid full price and this was not part of any paid advertising.


Opening times

It's always worth checking with the venue for their current opening times, as they can vary.

I visited in the summer so the museum was open daily from 10:00 - 17:30.

 

Where we stayed:

Rarely can we recommend a place to stay so easily. We were in the area for a week, so chose an Airbnb with parking, in the small, pretty town of Timsbury, hosted by Teresa called The Cobblers.


The place was perfect for 2, had everything and more we could want and was spotless. Teresa told us that they had only recently accepted bookings and that she and her husband has stayed for a few weeks in the apartment, just to figure out what guests might need. We have never stayed somewhere quite so well equipped. They had literally thought of everything. It's super quiet and looks over their lovely garden, but you never feel overlooked.


Parking is tight but manageable, even if you've arrived in your SUV like us, and the streets around the apartment are equally narrow, so be prepared to be patient and let people pass.


There's a terrific chip shop round the corner too, that is extremely popular, so be prepared to wait.


If you decide to stay, then say hello to Teresa from us. We've not been paid to advertise her place, but we would stay there again without hesitation.


Getting here:

We were on a 3-week road trip around the UK, travelling from Scotland through Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and finally staying a week in Somerset.


Haynes was 45 minutes by car from our accommodation. It's an hour in the car if you're staying in Bath and 1 hour 15 minutes if you're based in Bristol.


What else is there to see close by:

Haynes Museum is 35 minutes from the famous Glastonbury, home of the world-famous music festival. The town itself is well worth a visit, as it has plenty of independent shops and a fun vibe.


Haynes Museum is also 30 minutes from the pretty Cathedral city of Wells.


Frome is also around 30 minutes away with lots of independent shops.


Cheddar Gorge and the Mendip hills are just under an hour away too.



Visited: July 2021

Photographs: ©Julie White unless noted otherwise


Disclaimer - The views and opinions expressed are solely my own. I paid for the tours in full, unless mentioned specifically, and any comments reflect my personal experiences on that day. Please visit so you can foster your own opinion and feel free to research the brand and the visitor centre in question for yourself.

 


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