The specialist: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust

| 20 Oct 2022
Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust

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“There’s a contradiction to preservation,” says Richard Bacchus, certificate officer at the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust (BMIHT).

“Our role is utilising archive materials to produce a product that funds the preservation of these items, but the downside is that the more you use the material, the more it degrades.”

Stretching back to Wolseley records from 1901, the BMIHT is the custodian of build records, business materials and photographs from the British Motor Corporation, British Leyland and their component marques, plus Aston Martin.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
The British Motor Industry Heritage Trust’s archive stretches back to 1901

Housed in the British Motor Museum in Gaydon, Warwickshire, members of the BMIHT team spend most of their time fulfilling private information requests in the form of heritage certificates, but also deal with government and customs agencies worldwide.

Much of the archive is in the form of hand-written ledgers or even more fragile microfilm, but a digitisation drive has led to the most frequently accessed materials being preserved for posterity.

“The archives we use most regularly – MG, Triumph, Mini, Land-Rover – have all been scanned,” says Bacchus. “The vast majority of requests, 80%, we can process digitally.”

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
Richard Bacchus helped digitise the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust’s vast records

A roll-call of what is missing from the archive confirms another advantage of digitisation.

“We don’t have anything for MG from before the TF Midget,” he says.

“We only have four ledgers of Austin Seven production, from 1929-’31; the others were destroyed in a fire.

“The same with records for Adderley Park, which built a lot of BMC’s commercial vehicles.”

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
The BMIHT was able to confirm the factory record for James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5

In a classic market where provenance counts, the BMIHT’s work can have a far greater effect on a car’s value than anything that takes place in a workshop.

“I broke someone’s heart in New Zealand just this week,” explains Bacchus.

“He bought what he thought was a Mini Cooper ‘S’, but I had to tell him the chassis number was originally a van.

He could have avoided that with just a single-question web-research request, which we offer for £6.”

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
Certificates can shed light on valuable provenance, especially if a past owner is a public figure

The archive can verify chassis numbers and reveal original specification, too: “It wasn’t until 1980 that manufacturers started stamping chassis numbers directly on to bodywork, rather than on plates, which can easily be removed or sometimes get lost innocently.

“But with the engine, body and transmission numbers we can determine the original chassis number.”

That said, the quality of records varies from marque to marque. “Even when these companies merged as BMC and later BL, every factory had its own way of doing things,” says Bacchus.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
‘The BMIHT’s work can have a far greater effect on a car’s value than anything that takes place in a workshop’

Rover is generally very poor, while the other extreme is Austin-Healey, which recorded axles and other key numbers,” he continues.

“Longbridge moved to a digital record system in 1969, which was really quite advanced for the time, but computer memory was ferociously expensive, so for Mk1 Minis you have a beautiful ledger with lots of information, but for later Mk2s and Mk3s you have just a chassis number and build date.”

Most production ledgers give information such as the original colour, however, as well as where the car was first delivered.

In most cases that’s a dealer in the British Isles, or an overseas subsidiary, but there are exceptions.

Classic & Sports Car – The specialist: British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
As a result of the staff’s hard work, many questions can now be answered via a simple online request

Aston Martin often recorded the first owner,” says Bacchus.

“If that was a public figure, we can put it on the heritage certificate. We did the Goldfinger DB5 a few years ago and that was a fun one to look up, seeing ‘EON Productions’ in the record.

“We also did the DB4GT Zagato that Jim Clark raced.

“When you see a name like that in the book, you get goosebumps. That’s something special.”

Images: Max Edleston


The knowledge

  • Name British Motor Industry Heritage Trust
  • Address British Motor Museum, Gaydon, Warwickshire CV35 0BJ
  • Specialism Certificates of authenticity for British classics
  • Staff Four
  • Prices Certificates from £43
  • Tel 01926  895300
  • Web britishmotormuseum.co.uk
  • Email archive@britishmotormuseum.co.uk

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