EXCLUSIVE: interview with Coventry Transport Museum about the Prometheus vehicles exhibit and their work
Last week was a busy one for Coventry Transport Museum, as they took delivery of two custom-built vehicles used in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
Last week they shared a couple of exclusive photos with us (here and here), and we also had the chance to ask the museum’s marketing manager Stephanie Brown a few questions about how they came to acquire the vehicles, and their work in general.
For those unfamiliar with the museum, would you be able to tell as a little about your history?
Coventry Transport Museum was opened in 1980, after it became clear that the City’s road transport collection was outgrowing the space occupied by the Herbert Museum and Art Gallery. The Museum’s current collection of vehicles is acknowledged as being one of the finest in the world, and the largest in public ownership.
The first exhibits were acquired in 1937 when Samuel Bartleet gifted the City of Coventry his own private collection of cycles. The first motor cars were added to the collection in 1952, and the collection has continued to grow ever since.
The first major public exhibitions began in 1960 with the official opening of the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. As the transport collection grew, the vehicles were housed in a number of local sites, eventually settling at their present location in 1980.
The Museum’s collection consists of motor cars, commercial vehicles, cycles and motorcycles, the vast majority of which were designed and built in Coventry, or have a strong Coventry connection. In addition, extensive collections of automobilia, books, photographs and a wealth of other archive material is held and conserved.
Most of the collection exists through the outstanding generosity of individual donors, and the Museum is constantly seeking to extend its already magnificent collection.
What would you say is the museum’s most prized possession (not necessarily in terms of value maybe quirkiness, etc)?
Too many to list! The items below are significant in lots of different ways:
- Oldest item: 1818 Hobby Horse
- Strangest item: 1900 ‘Freak’ Cycle
- Most significant item: 1888 Rover Safety Cycle – many people believe this to be one of mankind’s most significant inventions (read more about it here)
- Most controversial item: 1985 Sinclair C5
- Slowest vehicle: 1897 Daimler (c. 12mph)
- Fastest vehicle: Thrust SSC (c. 763mph in 1997)
- Best loved vehicle: 1929 Austin 7 Swallow
- Best kept secret: 1962 Triumph Italia 2000 designed by Michelotti
How did the exhibition of the Prometheus vehicles come about?
We were contacted by someone who worked on the film, who asked us if we would like them. It took some to-ing and fro-ing with Fox and a bit of a headache about how we were going to fit them in the Museum, but we got there in the end and we’re very chuffed to have been able to put them on display here in Coventry. It’s a real coup for the Museum and the City.
How long do you hope to have them for long?
They have been donated to the Museum so we will keep them on display for some time, as long as there is interest in them.
I understand the vehicles are fully working. Have all your staff had a drive around in them yet?
Yes they are both driveable but not road legal. They arrived on the back of a low-loader and were driven into the Museum. The RT01 was driven by the person who delivered them, and there were a few hairy moments as there are no mirrors, the driver can only see a limited area at the front of the vehicle, and it’s blummin massive. I think there was about 6” clearance on either side as it came through the Museum’s loading doors.
As for the EX01, our Chief Executive made sure he was around to drive it off the lorry and into the Museum – we’re saving the photos for our Christmas card!
Do you have any other ‘celebrity’ vehicles?
Depends what you mean by celebrity. We have Princess Diana’s Austin Metro, ThrustSSC & Thrust2 (the two fastest cars in the world), the prototype Aston Martin that launched the DB7 at the 1993 Geneva Motor Show, Ewan McGregor’s ‘Long Way Round’ motorbike, Ted Simon’s round the world motorbike, the 1889 Invincible bicycle, which inspired the design of the famous Chris Boardman Lotus bike, the 1889 Hume, which is the oldest pneumatic tyred bicycle in the world – the list goes on and on!
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the museum and its work?
Over 420,000 people come and enjoy the collection each year and without exception they are always surprised and delighted with what they find when they get here.
We’re not like other transport Museums who display row upon row of cars and only really appeal to enthusiasts. Rather, we have laid the Museum out as a journey through time, where visitors start off in 1880s Coventry, experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the time, and they go on a journey through the incredible history of Coventry and the people who made the city the centre of the cycle, motorcycle and car industries for so many years.
This includes the story of what happened on the night of the Coventry Blitz, and how the City rebuilt itself and came back fighting after the war. We finish the story with an exhibition that explores some of the reasons behind the eventual collapse of the industry in the 21st century.
Because we tell a very human story, of innovation, determination, entrepreneurialism and resilience, we find that the vast majority of our visitors are able to engage with the collection, whether or not they consider themselves to be ‘car people’.
We are completely free admission, and in addition to the main collection we also put on 2 – 3 temporary exhibitions each year, meaning that there’s always something new to discover, so lots of people come back time and time again. Our current temporary exhibition is ‘Pedals To Medals’ which tells the story of competitive cycling, and we’re planning an exhibition of British scooters for Autumn & Winter 2012/13.
There’s loads of things for children to have a go at, all round the Museum, from colouring in to trying on, and lots of families enjoy coming and spending a couple of hours here on a regular basis. We also offer special family activities in school holidays and some weekends.
Finally, it’s worth noting that whilst the Museum itself is the size of three football pitches, we are still unable to fit the whole collection into the Museum at any one time. Around 90 vehicles and 100 bicycles are housed in an off-site store, which we open up a couple of times a year for visitors to explore.