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World’s largest collection of British cars closes after museum founder dies

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy British Car Museum.

The question of which assemblage of vehicles from Old Blighty warrants the title of world’s largest British car collection may now be a moot point with the closing of the British Car Museum in Te Awanga, New Zealand, following the death of the museum’s founder, Ian Hope.

Twenty-four years ago, Hope – a mechanic by trade – founded the museum with 36 cars in a grocery-store-turned-garage in the tiny town right on Hawke’s Bay on the country’s North Island. Of those 36 cars, half of them were Morris Minors, and most of those Minors he obtained from relatives, including his first, which he bought from his aunt and uncle to restore for a great-nephew.

Within a few years, his collection – all British cars and trucks, most of them sourced from the vicinity – grew so large that he bought a larger facility, this one a former kiwi fruit processing plant just outside of Te Awanga. As the collection has grown, Hope has maintained a focus on Minors, with examples of just about every body style numbering 70 or so. According to the museum’s website, that’s plenty enough for one for each of his 20 great-nieces and nephews.

“Many New Zealanders have fond memories of their first car – a 2nd or 3rd or even 4th hand jalopy that seemed to go forever on the smell of an oily rag and take us to exciting and exotic locations like the river, the beach or the local park-up,” Hope wrote on the museum’s website. “It would be a fairly safe bet that for anyone now over 40 years of age, that first vehicle would have been a British make. Austin, Morris, Triumph, Vauxhall …. these are the brands which gave us our first heady sense of freedom and maturity.”

In addition to the Minors, he also added to the collection a 1923 Dennis Fire Engine used by Hastings Fire Service at the time of the Hawkes Bay Earthquake Disaster in 1931, Jaguars, Vauxhalls, Rovers, Hillmans, Triumphs, Commers, Fords, and more. In all, he had more than 500 vehicles in the museum at the time he died in June of this year, leading him to describe the collection as the largest stockpile of vintage British motor cars in the world even though he often referred to the collection as his “backyard museum.”

His claim to the world’s largest collection of British cars appears to hold up, given that the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire counts roughly 300 vehicles in its collection.

The museum announced this past week that it will be closed until further notice with no mention of the fate of the museum or of the collection of cars. Hope reportedly intended for the collection to remain intact after his death.

The situation the British Car Museum now finds itself in is not dissimilar to that of the Den Hartogh Ford Museum in the Netherlands following the death of museum founder Piet den Hartogh. That museum went to auction in June of last year after den Hartogh’s daughter closed the museum, citing a lack of interest.

For more information on Hope’s British Car Museum, visit BritishCarMuseum.co.nz.