A final lap of the Donington Grand Prix collection

Last Friday afternoon I paid a farewell visit with some friends to the Donington Grand Prix collection. Although the museum doesn’t close until 5th November, the contents of the display cabinets were already being packed away. The café was shuttered and empty. The number of cars also seems to have declined since I last visited in mid-2017. There are now spaces between many of the exhibits. If you’re thinking of going, sooner rather than later is probably a good idea. The cost of entry is £12 per adult, £5 per child. We spent around 90 minutes in the museum, discussing (amongst other things) the evolution of F1 aerodynamics.

Skipping quickly through the first two halls that are dedicated to a collection of military vehicles, the real stars are the racing cars from McLaren, Williams, Force India and Vanwall.

Early McLaren racing cars
Some early McLaren cars
A 1997 McLaren F1 car
A McLaren F1 car from 1997. Somewhere I have a picture of me with either this or the 1998 car at an Ingres user group meeting. The company I used to work for, Computer Associates, was one of McLaren’s sponsors during the David Coulthard / Mika Häkkinen era. We were provided with a car (minus the engine) as part of the deal. The cars always generated far more interest than the software we were selling, so I’m not sure that it was necessarily a good investment.
Force India F1 cars
A gaggle of Force India F1 cars, from the days before the striking pink livery in use this season. These represent the last significant addition to the collection, dating from 2016, and are presumably on loan from the team.
1950s Vanwalls, as driven by Stirling Moss.
1950s Vanwalls, as driven by Stirling Moss. There is a memorial plaque in the museum to his team-mate, Stuart Lewis-Evans. He died after his Vanwall engine caught fire at the Moroccan Grand Prix 60 years ago this week.
Helmets - Jock Taylor, Benga Johannson and Niki Lauda
There are no racing motorcycles in the collection, but they do have Jock Taylor and Benga Johansson‘s rather battered sidecar helmets on display, next to one of Niki Lauda’s. The Jackie Stewart collection had already been packed away, unless it consisted solely of a tartan scarf.
The end
The end. Outside of individual manufacturer’s premises, I can’t think of another location that had such a diverse collection of racing cars on display.

8 thoughts on “A final lap of the Donington Grand Prix collection

  1. Farewell to Tom Wheatcroft, who passed a few years ago.

    Did you ever visit when Tom’s collection was a bit contrary?

    1. I just about remember visiting it in the late 70s, but didn’t go back again until a few years ago. I have Tom’s book, “Thunder in the Park” to read at some point!

      1. If your book is unsigned, it is a rare one!

        I first visited when the collection had those strange 4WD GP cars — Matra, McLaren, Cosworth. They were fascinating but — wrong.

          1. There was an IndyCar or Champcar in the museum – I didn’t notice if it was front wheel drive or not though!

  2. Sad to hear the details so graphically close to its final date – lets hope November 5 has no greater significance as a choice. I visited the British Motor Museum at Gaydon soon after it reopened under that branding after it moved from solely Land Rover to embrace all UK manufacturers and perhaps this prefaces the future for the racing sector too. With so much British expertise in Motor Racing and so much in the south midlands lateral tech corridor it must surely be possible for somewhere like Silverstone or Coventry to create a broad appealing institiution to celebrate such great British history and current expertise – and inspire future potential for our creative engineers.. Surely one element for the 2022 great exhibition to start by saving now – perhaps we need to start the campaign already?

    1. I visited the British Motor Museum for the very first time just before I had my SCT. It was an excellent day out. They have a luxury that Donington has never had – one of space! Even their reserve collection has more space than Donington. However, the great thing about Donington has always been that its exhibits covered more than a single racing team. It makes it quite easy to compare like with like – and see the different solutions teams came up with in the same era – for example, in front wing design. You would think with the vast sums of money kicking around F1 it shouldn’t be beyond the bounds of possibility for a successor to Donington to be set up somewhere?

Your thoughts?