Interview of 1997 with Anders Clausager,

then archivist of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust

How did you build up such a knowledge of cars?

It was a matter of studying things over the years. I had always had an interest in cars. I remember going to see at the tender age of six the BMC importers and the assembly plants in Copenhagen. I was also allowed to sit in a brand new MGA which must have helped spark my interest. I bought Danish car magazines, and, after studying English at school, British ones.

How come you have developed a particular affection for BMC products?

We were a Morris family. My father bought his first Oxford, an MO, when I was about two months old. He had a series of Oxfords, we had a couple of Minor 1000s in the family and an aunt of mine had a ´59 Mini, one of the first in Denmark, which I now own.

What brought you to Britain?

I came to this country in 1974 as a student of automotive design at the Royal College of Art, which is still the place to be for that subject.

What did you do next?

I finished my course in 1976 and worked with Volkswagen in Germany, where I supplied the concept design for what eventually became the second generation Polo, with the estate car back. I then came back to BL´s design studio at Longbridge in 1978.

Did you particularly want to go to BL?

Very much so, having had a long-standing interest in the cars. I had some contacts there and applied for a job. I worked for Harris Mann, of Princess and Allegro fame.

Was there the militancy in the design department seen elsewhere in BL?

No, although I think I was on strike one day and remember standing in the park opposite the factory listening to Derek Robinson and his colleagues. It left me vaguely uninterested. It was a slightly awkward time. Longbridge´s design studio had been merged with that of Rover at Solihull. David Bache had been made the great white chief of everything and he was still seen as a Rover man.

Which cars did you work on?

The Metro had been signed off by the time I arrived but I did work on a notchback version of the Metro, the prototype that´s here at the Heritage Centre now. I also worked on the Ambassador and what was to become the Maestro.

How did British Motor Heritage come about?

In 1979 it was decided to transform Leyland Historic Vehicles, which had been set up in 1975 to try to preserve the company´s collection of cars and artefacts. The new BL Heritage would become a company in its own right with the aim of becoming self-financing. It could not be justified to have an operation which was a drain on company resources. In 1979 I was rethinking my career prospects and things didn´t look too good if I stayed on in Styling. Then this job as archivist at BL heritage came up out of the blue.

When did Heritage start to remanufacture obsolete part´s and how did it happen?

I was never directly involved in that side of things, but in 1983 it was decided that we must split into two bodies. The museum and archives were put into a British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, a registered charity, and British Motor Heritage went more and more into the remanufacture of panels.

Has the Trust worked with manufacturers other than what is now Rover?

Our main mission is with the Rover Group but we have always left the door open to any organisation that´s interested in depositing material with us for the benefit of preserving the history of the industry as a whole. I´ve recently been talking to the SMMT and I hope we can find some way of mutually assisting each other.

Do you think Heritage has encouraged other manufacturers to preserve their past?

I would like to think so. I believe it´s the case that our example encouraged Jaguar to take their own archive more in hand and has also influenced Ford and Vauxhall to set up their own heritage centres.

Are you surprised that so many items from BMC and its predecessors have survived?

I am, actually, but there are always gaps, many of which we know will never be filled. A lot of stuff was discarded in the Stokes era and a lot of Riley items have gone, some of which may have been lost in the Coventry Blitz. Some things had spent many years outside the company – for example the early Wolseley build records had been lent to the Wolseley Register.

Where had all the cars now in the collection been over the years?

We have 300 or so cars and it´s amazing how many were owned by the various companies. The 1890s Wolseleys, for example, had always been with that company.

Have you staged many nailbiting last-minute rescues to save important items from the skip?

We´ve had some over the years; for instance the MG production records we now use on an everyday basis. My favourite story is how in the mid-Eighties we had a telephone call from Cowley about some large old ledgers found in a strongroom. These turned out to be about ten years old but then we were shown some old tin trunks. Inside were the pre-war business records of Morris Motors. Then we were taken to a dilapidated shed with virtually no roof. Inside cardboard boxes covered in what could politely be called bird lime were the personal archive of Sir Miles Thomas, who was vice-chairman of Morris Motors during 1941-47, which had not been touched since then. That was a major find.

Have things been lost or sold which you would rather had not?

We´ve never had carte blanche to go anywhere and say  ´We must have this, we must have that.´ When the MG factory at Abingdon closed we were literally barred from going in there and preventing them from auctioning off some material. There were things sold that really should have been kept – the contents of the library, for example. It was scandalous, really, but it´s all water under the bridge now.

Have there ever been cases of things being returned to you that long-ago employees might have “taken home in their lunchboxes”?

Yes. That sort of thing has happened, but what´s more likely is that when someone retires or moves offices they turn out their bottom drawer.

What about these rumours of sealed vaults at Cowley and elsewhere?

A lot of that was just rumour. These stories makes the rounds. The one thing that is for certain is that many people talk about tunnels under Longbridge which were used for storage. In Oxford was a lake, now filled in, that rumour has it served as a dumping ground for unwanted parts.

Do you think there will be other major finds to come?

There may still be things in corners waiting to be discovered. Recently we acquired the collection of Issigonis drawings from the family of Tony Dawson, his former personal assistant. He retired from BL in about 1979 and spent a lot of time talking to Issigonis and collecting items with a view of eventually writing Issigonis´  biography. Sadly he died before he could do this.

Did you know Issigonis?

No, I never met him, which is one of the great regrets of my life. I remember from my days at Longbridge you´d see his little Mini parked outside the back door of the ´Kremlin´ (Longbridge offices). When I joined Heritage and tried to approach  him officially I was given a polite rebuff by his secretary.

How on earth did something on the scale of the Heritage Motor Centre get built?

In the early Eighties we had various plans for building what might become an across-the-board motor industry heritage centre. We discussed this idea with Ford and Vauxhall but it eventually fell through. When British Aerospace bought Rover Group they offered this piece of land and volunteered to pay for a new building. The project ended up costing around Ł8m and resulted from a combination of BA ownership and the fact that Rover Group was then a profitable concern. It all worked out very well and we´re very happy with it.

Is the Centre covering its costs?

Yes, I believe so, though I´m not privy to the exact figures. We have developed a very good conference business and of course we´re an ideal location and have extremely good facilities.

Has the Centre benefitted from the BMW takeover?

Yes. BMW as a company has always been keen to promote their own heritage and project this into the public consciousness. They have an excellent collection in Munich. People at BMW came to us, looked at this building and were very impressed. They want to see this place develop and said that one of the reasons Rover appealed to them was the heritage of the company and the brand names.

You´ve written about a dozen books. Why?

I´m not too sure if I made my hobby my work or my work my hobby! Anything I write for publication outside the company is a spare-time activity. For pure relaxation I have also written books about manufacturers besides those connected with BL and BMC.

Are you well known in Denmark?

Not really, although I still maintain contacts. For 25 years I´ve been a member of the Danish Veteran Car Club.

Have you a favourite car in the Heritage Collection?

I can´t afford to have a favourite, but one of the cars I´ve grown very fond of is MG no 1 of 1925.

With your knowledge of design you must have found the collection of prototypes especially fascinating. Is there one you particularly think should have been produced?

As far as prototypes are concerned I think there were always good reasons at the time for not putting them into production. The one I would particularly to have seen made is the Mini Cooper-based MG sports car, though it was too small for the American market. I think the fact we have all these prototype cars gives a very interesting aspect to the collection. It takes a certain courage on behalf of the company to show and promote these cars.

Are there any problems in keeping unique items so accessible to the public?

We are fairly strict in that the public do not normally have access to the open storage areas of the archive.

How do you feel about Rover´s recent efforts to protect its trademarks?

Some of the marque and model names not currently in production could come back at that some stage, and so Rover Group and its subsidiaries must take steps to protect their trademarks. The biggest problem is obviously with popular marques such as Mini and MG.

How are you ensuring that items in the collection don´t deteriorate?

We are now monitoring developments to see how material deteriorates, if at all, and looking at the action which can be taken.

How do you feel about the developments of the past 20 years or so in preserving our motoring heritage?

In 1979 we had a bare room with three or four cardboard boxes on the floor. Who would have believed we´d one day have a Heritage Motor Centre like this? I´m pleased to say there has been a growing awareness of the need to preserve. Our basic principles have not changed, and we´re still concentrating on preserving the heritage of the company in the form of its vehicles and artefacts.