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
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Are you well
known in Denmark?
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
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
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
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.