The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
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The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
The Donington Grand Prix Collection Donington Park
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London, March 29, 2001

F1 In Abundance

If Formula One cars are your passion, then a visit to the Donington Grand Prix Collection is an absolute must, as it is the largest collection of Grand Prix racing cars in the world. Even if your interest is general motor sport as opposed to specifically Formula One, you will find the displays fascinating, and be impressed by the sheer scale of the collection, plus the variety of cars exhibited.

Boyhood Passion
The collection and the adjacent racing circuit are there through the vision and passion for motor sport of one man, the founder and owner Tom Wheatcroft, who through his successful building business has fulfilled a boyhood dream. He watched the Donington Grand Prix in 1935, having cycled thirty miles to the circuit, and was mesmerized and enthralled by the sights and sounds of the fearsome machinery, barely in the control of their brave pilots. The circuit and surrounding parkland was commandeered by the War Office for the duration of the Second World War, and subsequently fell into neglect and disrepair upon cessation of hostile activities, with further degradation as the years passed.

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Hard Work Fulfills The Passion
By the early seventies, the young spectator from 1935 had become a successful local businessman, with sufficient finance to acquire the derelict remains of the circuit and surrounding parkland. Thus the revival of the circuit, and the construction of a purpose made building to house his ever increasing collection of Grand Prix cars commenced. The Donington Grand Prix Collection was opened to the public in March 1973, whilst the circuit in a re-routed form from the original, to incorporate safety requirements that were non existent in the thirties, had its inaugural race meeting in 1977. It had always been Tom Wheatcroft's ambition to stage a Grand Prix at the new Donington circuit, and this was realised in April 1993, when the circuit hosted the European Grand Prix, run in appalling weather conditions. It was won by the legendary Ayrton Senna in a McLaren Ford, after an inspired drive that left his competitors floundering in his wake, only Damon Hill finishing on the same lap, some 1min 23secs in arrears. The winning car from that race unsurprisingly has a special place in the Collection.

Motor Sport From The Moment You Arrive
Upon arrival one finds a large parking area fronting the Collection building complex, from which a pathway lined by antique petrol pumps, with a large memorial to two of South America's late and greatest racing drivers, Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna to the right side, leads to the main entrance. Entering the foyer of the single storey complex, which makes it ideal for the disabled in wheelchairs, one finds a memorabilia boutique adjacent to the ticket booth, a large well stocked motor racing equipment and clothing store, the Collection restaurant off to the left, plus a motoring art display and sales area. There are also showcases containing some of the Collection's vast motor racing memorabilia inventory, to wet your appetite for what you will find within. The attention to detail is superb, even the public toilets have specially commissioned ceramic tiles on the walls depicting motor racing scenes.

Defying Belief
The Collection display is divided between five halls with link corridors, so that you pass from one hall to the next, and then retrace your steps, thus taking in all the exhibits on one side on the way in, and the other side on the way out.  Entering the Collection display area from the foyer, you are met with the vision of Tom Wheatcroft's correct to the screw thread pitch re-creation of a 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale, as none of the six cars originally built was available to purchase. It would take a lengthy book to describe the collection in adequate detail, as virtually every one of the 130 cars displayed have an interesting story or stories to tell, and their drivers have been the greatest names in motor sport over the decades. As you move from one hall to the next, it can only be described as a feeling of awe and disbelief that you are witnessing such a vast array of varied and fascinating cars, surrounded by an outstanding collection of motor sport memorabilia of every conceivable type, including the World's largest collection of racing helmets.

Sensory Overload
There are so many things that stand out in the memory after a visit, the impressive line-up of Williams F1 cars, the Vanwall display including an example of each car produced, the BRM collection with an example of the legendary (because of its superb sound and awful reliability) V16 model, the Ferraris and Maseratis, Jim Clark’s Lotus’, or the 1936 Scuderia Ferrari twin engined (front and rear) Alfa Romeo Bimotore driven by Nuvolari. However, the one view that really knocks the senses for a six is the McLaren hall, where upon entering you are confronted by two rows of bright red and white "cigarette packets" stretching into the distance, quite an amazing sight, the world's largest display of McLarens on public view. So many in one place at one time, and with so many different engines hidden beneath the uniformly garish Marlboro colour scheme that was the corporate livery for 23 years, Alfa Romeo, Ford, Honda, Offenhauser, Mercedes, Peugeot, Porsche, and TAG. Apart from the exhibits on view, the Collection is continually acquiring cars, and has its own workshop for the restoration and preparation of Collection cars, like the 1939 Auto Union 1.5 litre Grand prix car, which regularly appear at prestigious events all over the world. The majority of the exhibits are in full running order, and when presented at public events are normally used for demonstration runs, as opposed to being a static display.

Ferrari & Maserati
The collection contains some important earlier models in the history of both marques. For Ferrari enthusiasts there are the first car obtained for the collection, a 1949 ex-Peter Whitehead 125 supercharged model, an example of the most successful Grand prix car of all time, the 500 F2 from 1952, the 375 Tony Vandervell modified ”Thinwall Special”, and a 312 B driven by Jackie Ickx during the 1972 season. The earliest Maserati is a 1935 8CM model, chassis number 3018, that was Tazio Nuvolari’s personal car for that season in which he raced at Donington, then there is the sole surviving Derby Maserati from 1935, plus from the same year a V8R1 model with a 4.8 litre V8 engine, with the post-war years represented by a 1948 4CLT and a 1955 250F, whilst a Maserati engine powers the Cooper-Maserati T81 of 1966.

Second Take Necessary
There is so much to see that it is impossible to take it all in during a single visit, even if you have the time. It is probably a good idea to take in a broad overview the first time around, and if you are fortunate enough to live within easy travelling distance, to take in specific details on subsequent visits.

If you are a fan of motor sport, the Donington Grand Prix Collection should be top of your priority list of places to visit.

How To Find It
From the M1 motorway leave at junction 23A northbound or junction 24 southbound, from where Donington Park Circuit is signposted, follow the A453 past the East Midlands Airport, and after approximately 2 - 3 miles from the motorway junction you will see the museum on the right side of the road, with plentiful free parking available, more >>>

Keith G. Bluemel