The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu has celebrated its 40th anniversary with a May Day cavalcade of 40 cars, one for each of the museum’s 40 years.

National Motor Museum 1972

The museum was the idea of Lord Montagu and started as a memorial to his father, an early motoring pioneer, with just six cars in the front hall of his home, Palace House, when it first opened to visitors in 1952. Vehicles quickly outgrew the space and in 1956 the cars were moved to a couple of wooden sheds in the grounds.

Within another couple of years the collection had grown even further, requiring more prestigious and spacious accommodation. A new building was constructed to house the vehicles and a grand opening ceremony was held for what was, by that time, known as the Montagu Motor Museum.

However, the collection continued to grow and it became clear that a long-term solution was needed. Architect Leonard Manasseh was commissioned to design a new building to house the collection and in 1972 the newly named National Motor Museum was opened by HRH The Duke of Kent. This was followed by the opening of the innovative ‘Wheels’ ride in 1986 and the construction of the Collections  Centre in 1988 to accommodate libraries, education facilities and reserve collections.

View of Mezzanine and new showcase

The National Motor Museum Trust has now acquired over 300 vehicles and tens of thousands of objects relating to motoring history. The importance of the museum was confirmed in 1997 when it was given designated status, an accolade only bestowed on museums with pre-eminent collections of national and international importance.

The museum welcomes over 350,000 visitors a year and is currently two years into a major re-display, with the construction of a mezzanine floor and enlarged entrance hall already completed. New displays scheduled for 2013 include Motorsport, Motorcycles and Land Speed Records.

All the participants in the cavalcade received an anniversary memento from Lord Montagu – and a slice of anniversary cake.