The National Motorcycle Museum re-opened for to the public today, Wednesday December 1, a stunning 13 months after it was gutted by fire.
Around 380 machines were damaged as the fire swept through three of the museum's five halls on September 16, 2003, including the earliest-known BSA, the Triumph Streamliner speed record machine, and 'Slippery Sam' the five times TT winning works Triumph. Museum employees and delegates attending conferences raced to save as many of the 800 bikes as they could, but many suffered smoke damage, as did the second hall of the building.
"I was at the site the next day at 6am as the darkness cleared, and the site was just incredible. 25-30 years of my life went up in smoke," said owner Roy Richards. "But I was totally determined to get it back. It's been one hell of an effort, building it ourselves with no contractors."
The rebuid was estimated by builders to take around two-and-a-half years, but was completed in 11 months, with chefs and waiters from the conference centre offered jobs on site as builders and electrician's mates. The permanent staff of bike restorers was doubled from two to four, and many of the bikes were sent to be worked on by their original builders, who were coaxed out of retirement and volunteered their services.
On the first day staff were still rushing to complete the finishing touches to the displays, with around 600 bikes able to be shown. And the schedule is for all 800 bikes to be back on display in 2007.
Hightlights of the museum include bikes from 1898 to 2004. Almost every Norton rotary racer is present, including Duckhams and JPS machines, and the bike ridden by Steve Hislop at the Isle of Man. The Norton 500cc FWD Manx replica which carried Barry Sheene to his final race wins stars, as do the rebuilt Slippery Sam and Triumph Streamliner.
And modern machinery, such as the Valmoto Triumph's from the 2003 TT, rub shoulders with Biritsh firms you may never have known about, including Abingdon, Hawker, Chester-Lee, Wolf, or Metro-Tyler.
"We got a lot of overseas support after the fire, with around 6,000 letters from places as far away as Russia, Canada, and the U.S," said Richards. "And what you see now, we're bloody proud of. It's been a long road, travelling the length and breadth of the country for 30 years to find wrecks to restore, but now we're back."
The Museum is located just off the A45 near Birminghan. For more information, contact: 01675-443311.