I wasn’t expecting a monorail. I mean, sure, it has motors and this is a motor museum, but seeing this angular florescent green machine emerge from the trees high up on a tiny track… it’s unexpected, that’s all.
The monorail is only one small aspect to the grounds here. There’s also the ruins of an ancient abbey, gardens and more. I’m here for the main attraction though, the National Motor Museum. Inside are a few hundred cars from throughout the history of the automobile.
Even better, the museum is home to many of the creations from that most famous of motoring shows: Top Gear. From cars turned to boats, cars turned into rockets, cars turned into trains, all the famous oddball machines seem to be here.
Let’s have a look.
From Chitty to Jeremy
The multi-level museum has an interesting twist: the monorail I saw as I entered the grounds actually passes through the museum. That doesn’t distract from the cars, however. As you enter you’re greeted by a mix of vehicles from old to modern, and then the first few spaces of the museum concentrate on the early decades of motoring.
There’s a tilt towards British makes, which is fine, but there are certainly other nations represented as well. Race cars and motorbikes abound.
Not only is there one of the original cars from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but there’s a running replica that tours the grounds. As part of the museum’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the film, there’s a room dedicated to the fantastical machines seen in the movie, designed by Rowland Emett.
As a big fan of Top Gear, which I’m sure you are as well, it was a real thrill seeing so many of the vehicles from the show. The crazy creations like the stretch limo Fiat, the rocket-propelled Mini, the Sports Train, and more.
Autos, abbeys and aristocrats
The Beaulieu grounds are quite beautiful, with sculptured gardens, sculptured sculptures, and the 800-year-old abbey. There’s also the grand Palace House, which was closed for an event during my visit. They’re worth exploring when you’ve seen all the cars.
It is, however, an expensive day out. Adults are £24.75 ($30), or £19.50 if you buy them online at least the day before. That makes the National Motor Museum one of the more expensive car museums I’ve visited, though of course, there’s more to see than just the cars. Then again, being able to see Top Gear’s legendary Hammerhead Eagle i-Thrust in person, well, that was pretty awesome.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoffrey Morrison does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world including nuclear submarines, massive aircraft carriers, medieval castles, airplane graveyards and more.
You can follow his exploits on Instagram, Twitter, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel.