Donington Collection to close

The collection of historic racing cars amassed by the late Tom Wheatcroft is to be closed to the public from Monday, 5 November. It is hardly unexpected news, but nonetheless rather a sobering thought that this, one of the world’s finest collections of racing cars, motorcycles and memorabilia, will soon disappear.

Wheatcroft fell in love with motor racing as a child in the 1930s, when he visited the recently-opened Donington Park circuit. As an adult at the helm of a highly profitable construction company, Wheatcroft indulged himself by collecting cars and then becoming the backer of rising British talent Roger Williamson, seeing him all the way through from Formula 3 to Formula 1.

After the death of Williamson at the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix, Wheatcroft walked away from such a close involvement with the professional sport and put Williamson’s cars in pride of place in his new museum. Then he set about restoring his beloved Donington Park circuit, which had been used as a depot during World War 2 and subsequently fell into disrepair.

Ever since the venue reopened in 1977, a visit to the Donington Collection has been an essential part of the experience for many people. Thanks to the loan of additional cars by other collectors, and a decent chunk of the McLaren historic car collection, a truly incredible array of machinery has awaited every visitor.

7. Replica of 1937 Mercedes Benz W125 Grand Prix Car (24 Sep 2014)

Originally there was a genuine Mercedes W125 in the Collection, brought back from behind the Iron Curtain by Colin Crabbe. This is a toolroom copy that replaced it from Crossthwaite & Gardner

Some of the cars had astonishing stories. There was the ‘1939 Auto Union’ that Wheatcroft brought back from Russia (in fact a Cisitalia 360, the post-war realisation of what the Auto Union engineers were creating for the abandoned 1940 Grand Prix season).

There was also what could well be statistically the most successful chassis in the history of the world championship: Alberto Ascari’s primary Ferrari 500 F2 from the 1952-53 seasons (pictured at the header). As a child, this was a particular favourite and, later, the sight of it being driven with a wildly enthusiastic grin by McLaren principal Ron Dennis in Bahrain will live long in this author’s memory.

After Tom Wheatcroft’s death in 2009, the Collection passed to his son, Kevin. It has been an open secret that his wish has been to reduce the number of racing cars that he has to look after, replacing those that have been sold from the museum with his own collection of prized military vehicles and other militaria.

The closure and, most likely, theĀ dispersal of the Donington Collection is a sad prospect for those who appreciate the extraordinary passion for motor racing that flowed through Tom Wheatcroft’s every fibre. But by goodness it was a remarkable achievement.

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4 thoughts on “Donington Collection to close

  1. I hope so. A number of the cars have already been sold off, of which some are more active on track than they were and others have been squirrelled away as nest eggs. Ultimately I think Kevin’s priorities lie elsewhere and so long as he achieves market value he won’t be too fussed what happens to them next. Seems to be a growing trend – the McLaren collection has been drastically reduced in the last year: 4 out of 5 MP4/4s are now under new ownership etc.

  2. It is really bad news, I can see it opening as a military museum instead. I was tempted to go for the final weekend but couldn’t face seeing it in a depleted state.

    • Not sure at all, sadly. I remember being there when Live Aid was on and Status Quo opened the show, which everyone was listening to in the cafe… it’s been part of the fabric of life for those of us of a certain age!

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