Classic cars

Take a tour of the Red Room, the crimson jewel of the Haynes Motor Museum

by Howard Koby
28 July 2020 4 min read
Take a tour of the Red Room, the crimson jewel of the Haynes Motor Museum
Photos: Haynes Motor Museum / Howard Koby

You probably know ex-RAF officer John Haynes (1938-2019) as the man behind the popular car repair manuals. He once said that his book publishing was very good to him, and that the Haynes International Motor Museum was his way of giving something back, as the museum is an educational trust.

Opened in 1985 under the direction of Richard Noble, who is known for breaking the land speed record in 1983, hitting 633mph, the Haynes International Motor Museum is located in Sparkford, in the heart of rural Somerset. It is a living and working environment with over 400 superb cars, bikes, and motoring memorabilia from around the world displayed in 19 individual exhibitions. Staff call it a “Museum in Motion.”

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Of these exhibitions, the most famous is “The Red Room,” where more than 40 red sports cars from around the world are on display. Most vehicles are owned by the museum but it accepts donations and long-term loans for the collections, and although it’s currently closed because of the pandemic, you can take a tour of sorts, right here.

Scarlet fever in the Red Room

As you enter the sea of red steel you are bathed in a crimson hue of royalty. “The Red Room exhibition began when museum founder John Haynes realised the growing collection of sports cars in the museum were primarily in red, a colour he felt expressed the passion, dynamics and soul of a sporting vehicle,” says museum curator Chris Marsh. “What began as an instinctive selection process became a key gallery within the museum.”

The Red Room is crammed with cars in varying shades of striking and passionate red, which the museum says helps you focus on the shape of each car instead of just the paint. The whole concept of the room is a kind of cleaver to your vision, with the red so overwhelming that it disguises the cars in such a way that you are forced to walk each row to identify the different models.

The 1965 AC Shelby Cobra

Among the collection of cars in The Red Room when I visited the museum is the all-aluminium 1965 AC Shelby Cobra (above). It’s still on display in the new building that was completed in 2014 with increased exhibition space, a new frontage and conference facilities, a new restaurant, improved test track, and a children’s playground. This car was John Haynes’ favourite sports car and is now presented proudly in the foyer of the museum.

Some of the other cars on display and leading the red pack is the striking ’95 Jaguar XKSS replica built by L&R Roadsters. The car was based on a ’67 Jaguar 3.8 type saloon and incorporates real pieces of Jaguar engineering. The XKSS was a road going version of the ‘50s racer the D-type; you can find the ex-Steve McQueen XKSS on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California.

Want more red? A 1963 Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider and the 1966 Lancia Flavia are on display in The Red Room, too. The Alfa Spider was basically an upgrade for the old 2.0-litre cars, and only 2255 were produced. A big high-revving six-cylinder twin-cam, with a cast aluminium block and head, power the car. The Lancias were renamed after Roman roads throughout Italy, built by Carrozzeria Vignale, and had rear-facing red lights on the door which illuminated as they were opened.

The first Haynes owner’s workshop manual came together in 1965, when Haynes helped an RAF friend rebuild an Austin Healey “Frogeye” Sprite. Haynes completely stripped and reassembled it, photographing the complete procedure and creating the first Haynes manual, which was published to great success in 1966. The example below in The Red Room is a 1959 Sprite; in concept it is based on the Austin A35/Morris Minor parts and semi-monocoque chassis-less body.

A 1956 AC Ace Bristol is a British open-two-seater sports car was produced according to the design of John Tojeiro. It had a lightweight tubular chassis with fully independent suspension, with a number of different engines that was fitted during the production. This beautiful example houses a 2.2-litre Bristol engine and is regularly maintained to keep it fresh. The Ace was a key foundational point for Carroll Shelby’s famous Cobra.

A very rare red racer is the 1951 Turner 196, established by Welsh engineer Jack Turner. About 670 cars were produced and were also available in kit form, with the prototype housing a rear mounted Hillman IMP engine. This Turner is one of the earliest, rarest, and looked like the Ferrari 166 Barchetta – albeit considerably more affordable.

The colour of passion is fitting for the 1969 Marcos in the collection, powered by a 3.0-litre Volvo straight-six for the American market in order to pass exhaust emissions regulations. Jem Marsh and Frank Costin founded Marcos in Bedfordshire, England in 1959. While Costin worked on the De Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers he got the idea to build a chassis out of marine plywood with an outer shell of glass-reinforced plastic.

In early 1960s, the Daimler SP250 “Dart” – built on a Triumph TR3 chassis and powered by an Edward Turner 2.5 litre V8 engine and three-speed auto – went into service for London’s Metropolitan Police. The Dart was meant to keep up with cafe racer motorcycles and “encourage courtesy on the roads,” but the program ended allegedly because the policemen were having way too much fun.

Some of the more recently added red performance cars in the collection include a 1968 Rochdale Olympic coupé of mainly glass-fibre body produced between 1959 and 1973, a 1971 Gilbern Invader Estate powered by a Zodiac 3.0-litre V6 engine with an overdrive gearbox as standard and an automatic gearbox option, and a 1970 Ginetta G15 which was produced from 1968 to 1974 and initially available only in kit form. (Later, some factory built examples were available.) The powertrain was a rear-mounted 875cc Coventry Climax 14 linked to a four-speed manual with independent coil springs at the front and rear.

Finally, for a taste of American flavour, the 1966 Ford Mustang (200 hp) is a timeless symbol of the 1960s.

If this photographic tour of the Red Room has whetted your appetite to pay a visit in person, you’ll have to be patient. The Haynes International Motor Museum hopes to reopen to the public in mid-October 2020 although the Workshop and Restoration Centre remains open to customers.

Via Hagerty US

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  • George Georgiou says:

    The Bricklin in Safety Red, which is more of an orange, is the odd one out in the room. Odd being the operative word. Bought especially for the red room, I think sight unseen. Mine is in safety white and is the only one registered on the road in the uk. Surprisingly good fun and the powered gullwing doors always amaze onlookers

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