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By Matthew Bates 16/08 Updated: 16/08 11:33
A MUSEUM devoted to celebrating Jaguar will face an uncertain future after closing its doors to become a housing estate later this month.
Home to dozens of beautiful cars, hundreds of fascinating items and thousands of archive documents, the Allesley site will close just days before the company's 90th anniversary.
Observer reporter Matthew Bates met with bosses to find out more about the mammoth task they face as well as what the future holds for Coventry's favourite car firm.
IMAGINE trying to piece together 43 tonnes-worth of boxes packed full of crucial archive material - 2,640 boxes, to be precise, and each with 15kg worth of items.
That will be the job of chief archivist Anders Clausager when the Jaguar Heritage Museum closes its doors to the public on August 24.
The Browns Lane site falls under part of an agreement made seven years ago when the iconic car company sold off its factory to housing developers.
"Being so close to the 90th anniversary does make the closure a bit more poignant," said Anders, who will have had just five weeks to complete the huge task of moving everything out.
"It is sad to leave because we’ve had 14 good years in this building but company founder William Lyons moved factory four times and had no sentiment about moving on so perhaps we should learn from his example."
So what comes next? A shiny new building to show-off masterpieces of Coventry's engineering? Not exactly.
"I don’t honestly know what the plans are for the future.
"But I’m sure that there will be something happening in four to five years maybe."
Anders, who is set to retire before a decision is even made, added: "We are obviously hopeful of keeping a public profile.
"I’m expecting there will be a display of cars at the transport museum which is important to us since the company has such a long association with Coventry."
A handful of cars will also be housed at the Heritage Museum just up the road at Gaydon, but the rest will sit away from the public's eye in storage until a permanent home can be found.
"Without a firm plan saying ‘this is where we’re going to be’ it is a little awkward at the moment," added commercial director Tony Duckhouse, who joined the firm in 1978.
"It’s in the hands of the people with the money and what Jaguar really wants to do long term is how it represents its heritage.
"The plant was closed seven years ago, that was the real low point."
But although some of the cars will be on display, many are unable to find a more permanent home. It means they will stay locked away in a secret storage facility owned by the car giant.
"It's somewhere in the city centre but I can't say more than that," Tony told me.
"It’s a very dark museum. There’s probably 110 cars in there.
"It’s interesting to walk up and down because there’s quite a lot of history there. But we don’t let people into it because there’s valuable stuff in there. It’s unmarked, anonymous and it’s secure."
"And the guard dogs are pretty fierce!" Anders joked.
Meanwhile, the archives will be stored in a temperature-controlled storage area underground, kept in mint condition ready to be dug up when business restarts.
But if they won't be seen by the public for years, is there a temptation to sneak some items home?
"I don’t think my wife would be very appreciative of that in the living room," Tony said, pointing to the immaculate V12 model engine we were sat next to.
"But we have had visitors who've come in after hearing we are closing and tried to make offers for things. We politely turn them down," Anders added.
"The news of our closure has prompted a lot of visitors because they know if they don’t come now they won’t see us at all.
"We’ve had people from Australia, America and all sorts of places.
"They’ve said things like 'hope to see you in a new place, pity to hear what’s happened'. All sorts of things.".
There's still time to grab a slice of Jaguar's history before the beautiful machines go into storage. And with a five year wait to see the car's unearthed once more, it's worth the journey.
The museum is open Monday to Friday and entry is free.
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