Darren Cunningham’s ultra-eclectic collection grew too big for London lock-ups, so he moved it to a former air base
Nothing can really prepare you for the scale and scope of the Isle of Man Motor Museum. The exhibits encompass everything from steam-powered commercials to Italian exotica, racing motorcycles to limousines used by heads of state. It is also a shrine to Americana, a place of worship should your tastes stretch to the more obscure stuff. Here you will find cars that are rarely spotted even in the USA, if at all.
Darren Cunningham, who inherited the collecting bug from his father Denis, created the museum out of the desire to see the family collection housed under one roof. What started out as the purchase of a few cars in the early ’80s had, two decades later, become something else entirely, and had outgrown an eight-car garage and assorted lock-ups in London. The search for a permanent home for the 130-strong cache eventually led to the island and the creation of a purpose-built 70,000sq ft museum on the former RAF base at Jurby.
The museum opened only in May 2015 but is already a major tourist attraction. What strikes you immediately is how light and spacious the building is. Even better, nothing is roped off so you can get close to the displays.
On entering, all manner of exhibits compete for attention, not least the 28-cylinder Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major cutaway engine. Instead, though, we are drawn to the nearby ’54 GM PD-4501 Scenicruiser, aka Greyhound Bus.
‘I bought it in April 2013 from a guy living in the UK who kept the bus in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania,’ Cunningham says. ‘I then drove it approximately 1000 miles to the “Ghosts of Highway 61” historic coach event, which was held at the restored Greyhound Bus Station in Blytheville, Arkansas. After the show, I drove it a further 1000 miles to the port in Brunswick, Georgia, before it was shipped to the UK.’
Then there are the various Lincolns, such as the splendid ’56 Continental Mark II and the ’65 Continental Executive Limousine which was built by Lehmann-Peterson for former US defence secretary, Robert McNamara. Equally delectable are the many Cadillacs on display, including an imposing ’36 V16 sedan.
Arguably the strangest vehicle on display, however, is the eight-wheel Willys fashioned by hot-rodding legend Dick ‘The Hammer’ Cook, who also built most of Ed Roth’s more celebrated showstoppers. Vying for the title, though, is the 1950 Hunt Special. This three-wheeler has a flat-four engine which was derived from a 1925 Buick in-line ‘six’. Rear-wheel steering, too.
Small-series European fare encompasses everything from a Facel Vega Excellence to a Fiat Samantha via a brace of Monica prototypes and an Amphicar. And that is before you factor in the likes of a steam-powered Lomax and an Intermeccanica-built Murena 429GT. The Isle of Man is more widely associated with two-wheeled transport, of course, and a separate floor contains a plethora of motorcycles that range from pre-WW1 racers to more recent superbikes.
This is an unconventional museum in every positive sense, and probably the only one to feature a five-wheel, gullwing-doored microcar and a nine-door Checker Aerobus. Just make sure you set aside more than a few hours, as there’s so much to take in.
Located in Jurby (postcode IM7 3BD), open 10am-5pm, closed on Wednesdays. Contact the museum for winter opening hours, +44 (0)1624 888333, www.isleofmanmotormuseum.com.
Words: Richard Heseltine // Photography: Lyndon McNeil