Heritage Preserved in Bicester

Article taken from FBHVC News Issue No 2 2014, read the original article here.

We have reported earlier on the central role of our patrons in providing the funding to kick start the curriculum development for the FBHVC Modern Apprenticeship in Historic Vehicle Restoration. The combined contributions of Bicester Heritage, MG Car Club and McGrath Maserati have ensured that we are on schedule to launch the first courses at the start of the next academic year in September this year. Indeed, the Federation will be exhibiting at the Practical Classics Restoration Show in April and will use the show as a platform to start recruiting potential students. So if you know of any keen youngsters between the ages of 16 and 18 send them to us at the NEC and we can brief them on the available courses.

With curriculum development well in hand at the Institute of the Motor Industry, it was necessary to draw down funds and therefore the opportunity was there to visit Bicester Heritage (www.bicesterheritage. co.uk) and to meet its key promoters, chairman, Francis Galashan and managing director, Daniel Geoghegan. Both men are confirmed car nuts, Francis a competitor in long distance historic rallying and a circuit racer, and Daniel a regular competitor in VSCC competition events. Three members of the FBHVC board made the trip, chairman, David Whale, trade and skills director, Karl Carter and myself.

It’s worth spending a little time tracing the genesis of Bicester Heritage as it is destined to play an increasingly prominent role in the historic vehicle scene. Daniel Geoghegan had the vision to grasp the unique potential of an abandoned RAF base. RAF Bicester is a former World War I bomber base, World War II training and glider operations base and latterly a motor transport supply depot.

The site itself has considerable heritage significance. It is a splendid example of an RAF station of the period and is largely unmolested and intact, featuring many iconic buildings such as the A and C type hangars, the control tower and the Guard House which is currently Bicester Heritage’s headquarters. Daniel’s vision was to turn this 348 acre ex-MOD site into the UK’s premier centre for just about anything related to the upkeep, renovation, preservation, storage, preparation and general enjoyment of old vehicles and aeroplanes. What is more, Bicester Heritage is dedicated to do this whilst preserving the unique character of this heritage site. A private equity specialist, Daniel put together the consortium that finally succeeded in acquiring 348 acres of prime Government real estate: a not inconsiderable investment. He is also managing the sensitive restoration of the site. During our visit some pretty extensive infrastructure works were being carried out. As Daniel himself quipped, ‘We like lead in our petrol but not in our water pipes!’

Although largely mothballed since 1976 the buildings are in surprisingly good order. One of the large hangars, last used by the USAF during the first Gulf war, features air conditioning and humidity monitoring making it the ideal base for secure storage specialists, Historit (www.historit.co.uk). This enterprising venture stores and cares for old cars and aeroplanes ensuring that time-poor owners can drop in at any time to enjoy their car or plane in the knowledge that it will be ready and waiting for them. The location of Bicester Heritage in middle England just off M40 junction 9 and 10 and literally minutes from Bicester’s train stations makes Historit a very favourable venue for ‘city and country types alike’. Several other businesses are in various stages of joining the BH family including a specialist vehicle trimmer and a sand blasting operator. Dan and his enthusiastic investor team plan to bring in different businesses to take over the numerous old buildings as they are renovated. They are targeting renovation and maintenance specialists, including all car-related skills such as upholsterers, paint sprayers, panel formers and engine builders. All trades associated with aircraft restoration and preservation are also on the list. The range of buildings suits all types and sizes of enterprise with units starting at 500 square feet going up to a massive 60,000 square feet. The vision is for a ‘one stop shop’ for all lovers of old cars and planes.

There are also plans to establish an academy on site so that the rapidly diminishing wealth of restoration skills can be passed on to the next generation. And this is of course how the association with the Federation arose as we share the goal of skills retention.

In addition to housing restoration enterprises Bicester Heritage is increasingly coming into use as a venue or waypoint for visiting clubs and longer term Daniel harbours longings to turn the rather overgrown perimeter track into one of more sporting significance. We shall be watching the developments with keen interest and suspect that this visionary resource is set to play a significant part in the historic vehicle scene in the UK.