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Go Behind the Scenes in our new gallery space

04 October 2022

A selection of cars on display including a wooden-bodied Lea Francis estate in the foreground. A display board behind the cars features archive imagery of factory workers and the headlines, "Behind the Scenes" and "Why Coventry?"

Discover rarely seen treasures from our reserve collection in our Behind the Scenes: Wheels and Workers gallery

A car owned by Diana, Princess of Wales, that was believed to be a gift from King Charles III and a vehicle that helped to launch a range of Barbie toys can now be seen for the first time in years at Coventry Transport Museum.

Shining a spotlight on unique cars and cycles which are not normally on display, Behind the Scenes: Wheels and Workers aims to offer a fresh insight into people, places and companies from across Coventry's motoring history. 

The iconic pink Barbie Jaguar. A display board behind it features archive imagery and a quote from Coventry Produces in 1951, "If you were to ask, anywhere in the world, 'What does Coventry produce?' the answer would invariably be - motor cars. This is not without reason, for Coventry was the birthplace of the British motor industry."Thirty vehicles have been brought out of storage to be displayed - the majority located in a gallery usually reserved for temporary exhibitions, just beyond the entrance to the museum. Cars on show within this gallery include the iconic Barbie car - a Coventry-made Jaguar XJS that became trapped in Bosnia in the 1990s and was later returned to the UK, painted bright pink and used as a prototype by Mattell to create Barbie's toy vehicle. 

Visitors will also have the chance to see some new additions to the collection, including a 1949, wooden-bodied Lea-Francis estate, constructed by APA Motors on Stoke Row in Coventry. The car - which remained in the same family from 1955 until its recent acquisition and restoration by the museum - features a rugged 14hp engine which, with the rear seat lowered, proved useful for carrying bulky and heavy items. 

Other surprises dotted around the rest of the museum include Princess Diana's Austin Mini Metro L, a model launched in 1980 as British Leyland's "make or break" car. The launch of the car was attended by the then Prince Charles, who took it on a 20 minute test drive from the factory in Longbridge, and Lady Diana was afterwards seen driving it around London.

Creative Director Marguerite Nugent said: “This is a really exciting moment for Coventry Transport Museum and means visitors now have the opportunity to see even more vehicles that are part of the city’s and the wider region’s heritage. Museums across the country face the ongoing challenge of trying to show as much of their collection as possible and we are no different, so we are delighted that we are able to bring more vehicles out in this way.

A member of the Coventry Transport Museum workshop team dressed in overalls, polishing Princess Diana's red Austin Mini Metro L on display in the museum“This is space within the museum that we have previously utilised for temporary events but we’ve decided to use that area to bring out more of our collection for visitors to enjoy which we feel is really important. There are some incredible names that will resonate with the people of Coventry as so many people have historic family links to the factories in the city and we have no doubt that it will attract people from across the region.

“Also, the fact that we have the car previously owned by Princess Diana and the striking pink ‘Barbie’ car will also be a draw – especially as the new Barbie film is expected to hit cinemas in 2023."


Over time, it's hoped that the display will continue to grow and change with the addition of stories from former transport industry workers and their families. If you'd like to share your story, please get in touch with us by emailing

The full list of vehicles newly on display includes: 1964 Hillman Swallow Prototype, 1949 Coventry Victor Venus, 1929 Daimler 25/85, 1931 Daimler M16/20, 1965 Alvis TE21, 1934 Riley Lynx, 1934 Armstrong Siddeley Long 20 Landaulette, 1964 Morris Traveller Estate, 1935 SS Jaguar 1.5 litre Saloon, 1973 Jaguar XJS, 1910 Humber Landaulette, 1931 Armstrong Siddeley ‘Sunshine Saloon’, 1959 Ferguson R5/2 Prototype, 1937 Standard 10, 1939 Triumph 12, 1956 Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 234, 1951 Singer SM1500, 1975 Chrysler Centura, 1953 Riley RME, 1970 Invacar 70, 1954 Singer Roadster, 1929 Humber 16/50, 1931 Swift Coupe, 1966 Humber Imperial, 2008 Jaguar XF Electric, 1963 Hillman Super Minx MkII, 1959 Austin Gipsy Fire Tender, 1912 Crouch Carette, 1990 Jaguar XJS ‘Barbie’, 1967 Triumph 1300. 

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