My new car is ‘Green’, or is it? – Part 1

For this post we are, of course, talking about ‘Green’ in the environmental sense – not Emerald Green, Leaf Green or even British Racing Green!

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), of the 2,311,140 new cars purchased in the UK in 2019, just over 90% were powered solely by an internal combustion engine (ICE): a decreasing proportion being diesel powered and an increasing proportion powered by petrol.

(As an aside to the theme of this post; that switch from diesel to petrol is not entirely good news. The recognised hazards to our health from particulate matter ie soot particles, and oxides of nitrogen, are significantly worse in the emissions from a diesel engine but the higher CO2 emissions from a petrol engine have resulted in an increase, for the third successive year, of this greenhouse gas. Visit the museum’s website for more on this topic in our ‘plastic dinosaurs’ download – no that’s not a misprint, you will find it under the tab ‘Impact of the Internal Combustion Engine’).

Returning to ‘Green’. If you look at your favourite news website, switch on the TV, pick up a newspaper or magazine, it won’t be long before you spot an item discussing our ever-increasing awareness of the contribution that transport, and in particular motor transport, makes to the steadily growing volume of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere and the consequent increase in average global temperatures. Elsewhere in our newspaper or magazine we may well be facing an advertisement for the latest, low-carbon family car, with its environmentally friendly low or zero emissions, in the headlines of the advertisement.

Buying a new, low emission car, is being sold to us as a way of saving the planet! Can that really be true? Consider for now, the 90.1% of UK drivers who swapped their old car for a new ICE powered car in 2019.

Look more deeply on specialist websites or the motoring press and it won’t be long before we find statistics concerning the environmental impact associated with building that new car. It is possible to find figures stating the one-off environmental impact of building the car, expressed in terms of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. These can be anything from 20% to well over 50% of the car’s lifetime CO2 emissions.

Why such a wide spread of figures? Well, like all statistics, it depends on the starting assumptions. What is the average car lifetime? When do you start counting the CO2 associated with the build: when the iron, steel and alloys enter the body shop and assembly plant? When the raw materials enter the foundry or the rolling mill? Or when they are still in the ground? All major motor manufacturers operate on a global scale. Do the statistics include global transportation and even end-of-life scrappage?

So, should we retain or replace our ICE car? Purely from the point of view of CO2 emissions, consider replacing a 2012 car with a modern-day equivalent (like for like in the chart below – eg a 2012 Mondeo with a 2019 Mondeo). Making assumptions on the emissions performance of 2012 and 2019 cars, average annual mileage and average age of scrapping, then looking at the chart below, it could be over 10 years before the newer, cleaner engine yields an emissions benefit. Not surprisingly, a like-for-like replacement of a well maintained, low annual mileage 2012 car, may never ‘save’ the CO2 associated with its manufacture.

Retain or Replace graph

However, replacing the 2012 car with a small, modern, fuel-efficient petrol car (eg Citroen C1), could show a CO2 benefit within 5 years.

So, retain or replace? There is not a single answer, it will depend very much on our personal motoring lifestyle. There is more information about this on the museum website under the ‘Direction of Travel – Part 1, Environmental’ tab.

Suppose that we were amongst the 9.9% of buyers who went for a battery electric or hybrid car in 2019, was that a good environmental choice? Part 2 of this post will attempt to shed some light on that question.

Reopening – Saturday 15th February 2020

Following our winter closure, the museum re-opens on Saturday, 15th February, for the 2020 season.
The week before re-opening is always a busy one as final preparation of new displays is underway and the “big clean” takes place. This year, on the Wednesday before re-opening, there were at least 16 museum staff and volunteers beavering away. Everything looks bright and shiny and a few spiders are now looking for new homes.
What is new for 2020? Well to a casual observer wandering around the museum this week, the Paved Paradise gallery has been shuffled with the Imp, Herald, Mini and Volvo moving around and being joined by a Sinclair C5.
The Toy Galleries have had a lot of work done having been completely emptied over the winter and now showing new paint, floor coverings and a refreshed display.
As you leave the final gallery, a completely new, computer-controlled sound and light display tells the story of Boundless, the club which owns the museum. If you like mirrors and lights, this will be a real attraction.
We look forward to welcoming old friends and new visitors in 2020.

DOWNLOADS from the Museum Website

Anyone browsing the museum website could easily overlook the DOWNLOADS tab on the home page. This could be a mistake! Bear with me, please let me explain why.

Museum web page showing DOWNLOADSIn 2008 the museum started to publish brief documentation on the website that supported on-going museum displays. One of the very first documents, in 2008, showed that even then, we felt that the rising levels of carbon dioxide emitted by cars was an impending problem and a museum display reflecting this situation was first launched in the same year. Here is one of the graphics that we used.

2008 image of co2 emissions

Since that time, other documents, including “The Impact of Motoring”, “Our Motoring World”, “Tell-Me-More”, “Email-Me-More” and “A History of Motoring in 10 Objects” have all been available to download from the website – albeit sometimes a bit tricky to locate within the site – and accompanying an associated museum display.

Twelve years later, whilst celebrating the magnificent contribution that the museum collection makes to the history of motoring, we continue to recognise that big changes have to occur if the damage inflicted on the planet by our addiction to fossil fuels is not to be catastrophically irreversible: that, of course, includes changes to the world of motoring.Covers of two downloadable documents

Currently, we have two sets of documents behind the DOWNLOADS tab on the website. “The Direction of Travel – Motoring from The Past to The Future” is a set of five ebooks that, following a short introduction, look at the environmental, social and technological influences that have resulted from 130 years of the motor car and which concludes with a look to the future of motoring. Will hydrogen be the future or battery electric? Just how many vehicle manufacturers brands that we recognise today will still be around in even 10 years time or will new arrivals have disrupted the scene?

Our second, concise ebook addresses “The Impact of the Internal Combustion Engine over the last 130 years and its future in the 21st century”. It directly relates to an on-going display in the museum and tries to answer, at both a European level and a global level, questions that relate to our use of oil and the health and environmental impact of that consumption.

Oh, and that reference to plastic dinosaurs (made from oil)? Well, sorry, you will just have to click the DOWNLOADS tab to find out!

The Dunlop Tyre

Continuing our series of posts based on a museum exhibition from a few years ago entitled “The History of Motoring in 10 Objects”, this post gives a brief summary of the contributions made by John Boyd Dunlop, Charles Goodyear and the Michelin brothers. Yes, it’s tyres and the global demand today is approaching 3 billion every year.

It seems plausible that the word “tyre” derives from the wheelwright’s habit of referring to the steel rim around a wooden spoked wheel as the item that ‘tied’ the wheel together. Or perhaps it derives from ‘attire’ meaning a covering. Nevertheless, it is a method of construction that can be traced back over 2000 years.

In 1844 Charles Goodyear invented a means of stabilising natural rubber making it strong, flexible and suitable for solid tyres. In 1888 John Dunlop had the idea of wrapping an inflated tube of canvas around the wheel rim to create a more comfortable ride for his son’s cycle. But he was not the first to come up with this idea, 43 years earlier fellow Scot, Robert Thomson, patented and demonstrated a pneumatic tyre for use on carriages and bicycles, but it was expensive and the market was not receptive. The Michelin brothers demonstrated how this technology could be used on cars and Dunlop was able to sell his tyre to the growing automobile industry. By the mid ’50s, Dunlop had almost half of the market share in Britain and remains, along with Goodyear and Michelin, a leading brand today.

The composite image below shows just some of the enamel signage relating to tyres that is scattered around the museum.

Montage of signs

If you would like to read more about the history, construction and possible future of the humble tyre, you might be interested to download “The Direction of Travel: Motoring from The Past to The Future – Part 3 – Technological” from the museum website.

Our Austin Seven

It is good to see the museum’s Austin Seven gracing the forecourt of the museum on most days this summer. With the hard work of museum staff and volunteers, it underwent a significant restoration during the winter months and is now looking fabulous once more.IMG_20190725_164318 - low res

New for 2019

The museum opened again for the 2019 season on 16 February and our first visitors of the year enjoyed the sunny days of the school half-term that followed the re-opening. All is looking sparkling and dust free after a great effort from our museum volunteers during the preceding week. Thanks to all.

One major change that regular visitors will spot is the completely refurbished Blacksmith’s Shop.

The Blacksmith’s Shop and Woodworking Shop are now on opposite sides of the gallery and the blacksmith and wheelwright keep each other company throughout the day, chatting about their work and ‘these new-fangled motorcars’ and making very life-like movements. Don’t be alarmed, yes, you really did see them move!img_20190228_123911.jpg


Still to make a full appearance, is our new display on the “Impact of the Internal Combustion Engine”. After a fleeting look back over the first 130 years of internal combustion and its impact on both our climate and our health, it looks ahead to when the sale of vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines will be banned. More details will be posted shortly once all material is in place.

The Internal Combustion Engine

Continuing with our series of significant objects in the history of motoring, this latest object is really a bit of a ‘no-brainer’! Vehicle technology has been dominated by the next object: the internal combustion engine. It became successful because it proved to be dependable, convenient and affordable. There was also an abundant fuel supply which could be delivered to the vehicle in seconds. Modern engines are cleaner and much more efficient than their predecessors. Today however, there are compelling reasons to find alternatives. There are grave concerns about of the effects of pollution and fears over global warming. We are aware that the supply of easily recoverable oil will not last for ever; it will become more expensive to find and extract. Governments and city authorities are setting emission-free targets and manufacturers are pressing ahead with hybrid or all electric vehicles. Yet the internal combustion engine will not suddenly disappear while issues around battery technology – like the reliance on rare metals, low range on each battery charge and excessively long recharging time – remain unresolved.


This is a standard four-stroke, four cylinder engine, as used in millions of cars around the world. This cut-away picture demonstrates the classic engine cycle showing intake, compression, ignition and exhaust – otherwise known as suck, squeeze, bang, blow! Other engines in our cars and motorcycles include the straight six-cylinder, single cylinder two-stroke, the V-twin and the V-eight, but they are all versions of the internal combustion engine.

More detail on the history of the Internal Combustion Engine, plus other topics in our series of articles on the Impact of Motoring, can be found on our website under the DOWNLOADS tab.