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The History of the York Motor Museum

The York Motor Museum opened in December 1979 and enjoys the distinction of being the oldest and most successful private motor museum operating in Australia.


It is located at the historic town of York in the Avon Valley 90 minutes east of Perth. York was settled on 16 September,  1831 only two years after the establishment of the Swan River Colony.


It was the colony’s first inland settlement and the magnificently restored heritage buildings from the Victorian and Federation eras give the town great tourism appeal. Indeed, the Motor Museum is the town’s most important tourist attraction.


The story of the Museum begins in the 1970s when Peter Briggs and James Harwood sought a site for a motor museum. Both Peter and James had a history of involvement with motor vehicles, and enjoyed a passion for classic cars. For Peter Briggs it came through local motor sport. In the late 1960s he won the MG Car CIub Annual Championship three times, and then he went on to become the 1970 WA Touring Car Champion.


The Peter Briggs Family Collection had slowly been growing since 1968 when Peter purchased a 1925 Rugby Tourer. The next acquisition was a Cooper Climax, followed in 1976 by an MG TC. Meanwhile, in 1964, Jim sold his Stirling Highway property to Attwood Motors and established himself as a broker in vintage vehicles and aeroplanes in the international market.  


By this time, Peter’s collection was slowly growing. In 1979 he acquired three cars from John Ould in Melbourne; a JI Allard, a Triumph Gloria and an Invicta. Garage space was rapidly becoming a problem and Jim’s proposition to start a Museum came at an appropriate time.


Jim was acutely aware of the need to site the Museum in a location that would complement the cars and York seemed ideal. Situated less than 100 km from Perth, the original l9th century townscape presented him with a ready-made atmosphere in which to display the cars. York was only 90 minutes from the Perth CBD and its main street was wonderfully preserved. The sleepy town was about to be transformed into one of the most vibrant tourist drawcards for daytrippers from Perth.


The project received the ultimate acclaim for the tourism industry four years later when it was awarded the 1984 Sir David Brand Award for Tourism. In those days, only one award was made every year, making the York Motor Museum the pre-eminent tourist attraction in Western Australia at the time.


The museum offers three main galleries: two general areas and one specialising in the history of motorsport. At its peak, it exhibited more than 100 cars spread across the galleries and stored down the road at the Museum Workshop. Cars were rotated between the two locations.


Today the Museum has been refurbished and provides a fascinating look at the history of motoring and transportation with exhibits of cars, motor bikes and bicycles. A feature of the museum is an ante-room with automobilia displays and a period workshop within the galleries. There is not a wall which isn’t covered with historic motorsport posters or signs.


For more than 15 years the Curator of the York Motor Museum has been Peter Harbin.  Peter began his motor racing in the United Kingdom before migrating to Australia.  He continued to race in Western Australia, principally with a Lotus.  He drove in the York Flying 50 over many years.


For more than 30 years, visitors have come to the museum from all over the world. They keep coming, often driving up from Perth with friends or family to spend a day in the country.


In December 2017 the museum was purchased from Peter by the not for profit Avon Valley Motor Museum Association to be owned and operated as a community venture



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