S tephen Johns had a big textile mill in Yorkshire that gave him the means to collect cars and many other objects, but not the time to enjoy them fully, or to let others do so. Retirement brought him to Exmoor, a coastal region of Somerset, England, where he found an old post office maintenance building where vehicles were washed and repaired.

It gave him enough room to create his dream garage, filled with wonderful collections of automobiles, motorcycles and all kinds of fascinating memorabilia.

Select the ARTICLE tab above for the full story by Kris Palmer from his book, Dream Garages

VEHICLES INSIDE:
A 1927 Bugatti Type 40 and 1938 D70 Delage, a 3-wheeled 1933 Morgan, BSA Bantam motorcycles, a 1933 Austin Delivery Truck, and a Bridgestone 100 TMX motorcycle, among others.

Photography by James Mann

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S tephen Johns had a big textile mill in Yorkshire that gave him the means to collect cars and many other objects, but not the time to enjoy them fully, or to let others do so. Once he retired, he concluded: “I have all these lovely things, and I should let people look at them.” Retirement brought Stephen to Exmoor, a coastal region of Somerset, much of which is protected as national park, National Trust property, nature reserves, and Heritage coast. Here, he put his collection of cars, motorcycles, and memorabilia on public display in a museum open to the public every Thursday, or any time by appointment.

Initially, the museum was open four days a week, but Stephen found that keeping up that pace didn’t allow him to enjoy the collection as much as he wanted to, or to pursue other pastimes. The one-day and by-appointment schedule strikes a happy balance, giving the public a fixed opportunity they can count on, but also permitting the many clubs who enjoy making the trip to this vacation area to get in on their own for a private visit.

Less time hosting visitors also allows Stephen more opportunity to drive his cars. They all run, and he gets them out onto the roads to keep everything working properly. “I don’t like museum pieces,” he says, which may be why the word “museum” does not appear in the name of his operation. He calls it “The Exmoor Classic Car Collection,” though its pieces range far beyond the typical four-wheeled conveyance.

“I like groups of things,” he says. Once he takes to a particular creation, be it a motorcycle, helmet, model, grease gun, or foot pump, to name a few, others will likely join it.

“I started with cars in the 1960s,” Stephen recalls. He’s been adding to the collection ever since, whenever something strikes his fancy. Just what that might be is hard to predict, though everything that comes in is appealing to look at—from his Speed Six Bentley pedal car to his (full size) 1933 Austin butcher’s truck. He recently bid on a 1930s Rolls-Royce 20/25 that Harrods had used as a courtesy car for its customers. It was painted Harrods’ green and black and included the uniform worn by the chauffeur, who assisted customers to their homes after a day of shopping. The bidding came down to Stephen and one other man, but he could sense his rival was determined to get it. Stephen let it go when the price topped what he felt the car was worth.

The Harrods car would have tied in nicely with the collection, as Stephen already has two distinctive Rolls-Royces, as well as service vehicles that were operated by uniformed drivers. He collects uniforms too. The old London taxi includes an appropriately attired mannequin driver—occasionally replaced by Stephen on the streets around the village. “Faces light up when you come along,” he says.

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"All These Lovely Things"

"All These Lovely Things"

Once he retired, longtime collector Stephen Johns had a revelation: "I have all these lovely things, I should let people look at them."

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