When Bicester Heritage elbowed its way onto the UK car lover’s list of Most Desirable Destinations four or five years ago, its mission seemed clear: to become an important new Oxfordshire haven for vintage and classic cars, and for those who loved, owned, mended or transacted them.
The miraculously well-preserved (and sympathetically restored) red-brick buildings of this former RAF base, dating from 1926 and used as a location for Churchillian movie Darkest Hour, set an instant ‘between-the-wars’ scene for anyone who drove through the old-style black-and-white boom gate, especially after a chat with gatekeeper Neil, whose genial manner also seemed to come from another time.
But as it turns out, Bicester Heritage is only the first stage of a much bigger project called Bicester Motion, designed to establish the UK’s first automotive resort and technology centre across the entire 444-acre airbase site. Heritage is but a small corner of a much larger whole. According to chief executive Dan Geoghegan, Bicester Motion aims to connect car-based businesses and their customers – around a million of them annually, when things are running as planned – together in an entirely new way. Drawing on Bicester Motion’s proximity to the existing race engineering and technology belt, a key part of Geoghegan’s big plan is to equip the site with an all-new R&D hub they’re calling the FAST (for Future Automotive Speed and Technology) Zone, dedicating 20,000 square metres of new build space to automotive innovators of every kind, and supporting them with special test tracks suitable for autonomous and connected cars.
A car-loving property developer with deep connections in Wales, where his father was a garage owner, Geoghegan has a special interest in helping innovators progress technology with which Britain aims to lead the world. He drove into then-disused RAF Bicester six years ago when the site had already been on Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register for five years, discovering it almost by accident while hunting for a location for his plan.