A devastating fire at Britain's National Motorcycle Museum destroyed 650 bikes – many of which were irreplaceable – and caused R96 million in damage on Tuesday.

A devastating fire at Britain's National Motorcycle Museum destroyed 650 bikes – many of which were irreplaceable – and caused R96 million in damage on Tuesday.


Up to 100 people attending a function at the museum at Bickenhill, near Birmingham International Airport, were evacuated while more than 120 firefighters tackled the blaze on Tuesday evening.


The museum held about 900 of the world's fastest and most expensive vintage motorcycles. Three of the museum's five exhibit halls were destroyed along with their exhibits. Only 250 bikes were saved.


The collection traced the history of the British motorcycle industry and many of the museum's rarest and virtually irreplaceable exhibits were lost. Exhibits included BSA Gold Stars, Sunbeam Twins, DMW Hornets and Triumph racers.


Owner Roy Richards started collecting the bikes in the Seventies and the museum opened in 1984 with an initial collection of 350 machines. It became one of the biggest motorcycle museums in the world and attracts about 250 000 visitors a year.


The fire broke out just before 5 pm, a West Midlands fire service spokesman said, adding that part of the museum was left a blackened shell. The cause of the blaze was being investigated, he added.


"Richards reckons he has lost about 650 bikes. He lost his fastest, most expensive, world record-breaking bikes in the fire,” the spokesman said. "It is dreadful. They (the museum staff) are absolutely devastated. Part of our heritage has been destroyed."