HUNDREDS of people turned out to watch the opening of a motor museum in the centre of Taunton this morning (Monday, November 20).

TV petrolhead Richard Hammond pulled up outside the venue in North Street in a classic Porsche to perform the honours watched by a huge crowd, many of whom had travelled from outside the area.

There was a display of classic cars in the street, which was closed to traffic during the opening.

Short speeches were given by him, along with County Classics Motor Museum owner Pat Hawkins, Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow, Taunton Mayor Nick O'Donnell and Somerset Council chairman Mike Best.

Richard Hammond, one of the stars of TV show Top Gear, then cut the ribbon to the former County Stores premises before invited guests were taken inside to explore the impressive collection of vintage and classic cars and motorbikes - and even an aeroplane.

The museum, which has charity status, will open fully to the public from tomorrow (Tuesday, November 21).

Businessman Mr Hawkins, a car fanatic since he was a boy, ploughed his life savings into the venture and battled adversity to see his dream become reality.

He told the County Gazette: "So many people have been a part of it and I'm indebted to all the staff and volunteers.

"It's so good to reach this stage after four years' hard work.

"I really want this for the people and for the town."

Once the long process of preparing a 23,500 square foot, 110 metre-long building to house scores of vehicles was completed, a committed team set to work.

But then Mr Hawkins was hit with medical issues that made him fear the scheme would never be completed.

"I was very ill for a year and was in and out of hospital," he said.

"I thought, 'There's every chance you're not going to make this'."

A surgeon was flown over to treat a heart condition Mr Hawkins was suffering from, allowing him to progress with the museum project.

He added: "I'm thinking I really want to give something back before it's too late and I want to do something for the town. Failure was not an option.

"I'm ecstatically happy that the day has finally arrived and the museum is now open."

Earlier, Richard Hammond addressing the crowd outside, said: "This is a museum, so yes it's looking back into the past, but it also is very useful as we look into the future now.

"The car, the subject of this museum, is undergoing significant change, and we all acknowledge has to and will do, but at the same time it will still provide the service it always has for us, which is move us around our lives and enable us to do everything we want to do."