He was one of Britain's most respected and innovative peers who saved his ancestral home and created one of the country's most successful attractions Lord Montagu saved his ancestral home, Palace House, by opening it to the public.

He also founded the National Motor Museum, using his flair for public relations to make the venture a massive success.

Tens of thousands of visitors pour through the gates every year to admire some of the world's most famous cars.

Lord Montagu's talent for conserving buildings and promoting tourism was not confined to Beaulieu.

He spent eight years as chairman of English Heritage and in 1974 became the first president of the Southern Tourist Group.

But his real legacy to the nation is a priceless collection of classic cars, including representatives from every era of motoring history.

Record breaking vehicles driven by speed king by Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald are among the exhibits that have helped make the museum a shrine to the internal combustion engine.

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Born at his grandmother' house in London in 1926, Lord Montagu was just three days old when he saw Beaulieu for the first time.

He was a sickly child who once passed out in the bath after suffering a fit. Three years later his health was considered so fragile that his family sent him to South Africa to escape the British winter.

Lord Montagu and his two siblings were evacuated to Canada during the Second World War.

His beloved Beaulieu was used by the Special Operations Executive, a top secret organisation that helped resistance groups in Nazi-occupied Europe.

After returning to Britain in 1942 Lord Montagu was educated at Eton and New College Oxford. He later joined the Grenadier Guards and served in Palestine, the subject of his maiden speech in the House of Lords.

In the early 1950s he was saddled with the task of saving Palace House, which was costing a fortune to heat and maintain.

Selling the 13th century property would have been unthinkable.

Writing in his autobiography, Wheels Within Wheels, he said: "Beaulieu was my ancestral family home. I not only loved it but felt a sense of duty, trust and obligation towards it.

"To have relinquished Palace House would have been seen not only as a loss but also as a slap in the face to my mother and the trustees.

"I was determined that I would pass my inheritance on to my heirs, just as my ancestors and my father had passed it on to me. Whereas most people possess their belongings I, paradoxically, belonged to my possessions.

"I was determined to make a last-ditch stand."

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Lord Montagu with Roger Moore

Lord Montagu knew that Palace House needed a special attraction. He decided to display five classic cars in the front hall as a tribute to his late father, who had been one of Britain's motoring pioneers.

Opening Palace House on April 6 1952 he declared: "I would rather keep my home and surrender my privacy than have things the other way round."

The peer promised himself a champagne supper if 100 visitors trooped through the house by 6pm. He achieved his target just 90 minutes after the doors opened.

Recalling the event many years later he said: "Looking back, the whole procedure was wonderfully, charmingly amateurish. We had no proper box office or souvenir shop, and although the afternoon teas in the Domus were excellent it could only accommodate 40 guests at a time. We had no turnstiles, only a primitive admission system involving ropes and cords."

However, Beaulieu welcomed 70,000 visitors in its first year and was already on its way to becoming a major tourist attraction.

The first motor museum building was opened in 1956, enabling Lord Montagu to move his collection of cars and motorcycles out of Palace House, which stank of oil. A larger complex was opened in April 1959, just six days before he got married for the first time.

Beaulieu was also becoming famous for its annual jazz festivals, which attracted world-renowned musicians such as Acker Bilk, Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine.

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But the 1960 festival was marred by a drunken, bottle-throwing riot in which 30 people were injured.

Recalling the event 40 years later Lord Montagu said: "Humphrey Lyttelton's trumpet was found abandoned in the car park and clothing attributed to George Melly halfway up a tree. It could have been a lot worse."

The 1961 festival was a lot worse. Many of the 20,000 people who attended were later described as hooligans who were out to cause trouble.

"They fought in the streets, copulated in front gardens, disrupted the traffic, defecated in garages and urinated in gutters," said Lord Montagu. "In fairness to the constabulary it would have taken a battalion of SAS to keep them under control.

"The situation was intolerable and I knew in my heart that I could never risk a repeat."

In contrast the motor museum went from strength to strength. By the mid-1960s it was attracting a half a million visitors a year, making it necessary to construct a larger, purpose-built complex.

A 70,000 sq ft display area containing more than 200 vehicles was opened by the Duke of Kent in 1972 and is still in use today.

Beaulieu has welcomed a host of other VIPs over the years, including some of Britain's best-loved film and TV stars.

Movies shot on the 7,000-acre estate include the 1966 classic A Man for All Seasons, starring Robert Shaw, Orson Welles and Leo McKern. The Beaulieu River was chosen because it was the only one in the country that could pass for the Thames of the 16th century.

TV programmes made at Beaulieu included episodes of The Avengers, Treasure Hunt and The Two Ronnies.

Terry Wogan broadcast his morning radio show from the museum just days after Lord Montagu was injured in an accident in which the other driver died.

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Terry Wogan and Lord Montagu on the former's broadcast at Beaulieu

Away from Palace House, Lord Montagu campaigned for better street lighting, regular traffic bulletins on the radio and the introduction of seatbelts - all of which eventually came about.

Closer to home he supported the 1987 Lyndhurst Bypass Bill, which was eventually killed off in the Commons.