Once upon a time, the NEC was the site of a bi-annual pilgrimage to attend the British Motor Show. Back in the day, you could even get a combined rail-and-motorshow ticket, such was the joined-up thinking that may or may not have resulted from the (then revolutionarily) obviousness of the proximity of Birmingham International railway station compared to the relative faff that was getting to London’s Earls Court for Motorfair on other alternate years.
How times have changed – joined-up thinking appears to have been a casualty in the wider battle to provide what passes for public transport and we no longer have a British Motor Show. However, all is not lost for those with a drop of unleaded in their veins as we do have the Classic Motor Show. This year’s show was the second Classic Motor Show I’ve attended, my first being in 2010 – I missed last year’s and really wished I’d gone and so, after some nice comments on Twitter from my last post, ‘Défense de Fumer’, I decided to make amends this year and maybe even write some words about it.
I was struck by the number of people attending this year’s show compared to 2010. Early omens such as the number of people wearing t-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with automotive marques boarding my train from Manchester at Wolverhampton and again at Birmingham New Street hinted at an increased attendance and, after a walk from the railway station that seemed to take forever, the scene at both the NEC ticket sales and collection offices this year was indeed duly one of organised chaos, with seemingly random ‘queues’ for tickets whether for sale or collection. It was quite a contrast to 2010 when, upon landing at the NEC, I was able to simply stroll up to the ticket office without queuing.
Nonetheless, it is good to see so many people taking an interest in classic cars. Looking at things academically, the profound impact of the motor car upon our landscape and our society suggests that the culturally dynamic nature of the motor car provides the potential to evoke a wide range of socio-cultural memories, for example of our parents’ car or our own first car and of the activities afforded or performed therein. At a classic car show, these memories are tangible, three-dimensional, made metal. From evoked memories to contemporaneous styles, the power of the car as a cultural artefact is made real.
I’m guessing that this year’s show was bigger than that of 2010. This is for two reasons: firstly, I ran out of space earlier than anticipated on the (admittedly small) SD card in my camera and secondly, unlike 2010, I didn’t actually get to see everything. This was despite having a master plan based around scooting through the show getting as many photos as I could before the ambient hue became jaundiced by the NEC’s unique lighting, then hitting the autojumble to peruse books, brochures and models (bliss!) before taking a little more time over things as I worked my way back to whence I’d started.
I’m afraid I rather glossed over the collective Rootes and Ford stands (sorry guys) and I even somehow contrived to miss every opportunity to catch the ‘Wheeler Dealer’ boys in action. Another facepalm came with the realisation that I’d completely bypassed the BMW Car Club, despite having spent some time cooing over the collected Maseratis on the adjacent stand. I somehow managed to miss the Club Audi stand too. Doh!
Despite those glaring oversights, and experiencing range anxiety with my phone battery, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day. It’s wonderful seeing so many cars that can take you down memory lane, or bewitch with their style and glamour, or quite simply make you smile. With my academic human geography hat on, it was marvellous to behold so many socio-cultural, economic and industrial artefacts and also to overhear snatches of conversations as people reminisced and shared memories of their cars and so provide a glimpse as to how they ‘consume’ the motor car. There’s a study in there somewhere, I’m sure…
In no particular order, here are some of the cars from the show that, for one reason or another, compelled me to go back and have another look at them.
Austin Allegro Vanden Plas
My dad had a Mark 2 Allegro 1300 Super, in which I subsequently learned to drive and which was also my first part-time biffabout when he wasn’t using it, so I’m grateful that we live in a world where there is an Allegro Club International. This particular car was actually on the Vanden Plas Owners Club stand and, perhaps due to my Allegroid affiliations, brought the biggest smile of the day. Delightful in a thoroughly Olde English way, and a lovely example too.
Actually a replica of a 1933 study by the pre-war designer and aerodynamicist Paul Jaray, it attracted plenty of attention and rather overshadowed the other cars on the Audi Owners Club stand.
Bugatti Type 57 Corsica
I’d never a seen a Bugatti Type 57 in the metal before, having only succumbed to the glories of various Type 57s such as Atlantic and Atalante in books, and I’d never even heard of the Type 57 Corsica. Voluptuous in form and mechanical in execution, Bugattis are where industry and art collide.
This is the Flux Capacitor, a modified Enfield 8000 – a British electric car of the 1970s – which it is hoped will be the fastest street legal electric car in Europe. The brainchild of Fifth Gear’s Jonny Smith, you can follow its progress at http://www.flux-capacitor.co.uk/.
Ferrari Dino 246GT
Choosing a Ferrari may seem a bit obvious, but the Dino 246GT is just such a pretty car. It makes the notion and the pursuit of hundreds of horsepower seem unnecessary and superfluous which, of course, to a treehugging petrolhead like me, it is.
The Lamborghini Club UK stand contained a variety of models from the latest Aventador to a rather vintage tractor. For me, there were two stars on their stand – a wonderful silver Espada and this brilliant Urraco. Often overlooked, the Urraco may not be as classically glamorous as the Espada, but the baby Lambo is one of my favourite 70s wedges.
MG PA Midget
Quite possibly my favourite car at the show, even though it sported a red octagon on its nose. An exquisite little car and the cockpit was delightfully evocative, with the dashboard and the gearlever being particularly joyous. It was for sale too, at a whisker under £39k. My lottery numbers are still very much conspicuous by their absence, however.
I visited the Morgan factory with Coventry University late last year and came away wanting a Morgan – any Morgan – rather badly. From customer specification to its hand-built manufacture, each Morgan is surely imbued with a personality in a way that few new cars can match, and the 3-wheeler in particular seems to exist purely to make motoring fun. Not strictly a ‘classic’ car perhaps, given its ‘12’ plate, it is certainly a quintessential car possessing as much national and, in its own way, temporal identity as any other car at the show.
This was another car to provoke a huge grin upon seeing it. Very, very sweet.
Triumph Gloria Speed Six
I couldn’t not include a Triumph on my list although, with Dolomites, Stags and TRs also in attendance, this may not be an obvious choice. It may be a late-onset Art Deco thing, possibly as a result of drooling over a variety of Bugattis or (particularly) the Peugeot 302 D’arl Mat, but I’ve recently begun to appreciate cars from the 1930s more than I used to. This Triumph Gloria was beautifully proportioned and very stylish. Glorious indeed.
Zundapp Janus 750
Entering the show as I did in Hall 12, this car provided the first big smile of the day. Look carefully at the picture and you’ll see that, resembling the result of somehow managing to reverse two Isetta bubble cars into each other, the Zundapp Janus 750 does indeed have doors at both ends, and not at the sides. Occupants sit back-to-back on two bench seats with the engine sat between the two seats, like luggage does on the train.
I hope that’s provided a taste of what was on show, as it would be impossible to cover everything here. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to next year’s show already!