Monday November 14, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
'That's a Panther Rio!' My cry of amazement in the middle of a crowded NEC was understandable as this was a car that had intrigued me for three decades.
Now, I had finally encountered it in all its uber-1970s chic - a groovy compact town car based on the Triumph Dolomite, that still looking primed for an evening at the Talk of the Town. But then, almost everyone who visited the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show on Friday 11th November seemed to have had a similar reaction to encountering a car that they had only previously read about in Motor Road Test Annual or Car magazine. Each of the five Halls at the NEC boasted dozens of vehicles to delight the eyes, inflame the senses and expand the overdraft.
As an enthusiast of large saloons, I soon became totally engrossed in mentally acquiring a Nissan 300 Cedric or wondering how that Alfa Romeo 1900 Super, a stunningly rare example of the company's first mass-produced car - could be mine. By the end of the day, I was so involved in considering the potential of these splendid vehicles as everyday transport in Henley that I managed to ignore greetings from people I had known for years. And then there were those countless exhibits that evoked so many memories of an era that seems almost as distant as the Victorians. A Damask Red Maxi was identical to the example that used to be parked outside of the Wavy Line supermarket in Park Gate circa 1975, one that always seemed to have a boot load of Panda Pop Cherryade and KP Skips. On Lancaster's own display my attention was instantly taken by the 1968 police Morris Minor as it reminded me of cycling proficiency tests at my primary school. These were often presided over by the local PC, who usually arrived in the Panda car bearing the demeanour of one who had recently fallen foul of his Sergeant.
The Wolseley Register featured a 6/80 that took me back to all those black and white crime films that I avidly watched on BBC2 and the Fiat Motor Club's 128 four-door saloon (now a more exclusive sight than a Maserati GranCabrio, and considerably more practical for school runs) looked just like the model driven by my maternal grandparents. Meanwhile, the Chevette and Cavalier Club displayed a magnificent 1976 1600L and virtually every detail, from the dogtooth check upholstery to the penny flap air vents, spoke of the days when the M27 motorway was still a novelty and a Soda Stream in the kitchen was a sign of suburban affluence.
Naturally, one of the major impacts made by so many of the cars is that of the passage of time. The white Astra GTE on the Pride of Ownership display made me realise that I was barely aged 14 when it was first registered. As for Rosemary, the 1980 Mini Metro, not only was she sold to her current owner Tanya Field with possibly the best sales condition of any car – the Austin changed hands after it was agreed that the original owner's sunglasses and umbrella remain with it forever - it also cause to remember that I was at the NEC when they were launched some 36 years ago. I don't think that I was entirely alone in this respect, as quite a few chaps of a certain age were looking with quiet amazement at a 1975 Renault 4TL, marvelling at how at the lack of surviving examples.
And that is why, for me, the show is so important an event as the emotions that it conjures are priceless; a stand might pay tribute to a BMW 2002, a Ford Cortina Mk. II or a Benny Hill style milk float but each was equally rich in nostalgic value. For my part, all that I can say is that the Panther Rio exceed all my expectations and that loudly humming this song will cause heads to turn at the NEC. I take no responsibility for the latter as the combination of the display of HB Vivas and the Classic Motor Show atmosphere was a heady one indeed…