Wednesday April 5, 2017
Where else but at The Practical Classics Classic Car & Restoration Show are you likely to find not one but three Austin Ambassadors, all of them the flagship Vanden Plas version, and a 1975 Wolseley-badged blue Wedge? This was an event where a twin-engine 1965 Citroen 2CV Sahara was sold by Classic Car Auctions for £68,200 and where visitors could see examples of cars that were once as commonly sighted in the UK as art students making valiant attempts to look like Simon Le Bon. For the performance minded there was an A-registered Ford Fiesta XR2i and a Y-plate Escort XR3i while I was especially taken with ‘Skippy’, the Austin Maestro City X that was recently rescued from a builder’s skip in the forecourt of a Vauxhall dealer in Haverhill. Apparently, the reaction to this fine car ranged from ‘What the hell is that’ to ‘it's still alive!’
As an enthusiast of the Citroen DS, I spend some time admiring the ID owned by James Walshe of Practical Classics fame - and as a Brylcreemed throwback who collects skiffle records, I was inevitably drawn to a two-tone Riley Two Point Six. A Standard Ensign saloon that had been with the same family for 27 years also caught my eye, as did a Morris MS Six that looked as though it had driven in from a 1950s British B-film.
In fact, the NEC featured classics to appeal to every taste and age group, from the Ford Transit to the FD Series Vauxhall Victor; the latter made me instantly hum the Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) theme to the mild alarm of other show goers. There was also that brilliant– my family owned one in the 1980s so I am slightly biased - Fiat Panda. In the view of Gavin Busby of the Fiat Motor Club, it was ‘a perfect reflection of what the Panda was originally intended to be; simple basic beige motoring, with ravioli pocket headrests and hammock seats’. The club stand also featured a Tempra that ‘just astounded people. That it was 27 years old amazed them, then the fact that they'd forgotten it existed, the quality of the interior, and the massive - for 1990 - spec’.
Finally, it was high time to see the Lancaster Insurance Pride of Ownership Display where I was instantly drawn to the red magnificence that was an Alfa Romeo Guiletta and the white Sunbeam Stiletto, possibly the finest version of the Hillman Imp family. I was then diverted by a P4-series Rover 105R - the ‘R’ stands for Roverdrive, the company’s semi-automatic gear box - and a pale blue ZB-Series Mg Magnette, which made me immediately think of summer days and Eastmancolor Rank films with Liz Fraser in the cast. As with countless enthusiasts, so many exhibits had the power to transport me back to my distant youth, a time of Fletcher Maths and Screen Test on BBC1 – which is why I was so delighted to see the Hillman Avenger owned by Howard Hargate. Back in the 1970s, the Tiger may have attracted the headlines but it was the likes of Howard’s Super saloon that once dominated the roads of suburbia. The Avenger has been in his owner shop ‘for five years now’ and his only complaint is that ‘several people have asked me if it is a Morris Marina!’
Even rarer than the Hillman was Nathan Mills’ Ford Escort 1300 Sport and the constant media emphasis on the RS2000 and Twin Cam does tend to obscure the fact that Ford offered an array of smaller engine models for drivers who wanted a degree of extra performance but none of the insurance issues of an RS. Any 1300 Sport Mk.2 is now more exclusive than your average Bentley Flying Spur and this one was totally resplendent in bright orange, an Escort that looked as though it had been time warped in from the late 1970s. Even more amazingly, Nathan is just eighteen years of age
Picking a winner with such a collection seemed a near Mission Impossible but the 1972 Triumph Spitfire owned by Keith Edmunds was a highly popular victor. And finally, I would like to finish with a note of thanks to everyone who made the event happen. Without the sheer effort, drive and imagination of the clubs, there would be no Classic Car & Restoration Show. Their rich and varied displays paid tribute to the past - and inspired future generations of classic owners.