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The First Ever NEC Motor Show

1978 – a year when a loaf of bread cost 28 pence, milk was 11 pence per pint and a gallon of petrol would set you back 76 ½ pence. There was a new must-watch children’s drama on BBC1 entitled Grange Hill on BBC1, Co-Co singing The Bad Old Days in the Eurovision Song Contest and a new venue for the Motor Show.

From 1937 to 1976 the event had been synonymous with Earl’s Court but the need for greater space meant that from 1978 onwards it was to be staged at the National Exhibition Centre.  

On the Sunday prior to the ‘British International Motor Show’ 175 vehicles paraded from Stoneleigh via Coventry and Birmingham to the NEC and  one of the last Movietone newsreels covered the various highlights, in addition to giving a priceless view of how the Centre looked some 39 years ago. It also features commentary read from a script that sounds as though it was a reject from a Carry On film.

Some 908, 194 people attended the NEC and after spending another £1 on a show guide, devotees of Formula One racing immediately made a bee-line for Mario Andretti's Lotus Type 79 JPS Mk. IV.

For those with aspirations to the sort of jet-set lifestyle as seen on Return of The Saint, there was the Aston Martin V8 Volante or the TVR 3000S, the marque’s first production convertible.

If that were not enough even for the most jaded of connoisseurs, the Porsche 928 went on show for the first time in the UK while on the Pininfarina stand was one of the most aesthetically accomplished cars of all time.

It would be fair to say that the sight of the XJ Spider, as created by Renzo Carli, Leonardo Fioravanti and Sergio Pininfarina, will be remembered by virtually everyone who saw it in the metal.

Meanwhile, those show goers with more modest aspirations and/or less understanding bank managers were offered the Colt 1.4 or the Car of the Year 1979 in the form of a Horizon GLS.

Examples on display of the latter still wore a Pentastar logo dispute Chrysler UK and France being sold to Peugeot in August 1978; the Talbot re-branding would not occur until the summer of the following year.

One major absence from the Show was Ford, which was due to a fitters’ strike. This no doubt pleased Vauxhall no end, as they were showcasing their new Cavalier Sportshatch, a veritable Capri rival while for the ‘executive’ motorists who might have otherwise considered a Granada, there were the Carlton and the Royale.  

The transformation of the griffin badge’s image was now almost complete, with the Viva HC now serving the last of the trans-Atlantic style Vauxhalls.

Other new cars on display included Citroen’s Visa and Saab was promoting the 900 as either a Aquamarine Blue metallic five-door GLE or as an even more magnificent Acacia Green metallic three-door Turbo.

Ogle’s Triplex 10/20 Glassback estate concept car was based on a Leyland Princess 2200 and provided a further illustration of the Wedge’s potential.

And, as yet another sign that 1978 really was another world, one journalist moaned that on Press Day he found ‘gimmicks, such as scantily-clad females, ponies on the Colt stand and a Honda Civic band’.

Were you there to witness any of these entertainments…!

 

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