Thursday November 15, 2018
My first impression of the 2018 Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show was merely this – any Austin Maxi will now turn heads, but a Maxi with a fawn vinyl roof and a Webasto is not so much eye-catching as utterly decadent. 40 years ago, to own such a car meant that you were a cut above the rest of suburbia – the sort of person who might have a ceramic hob in their fitted kitchen. And at the weekend of the 9th - 11th November, this utterly wonderful example of 1970s life graced the NEC together with the 1969 Maxi 1500 owned by Stephen and Susan Rose that recently starred in a Lancaster profile.
From reading the above, you might have the impression that my visit to the show was akin to bathing in nostalgia – and you would be absolutely right. That Morris 2200 “Landcrab” with its splendid Avocado paint finish that was just right for a progressive-minded bank manager, the Hillman Super Minx with its smart “six-window” coachwork that looked as though it belonged in the background of a 1960s B-film as did the Vauxhall Viva HA De Luxe.
Moving towards more recent times, Michael “Trigger” Carpenter’s Morris Marina 1.3 De Luxe Series 2 Estate looked good enough to feature in a 1977 BL brochure and a third-generation Allegro with those quad headlamps instantly took me back to a time when Madness and Adam and The Ants dominated the hit parade as did a W-registered Austin Mini Metro.
The array of light commercial also possessed the power to induce flashbacks - when did anyone last see a BMC J4 on the road? Sometimes, it was the small details on an exhibit that prompted memories – the side-opening bonnets on the Skoda Estelle or the flat windscreen of the Fiat Panda.
From my teenage years there were Maestros and Montegos aplenty, the Citroën BX, an immaculate Talbot Horizon that surely entered our dimension via a time warp and a Triumph Acclaim, the model that was so crucial to British Leyland in the early 1980s.
The early Renault Espace reminded so many show goers just why it was such a ground-breaking design in its heyday, and an X-registered 5 Gordini looked poised to speed down the nearest autoroute even when safely parked within the NEC. As a devotee of Japanese classics, I must say that the Toyota Crown 2600 Estate was a stellar machine
Then there were countless opportunities to re-acquaint oneself with so many of my favourite designs. I am, regarding taste in popular culture, a throwback to the era of Brylcreem and Tommy Steele records so it was inevitable that the display of Metropolitans would catch my eye. The Convertible version especially appeals while the A40 “Farina” was slightly more practical but not less relevant to Austin during the 1950s.
I’d also forgotten how the early models had counterbalanced instead of winding windows in the front doors just as I instantly craved that duotone Vauxhall Cresta PA. As for the Standard Atlas, it must be one of the most charming camper vans in automotive history and the Singer Gazelle truly belonged in an early 1960s Rank comedy starring Leslie Philips.
Another of the many, many reasons for enjoying the show was a chance to encounter cars that are now less seldom glimpsed than hen’s teeth or an edition of Emmerdale that is actually watchable. The Lancia Beta Berlina Series 3 was suavity on four wheels; the black Volvo 262C was less imposing than downright menacing and the Datsun 120Y Sunny Coupe had a verve that was all its own.
Nor had I seen an Audi 80 B1 for literally decades. The Crayford Ford Capri Mk. I Convertibles looked, dare I say it, far more aesthetically appealing than a Mustang of the same vintage, and the Lancia Gamma Berlina appears downright elegant when encountered in the metal.
And then there was the exotica – the cars to make one vicariously dream of living the lifestyle of a tycoon. In Britain of the 1960s a Fiat 2300S Coupe which, would have cost more than a Jaguar E-Type, or – from my part of the world – the Gordon-Keeble, which remains one the most elegant Grand Tourers of its generation. An Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider exuded la Dolce Vita and a Mercedes-Benz 300SL “Gullwing” graced the stand of Classic & Sports Car. No matter how many times you have read about this genuinely “iconic” design or seen photographs, the actual vehicle still has the power to induce a sense of awe.
A similar feeling occurred when gazing at the 1973 911 RSR on the Lancaster Insurance Stand, although even this Porsche amongst Porsches was not quite enough to distract me from the game of Play Your Cars Right, I did not hear the catchphrases ‘What a lovely audience! You're so much better than last week’ or "What do points make? Prizes!” but the host’s jacket (and Sir Bruce-style moustache) was pure London Weekend Television 1983.
Two final points. Firstly, it is virtually impossible to cover the 3,000 exhibits in just a few words and my own Top Ten and tributes to the Pride of Ownership will feature in a separate blog tomorrow. What was so apparent is that the dedication, enthusiasms and attention to detail of every member of the clubs who made the Show so unmissable are the foundations on which the classic movement is built to last.
Secondly, the NEC featured many cars and vans from overseas that were rarely seen in the UK even when they were new; the DKW Schnellaster, the Mercedes-Benz 190 “Ponton” – or the Talbot-Matra Murena. My father owns an example of the last-named, and so he made his first ever visit to the Classic Motor Show in order to visit the stand of the Matra Enthusiasts' Club UK.
I hoped he might also acquire a Rancho, as I believe one of these pioneering soft-roaders will enhance any driveway, but Roberts Snr. was not to be deflected from his iron purpose of restoring his three-seater coupe. We’ll keep you posted…