This past weekend saw the UK’s biggest indoor classic car exhibition – the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show 2017, held at the NEC in Birmingham. It’s also the grand finale of the season, and celebrates just about every corner of our hobby – the people, the clubs, the events, and of course the cars.
With 5 big halls and a smidgen above 70,000 visitors during the three days, the Classic Motor Show might not have the sheer size of the biggest mainland European counterparts, such as Techno Classica in Germany or Rétromobile in Paris, but what it might lack in size, it more than makes up for in variety. Where Techno Classica can sometimes seem like merely the biggest assembly of classic 911’s you could possibly imagine, the Classic Motor Show instead wows you with the broadness of the displays. I would claim that regardless how well travelled you are in classic cars, you will come across something at the NEC, which you haven’t seen before! The 257 different car clubs taking part and the 650 trade stands see to that. You will no doubt find your favorite flavor somewhere among the 2,500 classic cars, and probably even get to experience a new palate or two in the process.
I spent both Saturday and Sunday at the show, and even so didn’t run out of things to admire. What impressed me the most though, were the car clubs. Big or small, and run on voluntary basis purely for the love of old cars, they managed to pull out all the stops in order to display an array of stunning vehicles – often with the added spice of an imaginatively themed stand. The laid-out theme of the show this year was “Family Ties”.
It was on the Toyota Enthusiasts Club’s stand, spanning a family tie from the diminutive sixties two-seater 800 Sports to an early eighties Hiace campervan, that I came across Pete Shergill’s stunning first generation Celica 1600GT (TA22) from ’72. Pete’s father drove a four-door Carina in the early seventies, which is where Pete’s interest in Toyota’s started. He of course got even more involved once he realized that Toyota offered a shapely coupé as well, which lead him to buy a mid-seventies Celica GT in 1990. However, difficulties in sourcing spares eventually drove him to sell the Celica again, but that memory had been nagging him ever since. Eventually he dived in again, and this time looked in the Country of the Rising Sun for the perfect example. I think it’s fair to say, that he found just that! In July 2016, he managed to buy this perfectly presented Celica 1600GT, which is early enough to have the highly desirable flat rear lights. Add to that the delicious little 2T-G twincam engine of the GT model, the rare turquoise-blue metallic paint, and the optional factory rear spoiler, and you’ve got a seriously tasty Nippon icon. Pete went through the whole import process, and the Celica is now his pride and joy – and one which he is likely to hang on to this time. I sensed we could have easily talked classic Toyota’s for the whole day, but there was more to see…
More family ties were encountered with a selection of Lotus Elite, Eclat and Excel displayed together. It was especially the extreme wedge of Richard Woollaston’s ’81 Lotus Elite S2 Automatic which really stood out for me – which probably has its roots in the rear-seat drive I got in one of these Elites back when I was about seven years old and the cars were still almost new. The Elite clearly also made an impression on Richard early on. He was a 21-year-old student when the Elite was launched in 1974, and the design immediately blew him away – he knew that he would simply have to own one. I took him a while to put that dream into action though, but eventually in 2011 he bought the Elite as a barn find in need of a full restoration. It came with documentation of its first owner being Sir John Junor, who at the time was the Editor of the Sunday Express. Junor owned the Elite for a couple of years before selling it on, and in 1990 it was taken off the road in need of attention. That’s where it stayed until Richard got hold of it and commenced on a full restoration at a Lotus specialist, which finally saw it return to the road in 2014. The aim during the restoration was to maintain a perfectly stock appearance, even managing to save the factory leather interior. The original 2.2-liter twincam was equally retained, but in the name of reliability, the rest of the drivetrain was swapped with that of a later Excel, which of course used Toyota parts. It might not be 100% original, but it’s probably a sensible approach considering Richards commitment to driving the Elite as much as possible. Earlier this year they completed a memorable roadtrip to see the Spanish GP, and a similar trip is planned for next years Austrian GP.
Roadtrips of such proportion are perhaps unlikely in the bizarre little Citroën 2CV Sahara which lured me onto the Citroën Car Club’s stand. Mind you, this tough little French tool would no doubt cope – it would just take you a little longer and there’s of course not much luxury on offer. But just how cool and utterly bonkers can a classic car possibly be? I think this Frenchman takes the prize! Being RHD this was clearly a replica of the famous Sahara which Citroën built between 1960 – 1966, but other than having the steering wheel in the wrong place, it presented perfectly authentic to the real item. It was built in the UK in 1996 to compete in the 2CV Raid Australia of the same year. To make it as strong and reliable as possible for this event, another departure from total authenticity was made to the drivetrain. Instead of the correct old 12hp engines, the later 35hp 2CV engine was used, with one fitted at either end driving its own axle, as was the case on the original Sahara. With this simple set-up, the Sahara can be driven either solely on the front engine driving the front wheels, solely on the rear engine driving the rear wheels, or on both engines simultaneously thereby making it a four-wheel-drive 2CV. The only physical link between the front and rear engine is the accelerator, the clutch and the gearchange. Quite rudimentary, but also highly effective and reliable. In fact, the Sahara was famous for being able to climb a 45 degree incline. The Sahara has belonged to Graham Morton since 2015, who merely treated it to a tune up and a bit of detailing after buying it.
And just as I thought it couldn’t get any crazier, I came across the Frisky Register and their three car display. As if the normal Frisky isn’t quirky enough in its own right, the perfectly restored Frisky Sport Monte Carlo belonging to Malcolm Dudley is just thoroughly alien! When Meadows introduced the Frisky, Malcolm’s car was one of the two prototypes which was displayed at the London Motor Show in November 1957. After its exhibition duties, it was prepared to take part in the upcoming Monte Carlo rally. The 2-cylinder 2-stroke 325cc aircooled Villiers engine was retained perfectly stock, while a few other simple modifications were added. A bull-bar on the front, a single spotlight on the front and reversing lights on the rear all seem quite sensible. But this is where the level of silliness just goes off the chart. They also wanted a larger fuel capacity, so simply fitted an extra tank on the back using bungee cords! Just imagine rocking up with a similar contraption at next years Monte Carlo… Last but not least, they also figured they would need improved traction, so they stuck two extra wheels on the rear axle, thereby making it a six-wheeler – double the number of wheels of the similarly bodied three-wheel Frisky, which was produced simultaneously. In this configuration, the Frisky competed in the 1958 Monte Carlo, and impressively even finished the rally in 23 hours without any issues. Malcolm purchased this historically important Frisky in 2010, and proceeded to spend the next four and a half years restoring it to correct rally specification. It now shares garage space with his standard four-wheeled light blue Frisky, which was also displayed on the stand. Quite deservedly, the Frisky Register won Best Small Stand of the show.
At this season grand finale there are of course plenty of awards to be handed out. Some nominated and decided upon before the show, and others more specific to the show itself. One other prize which I found very justified was the Bugatti’s Owners Club winning Best Large Stand of the NEC. Their gathering of no less than nine gorgeous Bugatti’s was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Also the combined display of the Lancia Motor Club, the Beta Boyz and the MonteCarlo Consortium was decidedly interesting, which earned them the Most Interesting Selection of Cars award. I would have quite happily taken either one of those Lancia’s with me home, but it was especially the early Beta 1600 Coupé, in a chocolatey dark brown and with the funkiest contrasting green interior one could possibly imagine, which stole my heart. Another worthy winner, and perhaps the most prestigious award of them all, was the Car of the Show going to the fantastic 1913 De Dion-Bouton Type EF Open Tourer owned by Bernard Holmes. The Type EF was the biggest De Dion, and it’s certainly very different from the small buggy-type vehicles I would normally associate with the marque. The French behemoth was even equipped with the first production V8 – a real piece of engineering art.
But my personal absolute favorite of the show – while not an easy decision to make! – would have to be the deliciously scrumptious 1961 Maserati 3500 GTI owned by Craig Jones. Even stood on the Maserati Club’s stand with stiff competition from a gorgeous Mistral Spyder and an amazingly elegant Sebring Series 2, the 3500 still managed to stand out as something so stylish that words just won’t suffice. Craig bought the Maserati four years ago as a driving and functioning car, which however needed restoration. Doing this the proper way and returning it to metallic blue over tan leather took the first two and a half years of ownership. On the same day in April 2016 that they finally returned the 3500 GTI to the road again, Craig immediately headed south on a 1000 mile tour of the Mosel region in Germany. This set the standard for Craig’s ownership of this icon of Maserati’s heritage. In 2017 a similar tour was undertaken to the Champagne region around Reims, and Craig ensures the Maser gets out for a spin once or twice every month. It may look magnificently concours, but this is no garage queen! When asked what his future plans are for the 3500 GTI, Craig’s answer is simple and spontaneous: “Keep driving!”. Good man. He then goes on to confess that he actually drives his 1935 Fiat Balilla even more. Craig also makes the point, that one has to settle into the Maserati. It’s no sports car as many might think, but much more of a grand tourer. While it doesn’t like being hassled along small twisty roads, it’s apparently the perfect machine for long sweeping A-roads, where it will sit comfortably at high speeds yet low revs all day long. Amazingly, the twin-plug straight-six even still retains its factory Lucas fuel injection, which hasn’t caused any grief yet. I struggle to imagine a better way of travelling.
As is always the case with these exhibitions, are fair amount of space was allocated the mandatory autojumble. What you can’t find here, probably isn’t worth mentioning. Everything from old badges to quality car covers. You could buy all sorts of specialist tools, and you could even chat with a company about having them build a beautiful wooden garage/workshop for all those newly acquired tools – and your classic of course. How about an artist to paint you a one-off with your chosen classic car in some quaint setting? Or specialists in various driving tours to suit both small and big wallets. The list was never ending… Just as there were specialists in a huge variety of spare parts. I found the new Mintex Classic Heritage Collection of brake pads highly charming. While they didn’t have any pads at the show to suit my classics, I was awfully tempted to a set of pads anyway – just for the perfectly retro tin box which they come in. In the end, I refrained. Instead I did treat myself to a new book for my collection, as Chater’s had “The Spa 24 Hours – A History” on sale.
As I’m driving home on the Sunday evening, I reflect on the many classics I’ve just experienced. A cool little Honda S800 Coupé springs to mind, as does a Gilbern Invader mk.II in white over red. Ha! – and then there was the psychedelic early Ford Transit camper dubbed the “Voodoo Child”. Naturally the silver Montreal pops up in my mind too and plays with my emotions. This has after all been my return-to dream classic for as long as I can remember. The perfectly restored metallic blue Simca 1204 was a pleasant surprise too. But I just can’t keep from returning to that Maserati 3500 GTI, and the thought of Craig blasting down towards London through the night – lights ablaze – while I make my way north in my ordinary daily driver. If I could swap lives with another man for just a single day…