The number of indoor exhibitions that us classic car enthusiasts are spoilt with during the winter months, has frankly exploded during this decade. That’s purely a good thing of course! But how do the organisers of any given event still manage to stand out, appeal to us, and draw in the crowds, when there are so many shows on offer?
This weekend was host to the London Classic Car Show at the ExCel center for the fourth year running. As such, it’s still a fairly young show, but it has grown rapidly and already seems very well established in the classic car scene. They’ve also teamed up with Historic Motorsport International, thereby effectively giving the visitors two shows in one, with approximately 700 classic cars on display and one end of the exhibition hall bearing a profound motorsport ambience. ViaRETRO were obviously there and shared a few teaser pictures with you Saturday morning: Teasers From the 2018 London Classic Car Show
Needless to say, they can only tell a fraction of the story. It seems to have become mandatory for many of these exhibitions to have a theme of sorts, and this year the London Classic Car Show had chosen Getaway Cars. Perhaps not the biggest of topics, but an interesting one nonetheless. At the forefront of this Police taped display was an Audi Quattro, which tied in well with actor and petrolhead Philip Glenister from the series Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes, curating the selection of cars used either for famous getaways in real life or on screen. A Mini Cooper fully kitted out for the Italian Job was a given, as was of course a Jaguar MK 2 – the quintessential bank-robbers car! The actual Lotus Cortina used by one of the gang-members in the Great Train Robbery back in 1963 was on display too, along with a selection of youngtimers as well – just think of the epic car-chases in Ronin.
Moving on through the vast South Hall of the ExCel, all of the big and significant classic car dealers had put up mouth-watering displays, hoping of course to sell some of these beauties or at the very least boost their company name and image in this competitive market. Unsurprisingly, there was the usual array of Big Healey’s, Pagoda’s, E-types, early 911’s and DB4’s. We’ve all seen them before, but that’s market powers at play, and I will at least say that the standard and quality of the chosen cars was generally very high. It also seemed that many had at least tried to make these more obvious choices stand out a bit, by presenting cars in unusual colours or with significant history. Granted, a DB6 is unlikely to ever be quite as striking as it is in Bahama yellow – and I thoroughly loved it…
I case you’re into two-wheeled classics as well, I found these two separate displays, from The Land of the Rising Sun and Bavaria respectively, quite amusing.
But luckily there were also some real oddities and rarities ready to surprise all the showgoers. The 1960 Le Mans class-winning MGA Twincam with its unique coupé bodywork was one such car – one of motorsports great underdog tales. I must also confess that I was also deeply fascinated by the sheer beauty of the Pininfarina designed 1954 Jaguar XK120 SE. I had of course seen and read about the car previously in magazines and on the internet, but that had by no means prepared me for just how elegant this grandest of grand coupés is in the flesh. Hyperbole won’t suffice, so make the most of the pictures and hope that you one day too will see this one-off in real life.
And how often do you experience a Ferrari 250 GTO parked next to a Porsche 906 Carrera 6? The tifosi will no doubt be outraged when I admit that it was the lithe Porsche which stole my heart – so much so that I almost think it was the car of the show for me! The compact 906 means business, and I too was surprised that it almost managed to make the 250 GTO look unnecessarily bulky and bulbous. Still, both are obviously legends in their own right!
Proceeding into the Car Club Square and the cars displayed were generally a bit closer to earth and the realms of ordinary enthusiasts. Several clubs had put up excellent and highly diverse displays of all that their chosen brand could span. A great selection of SD1’s with the Rover SD1 Club immediately had me revisiting the idea of using a Vitesse as a daily. Wise? Maybe not. Fun? Yes, I’m quite sure it would be. Seeing one of only 329 produced Triumph Italia on the Triumph TR Register’s stand was equally pleasing. Michelotti’s elegantly designed coupé body placed on a TR3 chassis was a great indicator of the many good things to come out of that Anglo/Italian conjunction.
A remarkable Chevrolet Corvette C2 ‘427’ with the Classic Corvette Club had me dreaming of big V8’s while chatting with the owner, and the very early C3, equally Big Block equipped, resting next to it certainly wasn’t too shabby either. While I’m not normally much of a Bristol-man, the four-car drophead coupé display of the Bristol Owner’s Club spanning from the early fifties to the late seventies was strangely alluring. Especially the very aeronautically-inspired 405 was a favourite of mine. Then the BMW Car Club launched me right back into la-la-land of the truly unobtainable with the painstakingly beautiful BMW 507 complete with factory hardtop and Rudge knock-off wheels – another obvious contender for my personal best car of the show.
Then every so often, rude and abrupt revving of engines would snap you out of your dream world and straight into an even better one, as another group of classics would take to the Grand Avenue to strut their stuff on the catwalk down the centre of the oblong hall. The Grand Avenue had a theme of its own – namely ‘Specials’. Sixty carefully chosen specials from both street and competition and spanning practically the full lifespan of the automobile, were lined up separately in the paddock and let onto the Grand Avenue in groups three times every day. Every one of them was worthy of mention, but personal favourites started with an astonishingly rare 1923 Alfa Romeo RL Targa Florio, and sticking with pre-war racers the 1936 Delahaye 135S Course was utterly fabulous too. Rallying was well represented with everything from an exact replica of the bizarre “Twini” – a twin-engined Cooper S with each engine driving its own axle to achieve four-wheel drive – over the brilliant Stratos to a brace of bonkers Group B legends.
For the Formula One fans, there was everything from late-fifties F1 legends from the likes of both Ferrari and Aston Martin, to a Lotus Judd from the late-eighties and a nineties Benetton emitting a vicious soundtrack. Personally though, I found the utterly ridiculous (and MASSIVE!) Lamborghini LM002 charging down the quarter-mile Grand Avenue much more amusing. The ever-so-iconic 1971 Nissan Skyline 2000 GT-R – known as the Hakosuka – really tickled my love of Nippon classics, while both the gorgeous 1960 Porsche 356B Carrera Abarth GTL, and not least the brutally amazing ‘Jota’ build of a 1969 Lamborghini Miura S easily qualified as serious contenders for my favourite of show. Any stock Miura is a pretty amazing sports car, but the Jota truly takes it to another level.
But perhaps the whole essence of the Grand Avenue isn’t really about which cars have been chosen, but more about the basic concept in itself. This is frankly the most defining attribute of the London Classic Car Show, and the one that genuinely makes it stand out when compared to the many other well-established and bigger classic car exhibitions around Europe. Any classic car – regardless whether it’s an elegant one, a charming one or a plain brutal one – will look even better when in motion. That’s a fact! And it doesn’t even stop there, as there’s also the soundtrack of each individual machine, not to mention the smells. Some cruised elegantly and effortlessly down the Avenue, while others flexed their muscles with tacho needles bouncing off the rev limiter and wheels spinning. This is real. It’s what all cars are about: driving. And therein lies probably the one mutual downfall of every single static car exhibition. The London Classic Car Show has somehow managed – in the midst of modern day health and safety gone mad – to overcome that, and for that we should all be thankful.
Next year’s dates for the London Classic Car Show are confirmed to be from the 14th – 17th February 2019.