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The intriguing Festival of the Unexceptional is so much more than merely the Concours de l’Ordinaire. Sure, those are the lead roles – the stars! But there are some truly fantastic characters in the supporting roles too.

While Dave has already reported in great depth on the general concept of Hagerty’s brilliant Festival of the Unexceptional, and in particular on the starladen concours at their fifth running of this event, I can assure all of our readers that all three ViaRETRO attendees – Dave, Claus and myself – were equally impressed with vast turnout of yesterday’s heroes in the field behind the concours. These may only have been supporting roles, but there was real talent to be found in the classic car park…

Dave of course already touched on the subject, but it’s the weirdest thing how cars produced in the millions, all of which were merely used as tools in order to get from A to B, are now so much rarer than expensive, luxurious and sporting automobiles from the same period. When did you last see a Simca 1204 or a Fiat 128 estate? It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Well I saw one of each just last Saturday, both in immaculate condition, and both casually parked up on the lawn in front of Stowe House.

I could go on and on listing models long since forgotten. Forgotten despite the fact that we all have some sort of relation to them. Simply because these were the everyday heroes of yesterday. The hard working, ordinary saloons, hatchbacks and estates which we took for granted. And now they’re all but gone…

There were of course some that stood out more than others. But as this isn’t a game of horsepower, low-production numbers or market value, it all becomes quite a sentimental thing choosing your personal favorites. It’s all based on our memories and experiences back when these cars were new. The one your uncle drove? Or the one your family virtually lived in on holidays to the south year after year? Or maybe your own very first car?

Highlights for me were a Talbot Samba parked up next to a very early, pale yellow Austin Metro. The pair just looked brilliant together. The same could be said about the three red 80’s Mazda’s, where especially the tiny 121 sporting cool JDM alloys looked particularly good. And the Unexceptional was a perfect opportunity for me to bask in all the glory of my JDM obsession. I realize that many classic car enthusiasts would immediately turn their nose up at the late 70’s Nissan Cherry estate, but I was drawn in by its metallic blue paintwork and its perfect blandness. So much so that I seriously considered it as the car I most wanted to take with me home.

But then Claus’ Volvo-induced childhood got the better of him and I was violently dragged over to a beautifully unmolested mid-80’s Volvo 240 GLT in silver with plenty of black plastic, a chin-spoiler and factory 5-spoke alloys. Granted, it did look amazing in all its square-cut splendor. But I was interrupted again – this time by Dave who was rather excited about a Cavalier of all things. Amidst all of Dave’s blabbering I caught on to something about the SRi being relatively common, while this, the earlier carbureted SR, was ultra-rare! The light green metallic looked fab, as did the rubber boot-spoiler, the glass pop-up sunroof, and not least the oh-so-eighties Hella-injected grill. Yup, this was a Cavalier which I would be immensely proud to own…

An early Citroën Visa proudly displayed a significant amount of patina, and an early 80’s Hyundai Stellar looked utterly original – except for the huge lump of Rover V8 hiding under its bonnet! Oh, and when did you last see a Matra Rancho? But then it was as if the world stopped turning as I stood mesmerized in front of a beautifully presented Nissan Prairie 1.8SGL in red over a two-tone brown interior – complete with a brown plastic dashboard and even a brown plastic steering wheel. Honestly, you would perhaps struggle to find a car any less remarkable. But it perfectly sums up a bygone era, and it immediately filled me with memories, nostalgia and emotions. The rare and period correct Dunlop JDM alloys really tickled my fancy, but it was the utterly bonkers door arrangement which really blew my mind. With the front doors open and the sliding rear doors ditto, the great big gaping hole left in the side of the car was just insane. With the doors open either side of the car, one could marvel over the strengthening which must be present to prevent the car from collapsing in the middle. This was it – my personal Unexceptional choice of the day.

As Dave already made clear in his report from the concours, Hagerty’s Festival of the Unexceptional is a truly fascinating event. It’s very much at odds with what most classic car meets and shows attempt to achieve – and it’s all the better for it! There’s only one downside – since returning home from Stowe House, I’ve had a severe hankering for something unexceptional of my own. I found an early Honda Accord which tempted me. Then I came across a Fiat Regata. Wow! Now that’s unexceptional. Sadly, the example I found was ruled out by needing a whole lot of tlc. It’s not so much that it would be financial suicide, but more that I simply don’t have the time nor the space for any more projects right now. But if I could only find a clean unmolested example, then my ride to next year’s Festival would be secure…


8 Responses

  1. Tony Wawryk

    Hard to argue that there are some spectacularly unexceptional cars shown here, some of which I remember fondly, others, not so much…
    However, I am going to be a bit picky, and suggest that there is no world in which a Lancia Montecarlo or a Saab Sonnet are unexceptional, and these imposters should be named and shamed ;)

  2. Claus Ebberfeld

    I agree, @tony-wawryk , but one must remember that these were basically the chosen transportation to the show, not contenders as such. Although it is fairly obvious that most of the spectators were absolutely into the concept of the “Unexceptional” there were a few exceptions. I’d say the rather nice Ferrari 308 seemed like something from another planet!

    I heard other visitors discuss the matter and whether there should be limitations with regard to the visiting cars, but overall I think the turnout was reasonable on target. And personally I was glad I could park the RX-7 Elford Turbo on the lawn along the others!

    The whole festival-atmosphere-thing did make me consider to go next year in something truly unexceptional, though.

    By the way I agree with the author, Anders: That Nissan Prairie was absolutely fantastic. In fact, had there been a manufactorers championship like in Formula One, Datsun/Nissan would clearly have taken it.

  3. Anders Bilidt

    @tony-wawryk, needless to say, you are perfectly right that neither the Montecarlo nor the Sonett are particularly unexceptional. And truth be told, there were others such as the Ferrari 308 which Claus has mentioned, a beautiful M-B W108 coupé and I spotted a sole mid-80’s Porsche 911 Targa as well. These were however the exceptions, and in a sea of stock steel wheels and cheap dashboard plastics, they honestly didn’t distract too much.

    @claus-ebberfeld, you are right that Datsun/Nissan had a huge and rather impressive presence. The Prairie was simply amazing. But the Cherry GTi – incedently owned by the same Datsun enthusiast as the Prairie! – was just mega too. The green metallic Sunny which had won previously was lovely. The Bluebird which took second place this year was amazing – I loved it’s blue plastic dashboard and the blue steering wheel! Then there was the late-70’s Cherry estate, and not least that cool first-year-of-production Micra in pale yellow. Hmmm… I think I need a Datsun of some sort in my life… ;-)

  4. Robert Buckby

    Thanks Claus for the mention of Annie our Datsun/Nissan crossover 1984 1 litre Anniversary K10 Micra, (what of exactly I’m not sure, must check!). We love her and her sister Mitzi the 1994 Micra K11 based Mitsuoka Viewt which was at home that day. Really positive articles, and a nice vibe to the site, Bob and Jane Buckby

  5. Anders Bilidt

    @robert-buckby, I must confess to spending a fair while admiring your lovely little Micra. Being such an early car, the condition, and not least that brilliant colour really made Annie stand out…

  6. Paul Hill

    I believe my newly purchased, 18 year old, Honda Prelude 2 litre (Non VTEC) version would have fitted in quite nicely there. A Japanese itch I’ve had for a while, well and truly taken care of. I was tempted by a friends glorious Datsun 180B estate but at four times the money I paid for the full device history 56,000 miles car it was to much
    ‘another Classic’ rather than the much needed older car I can use everyday. The fact that it has working AC has been a godsend over the last couple of hot months. I have
    driven nearly a 1,000 miles in it already after the obligatory, service, cam belt, tensioner and water pump change. It already had this done according to the service book only 10,000 miles ago but seeing that was ten years ago better to be safe than sorry. What about spares I hear you cry..well, my local scrap yard has four Preludes sitting there for the picking. I might grab an exhaust as a spare and maybe a second set of alloys. The car gets plenty of admiring glances and I had my first thumbs up the other day. I have yet to see another on the road though. Time will tell if it’s a keeper as we are still in the honeymoon period but at the moment it’s making me smile.

  7. Anders Bilidt

    @paul-hill, sounds like a perfect contender for a future Festival of the Unexceptional.
    Glad your enjoying your new Prelude – the last generation of a long and proud family of sporting Honda coupés. Looking forward to seeing it in the flesh…


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