As I reported on last year’s Classic Motor Show at the NEC, the main gist of it was that it was especially the wide variety of the exhibited classic cars which impressed me the most – more than any one car or any one stand did. Luckily, absolutely nothing had changed in that respect at this year’s show.
During the week following the exhibition, Tony took us all for a stroll down memory lane as the masses of British classics brought him back to his days of being a BL employee. As such, he briefly walked us through the history of all of those Midland-based car manufacturers of yesteryear, and not least some of his own personal experiences and memories from that time as well. If you need to catch up, you can do so with Tony’s Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of his Reflections Amoung the Glitz and Glamour of the NEC Classic Motor Show. The rest of us here at ViaRETRO were stunned to find that Tony actually has a heart, as he seemingly got rather sentimental as he spoke positively about many of those BL products which he previously has shunned.
Even so, I can’t but help but add a few of my own personal favourites from these British manufacturers which are now deceased…
But with Tony having already covered the vast majority of the British classics at the NEC – albeit with the exception of the two major players, Ford and Vauxhall and a few other minor manufacturers – it’s finally time for us to look further afield as we admire all that was on display from the furthest corners of the automotive world. May I suggest we start off with those grand Yank dinosaurs simply because they most certainly stand out the most compared to the many British products which Tony introduced us to. Even within the ranks of Americana, the variety was fascinating as it ranged from heavy hitting muscle cars like the sinister looking all-black big block Camaro and a dragracer Dodge Challenger in a deliciously lurid colour scheme to the extravagant yet ever-so-stylish 1957 Dodge Custom Royal Convertible in a very fitting pastel blue and even sporting a built-in record player for the vinyl loving owner. The utterly bonkers copy of the Ghostbusters’s 1959 Cadillac immediately brought a smile to my lips.
But it was something which perhaps at first didn’t stand out quite as violently, which really caught my attention. You could even say that the styling of the 1968 Ford Torino 2-door ‘Formal Roof” owned by Neil Sims is comparatively rather subdued. But it’s also a very well-balanced and coherent design with an elegantly penned roofline to the 2-door pillarless hardtop body. More to the point, as I was chatting with Neil, I learned that this specific Torino is a car which officially doesn’t even exist! How’s that for rarity?
The 1968 model year was to be the last for the classic 289 cu. in. V8, and with the new Torino/Fairlane being introduced that same year, its smallest engine was to be the 302 cu. in. V8. However, strikes at the factory meant that the new 302 was unavailable as those first Torinos were being produced, and the only quick-fix available to Ford was to use the 289 instead of which they had sufficient stock. As such, for a very short period of time, those very first 1968 Torinos came equipped with the 289 engine despite all the ’68 sales literature having already been printed proclaiming the 302 to be the base engine available in the new Torino. As the sales literature was never changed or rectified, strictly speaking, Neil owns a classic Yank Ford which officially isn’t meant to exist. This specific Ford Torino 289GT was originally sold to “a little old lady from Pasadena” back in 1968 and she kept it right up until she passed away in 1998. Shortly after this it was imported into the UK, where it eventually ended up in Neil’s possession around 2010. At the time he was visiting a US car specialist a little too frequently as he was purchasing spares to keep a temperamental ’78 Pontiac Trans Am on the road. This specialist had the Torino for sale, which amusingly Neil didn’t like at all the first time he saw it. But for every Pontiac part Neil picked up, the Torino slowly grew on him and eventually the Trans Am was sold to make way for this peculiar early ’68 Torino GT. Amazingly, short of a complete respray in its original colour, the Torino has never had a real restoration as it has never required any welding. Also, when Neil took the engine apart to refurbish it, the bores were found to be near perfect, so it even still retains its factory pistons. Now this oddity of a Torino leads a secluded lifestyle being used mostly for shows and the occasional sunny day cruise.
In the name of diversity, it would now seem fitting to pay a tribute to the classic East Block cars. Granted, the NEC was hardly flooded with them, but those that were present most certainly did their part in adding to the broadness of the exhibition. A line-up of rear-engined Skodas was particularly colourful and there was even a couple of Yugos across the aisle. The Barkas B1000 panelvan was a charming and welcome alternative to the apparently compulsory VW bus. Yet, it was the rather elegantly styled Wartburg 311 saloon which really made my day. I accept that this early sixties two-stroke East German saloon is hardly the most luxurious of period saloons, but it’s surprisingly stylish, deliciously quirky and as an added bonus, you would be unlikely to meet another as long as you’re travelling within Western Europe.
Continuing even further east we get to the Land of the Rising Sun. With my profound love of all things Nippon classic, I accept that I’m somewhat biased, but I must confess that I was personally a little disappointed with the lack of Japanese classics at the NEC. Luckily though, the Toyota Enthusiast Club had put on a good display as always, including the absolute legendary – not to mention, only road registered example in the UK – Toyota 2000GT. To perfectly showcase the wide variety even within the marque, they had a dinky little rear-wheel drive Toyota Starlet parked just behind the 2000GT, which looked fabulous with its very period decals down its flanks. Just around the corner, two different MR2 clubs had displays as well, easily making Toyota the best represented Japanese marque at the NEC. Still, I can’t possibly forget the ingenious little Honda S800 of which the Honda S800 Sports Car Club had both a roadster and a coupé version on their stand. Mmmmm… one day – maybe one day…? Oh, and I also spotted a delightful little Datsun 120Y Coupé in brown metallic down in the far end of the new-for-this-year Hall 8.
While I must confess that I have always preferred four wheels over two, I still allowed myself time to wander through the area reserved for The Classic Motorbike Show in one corner of Hall 5. It’ll probably never really be my thing, but a pair of very early Royal Enfields looked brilliant together, just as I must confess to having a bit of a weakness for early Nortons for that matter. But the one that really stole my heart, was a bizarre contraption which I had certainly never come across before. I frankly know very little about these early fifties motorcycles, but the Maico Mobil was apparently available with a single-cylinder two-stroke engine of either 150cc, 175cc or 200cc depending on year, and thanks to its enclosed bodywork, the German motorcycle was marketed as a “car on two wheels”. Regardless, I can assure you that I positively loved its utterly bonkers design!
Seeing as there were no Aussie-built Holdens or Fords at the NEC, we shall now return to Europe where we will start by looking towards my Scandinavian cousins in Sweden. Yes, there are only two marques to consider, but both were well represented. A V4 engined Saab 96 looked amazing in dark blue, and while I’ve always preferred the Sonett II, the small bumpered Sonett III sitting on soccerball alloys did indeed look good too. But how on earth had a Lancia Delta managed to get itself onto the stand of the Saab Owner’s Club? Well, nothing rotten in the State of Denmark this time, as it was in fact a Saab – more specifically, the ultra-rare Saab Lancia 600 GLS which was the initial result of the cooperation set up between Saab and the Fiat Group. The Saab Lancia was however only sold within Scandinavia and only about 6,500 examples were ever manufactured. Not a great success then, but it was nonetheless the initial step which lead to the joint development of the Saab 9000 and the Fiat Croma, Lancia Thema and Alfa Romeo 164 during the mid-eighties.
Several Volvos caught my eye too. Various versions of the P1800 are always a favourite, there was a golden metallic 164 largely identical to the one we recently featured as a Prime Find, and a Volvo Amazon Estate fully kitted out in Police gear looked excellent too. But the real eye-opener was the gorgeous 1936 Volvo PV36 ‘Carioca’ owned by Andrew Anderson. With its faired in headlights and very sleek and aerodynamic body these pre-war luxury Volvo’s look stunning. Andrew was brought up on Volvos, P1800’s and The Saint. As such he was bound to become a lifelong Volvo enthusiast just like his first Volvo was of course a P1800. But soon enough he found himself getting more interested in those very early Volvo’s which are largely unknown in the UK. His first venture into pre-war Volvos was a 1931 PV651, but in 2007 he was offered this PV36 from a museum in the USA and couldn’t possibly let it pass him by. The PV36 was first sold in Sweden where it remained for most of its life, where it was also painted white at some point. Eventually it was bought by an American enthusiast who shipped the Volvo across the Atlantic where it was displayed in a museum. During this time it was treated to a cosmetic restoration which included a return to its factory blue colour. Since Andrew purchased the ‘Carioca’ it’s been a slow and challenging trek to refurbish all the mechanical components which had suffered from its stationary life as a museum piece. About two years ago it was finally back on the road where it is now the only one in the UK and probably one of only about 12 surviving worldwide.
Travelling down into mainland Europe, we reach the Germans where especially Porsche was out in force to celebrate their 70thanniversary. However, I personally found the Porsche Classic display rather dull as their celebrations consisted of twenty different Porsches which had all been restored and in the process finished in ‘liquid metal’ silver paint which is a colour normally reserved for the new Porsche 918 Spyder. Quite how painting twenty classic Porsches a modern, non-original, and to my eyes rather boring colour is meant to celebrate their history and heritage is beyond me, but luckily the various Porsche club stands were much more interesting. The Porsche Club GB stand was fronted by an attention-grabbing bright red Porsche 904 GTS, while an early Slate Grey swb 911 looked great too. And over on the stand of the Porsche 924 Owner’s Club there was a breath-taking display of 4-cylinder transaxle Porsches including the rarest incarnation in the form of a 924 Carrera GTS, a 924 Carrera GT and three 924 Turbos. Especially Michael Vincent’s two-tone 924 Turbo series 2 looked particularly scrumptious with its Pascha interior to which I confessed my addiction to right here on ViaRETRO. Over amoung the dealers, Gmünd Cars equally had quite a few lovely classic Porsches on offer, several of which I would have loved to take with me home – such as another 924 Turbo this time in dark Mocha and again with Pascha interior, and not least the ’74 911 Carrera Targa in striking Magenta paintwork…
As has become the norm by now, BMW Car Club GB disappointed again with way too much focus on modern BMWs on their stand. I simply don’t understand why it’s so difficult for them to comprehend that these are classic car shows. Still, while hidden away at the very back of their display, a decidedly unmolested E21 323i looked great parked next to a BMW 2002 Turbo, just like a very clean E36 M3 coupé reminded me of Dave’s advice toward my next daily driver. The Mercedes-Benz Club stand was arguably much more interesting as it included several truly classic examples from the Stuttgart firms past. And elsewhere in the six halls of the NEC there were excellent German classics from Opel, VW and Audi, just as a few dealers saved the day by having a few interesting BMWs for sale.
There were also now defunct and thereby lesser known German marques present such as Borgward and DKW/Auto Union, the last of which of course evolved into Audi. The DKW Schnellaster looked brilliant, but then so did Fredrik Folkestad’s 1959 Auto Union 1000SP – essentially a German miniature of the original Ford Thunderbird. Fredrik is Norwegian and as any good Scandinavian, he has a certain weakness for two-stroke Saabs of which he owns several. But this passion grew into simply loving anything two-stroked which of course led him to DKWs and Auto Unions.
While Fredrik has lived in the UK since 1993, he discovered his 1000SP series 1 just outside Stockholm about ten years ago. He purchased the car in January and then returned with better weather in March to drive it down to Malmö in the south of Sweden, into Denmark and across to Esbjerg on the west coast and then grab a ferry across to Harwich in the UK. To say that things didn’t go entirely according to plan would be a bit of an understatement! They broke down the first time after driving only two kilometres. They managed to get going again, but after only one and a half hours driving the 3-cylinder two-stroke engine blew up – thoroughly. A Swedish DKW enthusiast saved them and managed to get both them and the stranded 1000SP down to his home in Malmö where they were offered a bed. However, Fredrik had already booked the ferry ticket to the UK, so the very next morning he quickly bought another DKW off his new Swedish friend who had just saved them, and then proceeded in this on his way home. Later, the 1000SP was transported to Fredrik’s home in the UK where he managed to source a correct 1.0-litre engine for it, and thankfully it has since then paid him back with plenty of smiles and good times.
Progressing through the vast halls of the NEC, there was naturally also the mandatory area dedicated to a huge autojumble. This ranged from your charming old-fashioned autojumble stalls selling secondhand bits and bobs such as wooden steering wheels in need of a refurb and random automobilia, to proper trade stalls selling new specialised reproduction parts for your classic of choice. New custom wiring looms, repro body panels, brake lines shaped to fit, period-correct tyres, the softest of indoor car covers or how about a new pair of driving gloves? – it was all on offer and much, much more… As I continued to steer clear of the single brand displays, there was of course also the Lancaster Insurance ‘Pride of Ownership’ display which varied from a Datsun 510 Bluebird to a stunning Maserati 3500GT and not least the most meticulously restored TVR 3000M I have ever laid eyes on. While that was a people’s choice, there was also a proper concours held at the Meguiars Showcase. Needless to say, every car here was presented immaculately, but my personal favourite had to be the perfect Wedgewood Blue Triumph TR5 PI.
Returning to the club stands and a review of the variety from all around the world, the French did well with some wonderfully quirky and stylish cars from their grand automotive history. Renault and Alpine were very well represented, as was both Citroën and Peugeot. A sharp three-box designed Peugeot 505 reminded me of my ex-505 GTi, only this example was both in better condition and even the range-topping V6 version – just lovely. The Matra stand looked excellent too, but unsurprisingly it was the Bugatti Owner’s Club which really took the prize with some astonishing automobiles. In fact, they did quite literally take the prize, as an ivory over black 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Vanvooren cabriolet was awarded the Car of the Show by Classic & Sports Car magazine.
At this point – despite Tony’s excellent trilogy – we simply must return to the shores of Britian. After all, we can hardly report from the UK’s biggest indoor classic car exhibition without including at least a few pictures of those local marques which didn’t fall into the Midland area which Tony reported on. There’s of course the two main players, Ford and Vauxhall, of which there were naturally a myriad of beautifully presented examples. And then there were the more rare and exquisite such as one of my own all-time favourites, Gordon Keeble, and not least Aston Martin where especially a race spec. DB2 driven by a long list of famous drivers was exceptionally notable. Also, let’s not forget Lotus, TVR, Peerless, AC, Gilbern, Marcos, and the slightly insane Piper. Our own Chief Editor, Claus Ebberfeld, will no doubt be rather excited to see pictures of the two AC 3000 ME’s, while I personally spent more time admiring the beautifully patinated AC Greyhound. Of course, another big anniversary was being celebrated on the Ginetta stand as they hit 60 years, which Dave has told us all about here earlier this year. Appropriately, the earliest surviving Ginetta – the G2 – was on display, but for me it was the Ginetta G11 which truly intrigued as it had been upgraded to run a V8 engined G10 drivetrain. Such a beast! Needless to say, I also spent quite some time on the Rochdale Owner’s Club stand talking to various fellow enthusiasts in an attempt to gain more knowledge and useful tips for the current restoration of my own Rochdale Olympic Phase 1. While I feel the Olympic is the most handsome of Rochdales, I must admit that the white predecessor Rochdale GT looked decidedly smart after a very meticulous restoration by its owner.
Last but not least, we can’t forget the land of true passion – Italy! Just like last year, the Lancia Motor Club, the Lancia Beta Forum and the Lancia Gamma Consortium had come together to create a beautifully varied stand spanning a wide variety of Lancia’s. The stylish little Lancia Appia Coupé was just lovely, but for me – even if only for the colour combination – not much could possibly compete with the early Lancia Beta Coupé beaming in bright pastel blue with a sharply contrasting deep velour interior in burnt orange. In your face! The Fiats on display weren’t quite as impressive, but a little hotrod of an 850 Sport Coupé looked quite sassy. Ferrari were also celebrating their own anniversary with 50 years of the Dino. I was pleased to see that it wasn’t only the iconic 246 on display, as they had let the chiselled Bertone-designed 308 GT4 in on the stand too – and rightly so. Just a couple of aisles away, a row of De Tomaso Panteras were doing their best to look all Italian and sexy despite their American V8’s. Whether viewed as a proper thoroughbred or not, their stand sure looked a lot better than did the Lamborghini stand where it was another case of way too much modern machinery – only an Espada and the alien LM002 represented their proud heritage. They only had to look at the Maserati Club UK to see how it’s meant to be done. For me, this was possibly the best stand of the whole NEC Classic Motor Show! Not a single modern car in sight – just six perfectly presented exotica in the shape of a Mexico, Ghibli, Indy, Khamsin, Merak, and amusingly the Maserati-engined Citroën SM. Either one was drool-worthy in their own right, while I lack the words to describe the effect of all six cars together. Yet even after the sensory overload from the Maserati’s, their cheaper cousins over on the Alfa Romeo stand were still pretty convincing. The Alfasud was great as was the 2000 Berlina, but it was the sole pre-war Alfa Romeo in the shape of the black 6C 1500 Drophead by James Young from 1929 which really fascinated me.
Saying all that, despite the lovely pre-war machinery at the NEC, the wedge-shaped exotica, the bizarre British specials, the perfectly engineered Germans, the American muscle and much, much more, I believe the car which I in the real world wanted the most to drive home that Sunday afternoon was Jeremy Cowper’s dazzling 1964 Alfa Romeo 2600 Spider. While I’ve always admired the big 2600 both as saloon, coupé and spider, it was the Giallo Paglierino bodywork which undeniably made this example the best I’ve ever come across. Despite being called ‘Giallo’, it’s not really yellow. It’s too pale for that. Yet it’s also not just cream coloured, as there appears to be a smidgen of pistachio in there too. Regardless what you want to call the colour, it simply looks astonishing! Add to it the contrasting red leather interior and perfection has indeed been achieved.
Jeremy has always been a diehard Alfista owning multiple classic Alfa Romeos. Currently there a six of them in his garage, but he was drawn to the sheer presence of the Touring bodied 2600 Spider. It was a long search, but eventually he bought this car in 1994 as a bare bodyshell with the rest of the car in boxes. The full restoration proved challenging but eventually, eight years later, Jeremy’s dream Spider was finally ready. Of course, then it proceeded to self-destruct its engine, so it was off the road for another few years. Since 2005 though, the grand 2600 Spider has behaved, offering Jeremy true GT capabilities with style and elegance to boot. Between exercising his other Alfa Romeo’s as well, he adds approximately 1,000 miles to the 2600 Spider every year, and he has driven it to France once as well. Oh, if only it were me! I’m not sure I could have stopped in France, as it beckoned me to continue towards the Italian autostrada and maybe even as far as the dusty backroads of Sicily. One can dream…
The NEC Classic Motor Show may not have the size of the biggest exhibitions in mainland Europe like Techno Classica and Salon RétroMobile. But you know what they say: Size isn’t everything! I’ve said it before, and I’m happy to repeat myself in order to hammer home the point. It’s the excellent variety which makes UK’s Classic Motor Show stand out. If my babbling on and on about this has put you half to sleep by now, then I do apologise. I can only suggest you then attend the exhibition’s 35th anniversary in person next year, as I’m positive that’ll keep you wide awake. The dates are now official: 8th – 10th November 2019. See you there…