Let me start with an admission: I much prefer outdoor shows to indoor ones (except when it’s raining, of course), for a variety of reasons. If the weather gods are benign, seeing row upon row of classics glinting in the sun somewhere in the countryside is always a glorious sight to behold. It’s also much easier to get close to the cars, parked as they generally are in a field or park, or around a country house or race track rather than behind a roped off display stand or packed close together. And while taking photographs at outdoor shows needs care (as I have increasingly learned over the past year), taking them at indoor shows with all the artificial lighting is much more problematic. Finally, and most importantly, the majority of cars that turn up at outdoor shows have been driven there by the owners themselves, giving them a genuine enthusiasts’ feel. Nevertheless, with those caveats out of the way, it has to be said that with the apparent exception of New Year’s Day, without the indoor shows there would be a large gap in the UK classic car event calendar, leaving less entertainment for us enthusiasts and less to write about for ViaRETRO.
This year marks the fifth London Classic Show at the Excel Centre in London’s Docklands. While it’s only 100km from where I live, it’s on the “wrong” side of London and is basically a pain in the backside to get to. It’s why I’ve not attended any of the previous four shows, but following our International Editor’s revelation that he’d travelled some 300km down from Glossop to cover the show last year, I could hardly say no when he asked whether I would report on it for ViaRETRO this year. Well, I could have, but didn’t, so I set off on Friday morning to see what I’ve been missing.
While the London Classic is not on the scale of the NEC show which we reported on last November, it’s still a pretty big event. Although this year I was told that it was somewhat smaller than last year, with the whole show contained in just one vast hall; last year it was in two.
As is often the case at the bigger classic events, a number of special occasions were being celebrated. Among others, there was a special display to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine and in particular – but not only – possibly the three most famous BMC Mini’s in the world. There was also a display to mark 60 years of the Mini itself, Citroën celebrated their 100th anniversary with a fine summary of their history, and, of course, there were the Grand Avenue runway shows. This last feature sets the show apart from the NEC and most – if not all – other indoor shows, as at this one, we get to see, hear and smell some of the classics on display actually moving, albeit very slowly, which is something any car enthusiast would enjoy.
As usual, besides the cars themselves, there were numerous stands selling automobilia, as well as a number of retailers whose relationship with the classic car scene seems a little tenuous at best – garden furniture, will writing? Perhaps the presence of such stands is indicative of the increasing interest in and reach of the classic car market, so maybe it’s a good thing?
The Excel being in London, they charged me £20/€23 to park, whether for 30 minutes or 24 hours. I have to say that for the regular punter, I’m not sure the London Classic offers great value for money compared to other events, at least in terms of quantity. On top of parking (yes, the tube is an option, of course), standard entry fee is £25/€28.5 pre-booked or £30/€34 on the day – similar to what it costs to get into the much bigger NEC show, and considerably more than the £15/€17 to get into most Brooklands events (which also gets you into all the museum buildings) or the £9/€10.25 it costs to go to the Bicester Scramble.
All that being said, there was plenty of quality on display, some from high-end dealers such as Joe Macari and Vintage and Prestige Classic Cars Ltd., some as part of the Coys auction stand, and still more via owners and classic car clubs. I resolutely started my trek around the ExCel’s South Hall.
Prices seemed to be set quite high on several dealer cars…
There were a number of things that struck me as I wandered around the hall. First, there were a significant number of my beloved replicas for sale and/or on display. As usual, they were mostly “AC Cobra’s” and “Porsche 356’s” and the odd “Lancia Stratos”. At least 50 of the cars on display were fakes. I spoke to one of the people on the Autovero stand – apparently they are not allowed to sell their recreations with the genuine badges in place, but of course their customers put them on afterwards. Apparently. What is clear is that this is a growing trend, and as previously noted, not one I’m particularly fond of.
Another trend is towards electrification of classics – there were a couple of stands showing classics plugged in to charging points. Even Tesla had a stand there – I had no idea they were classics already; I must have missed the memo. Again, I’m not really comfortable with this, but as one sales person told me, “It’s the future”. How depressing…
Something else that was apparent at this show was the number of high-end classics available for sale and on general display. There was a dearth of the everyday heroes that we all like to see, though I did manage to find a few. Don’t get me wrong here – it’s a huge delight to see classic Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, Mercedes’, Rolls-Royce’s, and so on, but it’s an equal delight to see the kind of cars that used to roam our streets in numbers back in the Jurassic era but are now as rare as rocking horse excrement.
OK – so far I seem to have done little other than complain, so let’s move on to the stuff I did like – and there was plenty.
One of the first stands I passed was the Alfaholics display – just two cars, but what fabulous cars! Two Zagato-bodied beauties – a glorious kamm-tailed red Giulia TZ and a navy blue Giulietta SZ. I walked past this stand numerous times and was struck dumb every time.
There was a number of delectable Alfa Romeo’s around the show – a yellow Zagato Junior parked in close proximity to a gorgeous 1964 Fiat-Osca 1500 Spyder and a very fetching orange Triumph Spitfire 1500 that had a Sold sticker over it’s asking price of £14,995/€17,100. Apparently over £20,000/€22,800 had been spent on restoring this car, so someone got a very good deal. And I have to mention the very tidy metallic green (a colour that features regularly in this report!) Alfasud Sprint, with the number plate SUD 15V – lovely!
As usual at classic shows, there was a fair sprinkling of Aston Martin’s and perhaps the best of the bunch was a beautiful deep metallic brown (yes, I just wrote that!) DB4, which was up for auction as part of the Coys sale – estimated at £400 – 450,000/€456 – 513,000…
The BMW Car Club had a silver theme on their stand, and regardless of colour, it was certainly an improvement on their NEC effort – more classics, fewer moderns. Outstanding were a pre-war 328, an original M5, a CSL Batmobile and friend of ViaRETRO’s Tim Cook’s spotless 2002 Touring. Keep up the effort BMW Car Club – this was more like it!
While not on the BMW Club stand, but an unusual car to see at any show, I spotted two chaps busily polishing a dark blue BMW 502. This car belonged to Darren Sullivan, one of the polishers, who is also a leading light of two different car clubs, the Waterloo Classics Car Club and the 96 Club – a full-on classic enthusiast. Darren found this stately 2.6 litre, V8-engined 1961 beauty in the corner of a garage, covered in dust sheets and blankets, where it had stood for some 15 years. He paid £1,700/€1,940 for it and has spent much of the last six years restoring it, doing much of the work himself. Indeed, he’s made so much progress that he drove the car to the Excel himself!
Moving through the alphabet, Citroën had some real beauties on their stand. While we’re quite used to seeing the Traction Avant, the DS and even the SM – all of which were present, as well as a GS, a Méhari, a 2CV and the ubiquitous H-Van – an immaculate metallic dark blue and silver 1974 DS23 Safari is a somewhat more uncommon sight. A couple of cars along was its successor, a metallic brown eight-seater CX Familaile in Prestige trim. Personally, I prefer the DS, but both are superb – and rare – cars.
Another of the owners’ clubs that had put on a very tidy display was the Corvette Owners’ Club, with a good range of muscle, from a 1960 convertible through the iconic split-window Stingray coupé and the later coke-bottle C3 series. A bright yellow (of course!) L82 version stood out. I quite like these ‘Vettes, especially the split-window models, but post-C3 they leave me a bit cold.
For Ferrari lovers, there were some stunning examples of Maranello’s finest, provided mostly by dealers or Coys. Joe Macari had a black 275GTB on show (Price On Application, of course – a practice which irritates me), and our trusty American reader, yrhmblhst’s favourite, a beautiful silver 250 GT Lusso – if you can find £1.8m/$2.320m behind the sofa, John, it’s yours! But the star Ferrari for me was a gorgeous deep red example of Enzo’s first road car – a 166 Inter Superleggera, this example being just the ninth road-going Ferrari ever built. And to it’s left, a 1955 Lancia Aurelia B20 Coupé – so much fabulousness contained within a few square metres.
Mention of Lancia leads me to the Lancia Owners’ Club stand, where a row of beautiful Lancia’s was lined up. A 1955 Aurelia Spider in mint green (referred to by its owner as “the bathtub” – anyone who bought a bathroom suite in the 1970’s will know what he means!) looked fabulous, with the accompanying 1989 16V Integrale, a very pretty Flavia 2000 Coupé and not least an orange Fulvia HF, equally all reminders of Lancia’s former greatness.
Fords were nicely – and colourfully – present, courtesy of the Ford AVO and Capri Mk 1 owners’ clubs, with a two-tone green Escort RS2000 and a pair of Mark 1 Capri’s my favourites – I especially loved the juxtaposition of the basic Silver Fox Capri 1300 next to the ultimate 3100RS in Daytona Yellow.
Mercedes-Benz were well represented across the show, from Fintails through to the ultimate Q-car, a 300 SEL 6.3; from Pagoda to not one, but two awesome 300SL Roadsters, and on up to the mighty 600 “Grosser”. The metallic pale green with green hood 300SL was just magnificent, and one of my favourite cars of the day.
There were also a couple of Lamborghini Miura’s – still as dramatic as ever even today, and unlike modern Lambo’s, exceptionally beautiful to look at. I particularly loved the orange example that was part of the Italian Job display.
The Porsche Club stand had just a single car on it – but what a car! A genuine 1955 mid-blue 550 Spyder, one of just 90 built and with a competition history, that has been painstakingly restored and looked wonderful from every angle. It makes such a difference to know you’re looking at the real thing.
Over on the vast Coys auction stand was a wide variety of desirable classics to blow your savings on, from the reasonably priced to the not-so-reasonable – such as the aforementioned DB4, and an imposing Mercedes-Benz 300D “Adenauer” for a more modest £50-55,000/€57-63,000. An odd one was a 1979 Alfetta GTS, in decent but not great condition, with its original Webasto sunroof removed and sealed with a vinyl-covered panel. The estimate for this was £16-22,000/€18,250- 25,000, which seemed a little ambitious to me.
I’ll wrap things up with a few classics that stood out for me, starting with a spectacular 1939 Lagonda V12 DHC for £420,000/€479,000, resplendent in metallic blue and silver – just lovely. From the sublime to a barn find, but now almost fully restored 1974 Allegro 1750SS, which comes with every piece of paper possible, including petrol receipts! This two-owner, 53,000-mile car is one of just two left, has the controversial quartic steering wheel and a sea of brown and green velour and plastic. Did I like it? No. Yet for all the abuse heaped upon the Allegro, this car had hydragas suspension and even a 5-speed ‘box when a BMW E9 had only four…
In the Paddock area were other treasures – a gullwing door 1974 Bricklin, a Citroën Ami 8 next to a GS, a 1963 Chevrolet Corvair Monza next to a BMW 2002 Turbo, and alongside a Reliant Scimitar SE4, a car I don’t think I’ve seen in the metal before, the legendary Toyota 2000GT, one of just 351 produced. It’s hard to reconcile this dynamic sports coupé with the rest of Toyota’s range at the time. This was one of less than a handful of Japanese classics at the show.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what there was to see in the Excel’s vast South Hall, but while there was a lot to look at as I’m sure the pictures will demonstrate, I confess to some ambivalence about the London Classic Show, which strikes me as more of a giant showroom – a dealer showcase even – than an enthusiast’s show. As such, I can’t help feeling it should be less expensive to get in. Still, there’s no doubt that a half-day there is time well spent in the midst of winter.