Regular ViaRETRO readers will already know that when it comes to technical, engineering or mechanical knowledge and expertise, I just about know which end of a screwdriver to use, though not necessarily how to use it. As such, I prefer to pay people who know what they’re doing to do whatever work is required on die Zitrone. Indeed, it is currently in the hands of the professionals at Templar and Wilde for its pre-season fettling. Of course, this lack of DIY talent means that what I have invested in the car is more than I can probably expect back if and when I come to sell it, though when did common sense ever apply to owning a classic?
I do, however, have great admiration and respect for those owners who can turn their hand to maintaining their treasured classic (or perhaps that should say “enthusiast’s car” following the revelations in Claus Ebberfeld’s recent article on the subject?) themselves. Such owners in the UK have long been well-catered for in print via Practical Classics magazine (founded in 1980 and the headline sponsor of this event), and for the past six years they have also had their own show, the “Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration Show, with Discovery” (the TV network – not the Land Rover), to give it it’s full title, or since I don’t get paid by the word, the PCCCRSD as I shall refer to it henceforth.
Anyway, despite my ignorance of things practical when it comes to classic cars, I was sure there would be more than enough of interest for me and ViaRETRO readers at the PCCCRSD and having set off at 6:45 am (so you don’t have to), I arrived at the NEC in good time for the opening day of the show on last Friday.
Like the NEC Classic and the London Classic Car shows, this is another big indoor event, spread across three of the NEC’s halls. In size it sits between the two, and in common with both – and indeed most other shows – is a combination of dealer and club stands, an auction, and lots of classic-related (and unrelated) memorabilia and retail stands.
So what sets the PCCCRSD apart from the NEC and London Classic shows (besides its very long name)? Well, a number of things, actually. For one, the single biggest difference is evident in the name – this is a show that is as much about maintaining and restoring – practically owning – a classic as it is about looking at and driving them. On many of the stands, this focus extends to practical demonstrations of works in progress, often being carried out by the owner of the car on display. It’s also less obviously glamorous, with an emphasis more on the ordinary than the extraordinary, the unexceptional rather than the exceptional. Club stands, consisting of cars owned and driven by enthusiasts, are a major part of this show, with dealer stands much less so; something of which I approve. This year over 170 clubs were present, with the vast majority representing the bread-and-butter end of the classic world rather than the champagne and truffles sector, and it was none-the-worse for that.
Enough pre-amble – time to take a look around, and thanks to being a member of the Fourth Estate, it was possible to wander around the halls for the first hour uninterrupted by members of the public photo-bombing my attempts to get a decent angle of a tail light without reflective interference from the lighting, not that this necessarily improved my photographs.
Following our recent Prime Find piece on the Bitter SC I thought I’d start at the auction display. Run by CCA, there were as many cars under £25,000 / €29,250 as above that figure, with one of the most expensive cars on sale – based on estimate – a beautiful metallic burgundy 1969 Fiat Dino Coupé 2.4 which sold for £62,160 / €72,700; I just love these elegant Bertone-designed, Ferrari-engined coupés.
I had a good look at the Bitter – it’s not often we get to examine the actual cars featured in our Prime Find series – and I have to say that the auctioneer photographs and description did not lie; this really is a super car and in terms of value for money, a relative bargain, especially as it sold for a mere £11,322/€13,243. There were also a couple of tasty Japanese classics to tempt some of the ViaRETRO team to raise their bidder’s paddles; a pair of first-generation Toyota Celica’s – one a 1973 GTV, the other a 1975 GT, both 1.6-litre twincams, both with low mileages and very presentable but some way from perfect, for £14-18,000 / €16,375-21,050, although neither of them sold.
Barn finds have almost become a cliché in the classic car world – every month we read of a Ferrari or Jaguar that has somehow remained hidden from view for 40 years before being discovered covered in dust and grime in a lock-up or, literally, a barn on a farm somewhere remote. I often think these cars cannot possibly have vanished from the face of the earth for so many years and to be completely forgotten about, but it seems this does indeed happen, and there were 20 examples of such finds at the show, the most interesting – to me at least – being a 1973 BMW 3.0 CSL in silver, found in a barn 14 years ago. This forgotten CSL had been “lost” for many years prior to 2005 (how?) and was in a fairly sorry state. Unfortunately, the current owner, having rescued the car all those years ago, has been too busy restoring customer cars to get around to reviving this ultimate E9. I confess I’m slightly baffled by this, especially when you look at current CSL values…
Two other barn finds which caught my eye were a 1973 NSU Ro80 that has been off the road since 1982, and a 1971 Opel Rekord C (yes, I know these are all German cars, I can’t help it). The NSU is going to take a lot of work, not least unsticking its seized Wankel rotary engine, but what a car!
With restoration being one of the key themes of the show, I thought I’d take a look at some of the restorers and their cars, in particular, the six cars shortlisted for the award of Restorer of the Year. These restorers are all amateurs, bringing their classics back to life themselves in their own garages and gardens, and in one case, actually reconfiguring his car from a saloon to a coupé.
The Rover 75 is not a car known for stirring the senses – staid, ultra-conservative and except in MG ZT form, generally unexciting, so perfect for it’s target market. Gerry Lloyd – a builder by trade and long-standing fan of the 75 – had already built two very unusual 75’s. The first was a cut-and-shut of the front halves of two separate cars, and the second, a pick-up. Neither of these strikes me as desirable, but the car he was nominated for is a different kettle of fish altogether, with its genesis in another “might/could have been” from a BL company – a 75 Coupé. Although Rover made a prototype of the Coupé, the company shut down before it could be produced. Gerry had seen this car and decided to make a 75 Coupé of his own, and the result is really quite special, as the photos hopefully show. The “Hofmeister kink” in the rear windows will give you a clue as to where he sourced some of the parts! The car apparently goes as well as it looks, and you can read the full story of this unusual project here: https://www.necrestorationshow.com/sites/default/files/clarion_www_necrestorationshow_com/pdfs/big_resto_rovermaker_rg_lowres_pdf-_spring_issue.pdf.
Time to take a stroll around the club stands, and here there was much to savour. As one might expect, with this being a UK show, British manufacturers were in the majority, and the Midlands region I wrote about after the NEC Classic Motor Show in November was very well represented, with a wide variety of cars from BL and Rootes – the latter under the umbrella of the Rootes Archive Centre Trust, an admirable project to collect as much data and information in one place about the Rootes Group as possible. Obviously, of the major manufacturers, both Ford and Vauxhall were equally present in numbers, with the Ford Capri (“The car you always promised yourself”) marking 50 years since its launch in 1969. The Austin Maxi was also celebrating its 50th anniversary and there was a colourful and healthy number of these ‘70s hatchbacks on display.
Indeed, our “Everyday Heroes” of yesteryear were all around the halls – Metro’s, Maestro’s, Montego’s, 1100 and 1300’s, members of the Imp family, various Triumphs and Rovers (including an SD1 decked out in the corporate livery of my old division, Austin Rover Fleet Sales), Ford Cortina’s MkI through IV and their big brother Granada’s, VW Beetles and Mini’s (of course), Vauxhall Viva’s and many, many more.
The regional link was emphasised by an interview with my old boss Harold Musgrove, still sharp as a tack at 88 years of age, and it was a delight and an honour to run into Harris Mann, who introduced the wedge into family car design with the Austin Princess, as well as creating the Triumph TR7, perhaps his most famous – and infamous – design. He was on his way to see Musgrove, whom he had not met since leaving the company back in 1983! I would have loved to be a part of that conversation!
With so many club stands present, it’s obviously not possible to mention them all, but I would like to mention a few in particular.
I approached the Manta Owners Club stand in the hope that there might be a Manta A there, and there was. But sadly it had been heavily modified and to my eyes, spoiled – the colour, all brightwork painted black, the wheels, the seats, none of these were improvements as far as I was concerned.
Here at ViaRETRO we like quirky, slightly unusual and simultaneously rarely seen cars, and I’m going to single out three in particular from the show.
There was a strong micro-car presence from Henkel, Isetta, Meadows Frisky (a particularly colourful line-up) and – most micro of them all – Peel, in particular, the Peel 50. About 45 of these tiny cars – officially recognised as the smallest production cars ever made by the Guinness Book of World Records – were built on the Isle of Man between 1962 and 1965. With their 49cc engines pushing out just 4.2bhp (that’s not a decimal point error!), they were perhaps the ultimate in personal transport as only one person can get in and they look like a lot of fun, but I think I’d feel incredibly vulnerable driving one in modern traffic!
On the Simca Owners stand was a car that I’ve never seen before – a 1959 Simca Oceane. At first glance, this looked like an ongoing restoration project, but in fact it’s owner, Welshman Dick Husband, has run the car as is for almost 20 years, having bought it for the princely sum of £350 and he’s averaged 2000 miles each year since, including a trip to Biarritz. He says he currently has no plans to restore it, even though it’s one of only three in the UK. A particularly interesting feature of the car is that the body for this little convertible was built by Facel Vega – a far cry from the mighty HK500.
As if this wasn’t enough, also on the Simca stand was one of my favourite small coupés, a Bertone Simca 1200S in need of lots of TLC, as well as a 1973 1301 saloon, a 1501 Break, and a really lovely dark green 1000 Rallye.
Just as unusual and equally as rare was the green 1964 CitroënBijou owned by John Leaney. Another car that I’ve never seen before, or even heard of, John bought this little Citroën as a “box of bits” in 1990 (also for £350) and made slow progress on it until he retired in 2012. Then, with more time on his capable hands, he got the car on the road in 2014. Originally intended by Citroënto be an alternative to the already long-running 2CV, it was not a success, being too heavy and too slow compared to competitors such as the Mini. It’s 425cc engine struggles to propel the car to anything even resembling a decent speed and only 210 were ever made at Citroën’s assembly plant in Slough.
Elsewhere, there was a fistful of US and Japanese classics. The aforementioned Celica’s were upstaged by the metallic gold one on the Toyota Club stand, and a pin-sharp red MR2 Mk 1 stood out – I remember trying out a musician friend’s example back around 1987; it was just superb to drive, so responsive.
There were Corvette’s, of course, my favourite being a metallic blue 1966 5.4-litre C2, available for offers around £60,000 / €70,180. But a very hot 1970 Mustang Sportsroof in Grabber Orange stood out as well – apparently the only one in this shade in the UK; I quite liked it!
The BMW Club – in contrast to their display at the NEC in November – had an excellent stand of properly classic Beemers. The Derby grey 2002tii was a bit over-restored for my taste, but nevertheless looked lovely, as did the cute, and more original, little BMW 700. And I loved the NK 1800Ti historic racer!
There was a neat display from the Cold War Classics Club, focused on cars from the former DDR, and staying behind the old Iron Curtain, a very rarely seen – by me, at any rate – 1961 Skoda Felicia Convertible, with two cheeky little pedal Skoda’s lined up behind it.
Other individual cars which caught my eye… a smart black 1972 SAAB 95 V4 Estate, an exquisitely-restored mid-blue Sunbeam Alpine, a handsome green Audi 100S Coupé and the second-oldest known Quattro in existence, waiting to be brought back to its former glory.
An immaculate Fiat 127 Sport – one of only three left in the UK – looked very funky in Racing Orange, and there was a chance to compare before-and-after Hillman Avenger Tigers, both in Sundance yellow.
According to the organisers, there were over 1,300 cars and 170 car clubs at this year’s show, claiming it to be their biggest yet. I couldn’t comment on that, but after my day wandering around the NEC halls, I can say that it was absolutely worth the trip.
My Car of the Day? As always, tough to choose, but quite possibly the Bitter… especially at that price. Otherwise, that beautiful Fiat Dino Coupé, although it was over five times as expensive as the Bitter…