Regular readers will know that here at ViaRetro Towers we value classics of all kinds, whether they be rare and exotic, commonplace and ordinary, eye-wateringly expensive or fabulously cheap. We don’t mind which country they come from or which badge they display on their bonnet or tail, though we of course all have our own personal favourites. Our default position is that “Any classic is better than no classic”, and we firmly believe that classics should be driven and not just preserved in aspic. The Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional (or HFOTU for short) reminds us not only of our everyday heroes from the past, when they roamed the earth in packs, dominating our roads, driveways, garages and car parks, but also of how scarce they have since become and that we should value them as much as we do the more exotic classics which everyone by default gets so excited about; after all, some of the regular cars our parents and grandparents used to drive are in some cases at least as rare today as any Ferrari, if not as financially valuable.
Last year no fewer than three members of the ViaRetro team were able to attend the fifth Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional, and Dave and Anders both reported on the event in detail. This time, however, the task of informing our readers about the sixth annual holding of this unusual yet lovely show fell to yours truly, with the HFOTU being one more event to add to my list of classic firsts this summer – such responsibility weighs heavy on my shoulders as I type…
This year the Festival had moved to the definitely exceptional Claydon Estate near Buckingham. Located about an hour’s cross-country drive for me, fortunately – while not quite up to the standard of recent weeks – the English summer weather stayed bright and dry for the day. Die Zitrone and I took our place in the general parking area, where we were flanked on either side by two of the most humdrum classics there; a 1974 maroon MGB GT and a car which is perhaps the very epitome of bland, a cooking beige 1987 Rover 213. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, there are none more unexceptional, other than perhaps the blue 1989 Ford Orion, a car designed to make you fall asleep if you looked at it for more than a few minutes, although this one was a top-of-the-range 1.6i Ghia, so on its own terms, exceptional.
The Claydon Estate is another jewel in the National Trust’s portfolio of historic properties, some grand, some less so – it’s fair to say that even though the Estate is smaller than originally planned over 250 years ago, it still falls into the “Grand” category. Built between 1757 and 1771, the mansion house and gardens exude history and tradition. Claydon has been the ancestral home of the Verney family since 1620; Florence Nightingale was a regular guest in her later years – her carriage can be seen in the courtyard – and the Verneys still live in the south wing of the house today.
It’s hard to top an English country garden or mansion as a backdrop to a collection of rare and exclusive cars, exotic or otherwise, and there were literally many hundreds of normal classics on display to trigger nostalgic memories of times gone by – both as part of the fabulously named Concours d’Ordinaire, and equally in the general parking area.
There was far too much mundane machinery on display to give a comprehensive overview so I’ve attempted – successfully, I hope – to split this piece into two, focusing on the UK’s contribution to the everyday first, and that of the rest of the world in Part Two which will follow tomorrow…
The focus of the Festival is very much post-war, with the Concours itself only open to cars built between 1966 to 1996. Generally though, the day has a very ‘60’s and ‘70’s vibe – it’s none the worse for that either.
So to the cars themselves, and as a UK-built car won Best in Show at the Concours, I’ll start there, with the blue 1977 Morris Marina 1.3 Deluxe Estate which received the judges highest praise, and it has to be said, it looked terrific. Second place was taken by another British entry, a tidy red 1978 Vauxhall Chevette – both the Vauxhall and the Marina were as basic specification as one could get. Finally, our friends from across the Channel claimed third with a gold metallic 1982 Peugeot 305 SR Estate.
Besides the Best in Show award, there were additional prizes for best picnic, fancy dress, Junior Judges’ Choice, People’s Choice and Anniversary Class. I should also mention that the organisers had added a suitably retro touch to the Concours displays by following a Top Trumps theme with the information cards placed in the competing cars’ windscreens – a neat idea that was both helpful and fun.
Perhaps the most unusual of the 50 entries in the Concours was the yellow 1978 Chrysler Horizon 1.3GL, and not just because only two of this model remain in the UK. The story goes that this particular car was originally a prize in an Aer Lingus competition, and clearly the winner had little use for it as it has since clocked up just 318 miles. Yes, you read that right. I’m guessing it was trailered to the show, but such a low-mileage car feels somehow counter to the spirit of the event?
Staying with the Concours entrants, a cream 1975 Triumph Toledo evoked memories of learning to drive around the mean streets of Stoke-on-Trent – that car was a blue one – and my driving instructor’s best efforts to get me through the test. I admit it took three attempts, but I couldn’t blame either the car nor my instructor…
Back out in the main field, there were many more unremarkable Brits to savour. A pair of yellow Hillman Imps stood out, not least because they looked splendid in my favourite colour, and another yellow member of the Hillman family, a 1972 Avenger GT, with a black vinyl roof, was just a few yards away.
A 1978 Rover SD1 2600 looked very of its time in its olive green paintwork, but was particularly interesting because of the car it was parked alongside, albeit this was not a Brit, but a white Lancia Gamma Berlina. While there are a fair number of SD1’s still around, fewer than ten Gamma Berlina’s remain road registered within the UK, so this was an auspicious pairing and seeing the two side-by-side allowed an intriguing comparison of how the two companies executed not dissimilar designs – and they are directly contemporaneous. For me, the SD1 has dated better – but what a pity that such fine cars were plagued by so many quality issues.
There was a wide variety of Rovers from across all model ranges scattered about, of which a silver Rover 827Si complete with ding in the boot and Dutch plates, and not least a dark blue 1994 216 Coupé next to a 1990 Rover Metro, all managed to bring back a flood of nostalgic memories. Other examples of BL’s finest ordinary automobiles that caught my eye included a number of Austin Allegro’s, particularly the Citron Yellow 1975 1300SDL entered in the Concours, a silver 1985 MG Maestro alongside a Zircon Blue metallic 1986 Montego Estate – the best-looking of all Montego’s in my view – parked together in the main field, as well as various Marina’s and Maxi’s, among others.
There were obviously quite a few Vauxhalls at the event – the Luton marque has probably produced more unexceptional cars since the 1970’s than any other manufacturer, including but far from limited to the red Chevette that came second in the Concours. But the oddest was a 1988 Cavalier Calibre, one of 500 built, complete with (and I quote) “sleek lines jointly sculptured (sic) by Irmscher Cars and Aston Martin Tickford” to give a “distinctive image of crafted motorway muscle at its finest”. I’m afraid that wasn’t the image it left me with…
A more (very?) conventional Vauxhall rarity was a 1981 pale metallic blue Viceroy – only five of these executive-class cars remain on the road in the UK. It was parked alongside it’s smaller German sibling, an Opel Rekord 2.0E – they made an exceptionally unexceptional pair.
The result of my personal Best Unexceptional Ford competition was a tie between a very groovy and immaculate yellow with black vinyl roof Capri 1600 Mk1 and a white 1966 Cortina GT Mk1. The former was immaculate and looked like it was on French plates even though it was RHD, and the latter remains the most stylish Cortina for me. These two just managed to beat out the imposing white with black roof 1971 Zodiac Executive Estate.
There was so much more, and I’ve really just skimmed the surface so far, but will let the photos tell the rest of this part of the day – more to come!