Having taken a look yesterday, at the UK’s role in filling our roads and lives with largely forgettable cars which we nevertheless remember fondly, it’s now time to examine some international contributions to ordinariness in the classic car world.
Of course, the UK did not have a monopoly on building cars in their tens and hundreds of thousands – sometimes millions – for the regular driver, whether to commute to work, ferry children to school, be the first car for the new driver, or a business tool to cover many thousands of miles a year. Manufacturers around the world were also targeting their own – and overseas – mainstream markets, perhaps none more successfully than Volkswagen with the ubiquitous Beetle, which changed only gradually, and not very much at that, over its production run of 21,529,164 and 65 years. Strangely, I only spotted one at Claydon House, in a smart two-tone blue finish, and complete with “eyelids”. Other VW’s were dotted about the grounds, my favourite being a very tidy 1981 Polo 1.3 GLS in a pale metallic green.
Most classic car enthusiasts have a space in their hearts for the Alfasud, combining Milanese chic with Italian sportiness, but sadly, these attributes were combined with build quality comparable with the worst that even BL had to offer. As a result, fewer than 75 Alfasuds of all types remain on the road in the UK, so it’s not often that we see one at a classic show in the UK, other than at an Italian-themed event. There was, however, one here, and the light blue 1975 Sud had behind it a vivid reminder of the fate that befell so many of these brilliant little sports saloons.
An Alfa that looked uninspiring but was actually notable in many ways was a silver 1978 2300 Rio saloon, a car I hadn’t encountered before. It turns out that it wasn’t built in Italy at all, but in Brazil – hence the name. It looks basically like an Alfetta that’s eaten all the pies and was built from 1974 to 1986. 600 or so found their way to The Netherlands, but sadly this was yet another Italian car that suffered dreadfully from the demon rust and tarnished Alfa Romeo’s reputation still further.
Moving over to Turin, it was great to see both a FIAT 131 and 132 in the main field, and I was especially taken with the 131, this pale blue 1980 example being a Supermirafiori. I marvelled at the simple and elegant way in which the model name and type script were integrated into the tail light assembly; a nice touch. Nearby, its bigger 2-litre brother turned out to be quite special, being a Bellini limited edition from 1981, though I’ve not been able to establish just how limited. However, with less than a dozen 132’s remaining in the UK, I can easily imagine this might well be the only Bellini in the country. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the lovely little yellow 1971 FIAT 128 that was taking part in the Concours!
There was a healthy number of prosaic Japanese classics present on the day. A pair of red Datsun Bluebirds in contrasting condition caught my eye in the main field, and a very tidy Datsun 140J, also in red, in the Concours. While still in the Concours, it was certainly hard to miss the hefty white 1973 Toyota Crown with it’s very imposing front and which, despite its 2.6-litre six-cylinder engine, still took 23 seconds to reach 60mph (allegedly slower than a Trabant!). Alongside it was a brown 1979 Colt Sigma GLX, which for me was one of the earlier Japanese cars to become more “European” in terms of styling.
Among the most exceptional of the unexceptional was a 1976 Austin Apache, entered in the Concours. Claus wrote about this unusual South African adaption of the Austin/Morris ADO 16 range last year, so I won’t go into much detail here. I hadn’t seen one before, and this particular example – one of just three in the UK – had been rescued from underneath a pile of “stuff” in the London lock-up where it had been “stored” between 1994 and 2016. The black Michelotti-designed lines had become faded and dented, but the car was restored over an 11-month period to its current splendid state.
Lots of delightful French quirkiness could be found all around the grounds – it wasn’t until the mid-1990’s when their sense of flair deserted them completely. The genetic line running from the pioneering CitroënDS through the CX and XM could be followed via a gorgeous blue and white 1972 DS, a couple of CX’s – including a huge white Familiale – and in the Concours itself, a grey 1991 XM 2.0L Tecnic. Now I would argue that these are in fact far from unexceptional cars; nevertheless, as a way to follow Citroën’s thinking for their executive ranges this was a great opportunity. All three are long, low and very sleek, with very dramatic profiles; how different to Citroëns of today!
The maroon Renault 10 1300 reminded me of our recent Prime Find, and there were enough Renaults around to have a game of Renault bingo. Besides the 10, numbers scattered around included a delightful pale blue 4, a couple of 5’s and 6’s, a pair of 9’s, an 11, a cool white 16 and most unusually, a black 25 Heullier Limousine, the only one in the UK according to the owner. The 16 in particular has always struck me as an under-rated car – I must confess to liking it a lot.
Over at the Concours, I was particularly impressed by the collective efforts to recreate un pique-nique francais by the owner and friends of the 1992 Citroën BX TGS Estate, complete with Breton shirts and all. However, there was serious competition for this imaginary award in the main field around another Citroën, a humble 2CV, but surrounded by a magnificent array of picnic paraphernalia including croissants and cheeses, generously being served by beret-topped owner Robin to anyone who stopped for a chat.
One of my personal favourites in the Concours was a very smart metallic blue 1979 Simca 1100 GLS – my father came this close to buying one, but in the end plumped for a VW K70 – the fact that his choices were so left field says a lot about his taste in cars at the time!
Other Gallic mediocrity included a terrific little blue Peugeot 104 – on French plates, too! – and a colourful combo of yellow and white 1985 2CV next to a Citroen Dyane 6 called, with an exceptional lack of imagination, “Peachy” (0 to 60 in 30.8 seconds!). I have to say they looked extremely chic together!
We also had some Cold War Eastern Bloc representatives to remind us of just how uninspiring their cars were. A couple of Zastava’s including the only Yugo 45 Top Hat Cabriolet in the UK from a total of five made. Another Yugo, this time a white 45 from 1990 which had retained its roof, a Lada Niva also from 1990, and of course, a couple of Trabants 601 Kombi’s – one from 1972, the other from 1988 – either could just as easily have been built in 1958. Arguably the East German equivalent of the Citroen 2CV, astonishing numbers of Trabants survive, allegedly around 250,000, not least because they attained cult status post the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Two other highlights for me came from the country better known for tulips and its relatively relaxed attitude to mind-altering substances – The Netherlands, of course. Taking part in the Concours was a very tidy dark beige1972 Daf 33, as ordinary a car as one could find in some ways, but it’s unique Variomatic transmission has always set the marque apart.Remarkably, this quaint little Daf has been with the same family since new.In among the visitors’ cars though was a real Dutch diamond – a white Daf 55 Coupé on gold Minilites – the nearest Daf came to a performance car. This purposeful-looking small coupé had a roll-cage fitted for competition use, and was now sporting a 1.4-litre engine imported from a Volvo 340 instead of the original 1.1; unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to chat with the owner, but I would imagine this is a pretty frisky car.
One last tale which epitomises the spirit of this event – the red 1989 Volvo 240GL in the Concours was bought by its current owner for… £2.40! How cool is that?
Now I have to admit that there were some cars here that were so uninspiring that I have overlooked them completely – even in the context of the Festival. Nevertheless, I loved this show, and the thinking behind it. In Claydon House, the organisers have found a perfect venue, and I hope it continues to grow and returns to Claydon – an exceptional number of unexceptional classics arrayed around exceptional surroundings – what’s not to like?