Classic car days just leave me cold, and not just because the weather usually is dismal. There is something uniquely uninteresting for a serious classic car enthusiast like me in aimlessly wandering around a field of usually same-marque classics. I don’t have a problem at all with people who shine and show but for me it’s all a little static.
So on the face of it the NEC Classic Car Show isn’t really my cup of tea. The only apparent improvement over club events is that it’s inside, albeit this year in a series of halls whose temperature could best be described as sauna-esque. And yet I love it. This is one of the highlights of the classic calendar for me, and not just because it’s just down the road.
What I absolutely love about the NEC Classic Car Show is that it’s all about equality and self expression. There can be few other major exhibitions in the world where hobbies that have at best marginal interest get a world stage. I’m a long way from ever owning an Austin Allegro or Maxi and yet like many others I was strangely drawn to these and other similar stands. Once there I was impressed and, I’ll be honest, uplifted by the sheer thought and planning that these clubs and owners had put into preparing their stands and cars. Themed or unthemed, there was a level of dedication on display that would surely have impressed Roy Castle. Surely the effort of these enthusiasts is a great testament to the skill of the people who made their cars – in a week when we learn that most ex-Rover employees have struggled to match their previous earnings and many are struggling to make ends meet, this is worth a thank you.
I spent several hours at the show aimlessly wandering, which is really the best way to see it. Without a plan you can react to things that catch your eye. Like Austin Allegros. I also liked the Jaguar Heritage Trust stand, which had a Jaguar XJ6 Series 1 4.2 short wheelbase on display. This was Sir William Lyons’ personal car and features the same Sable paintwork as my own Jaguar XJ6 Series 2. Ok, Sable is brown – but it’s back in fashion and buffed up to a sheen looks great.
The Saab Owners Club stand was also good. I love the old 99 Turbo but have a particular soft spot for the body-kitted 900 Turbo 16v, particularly in two door booted form. They had a couple on show and they looked great.
Naturally the Jensen stand was a destination for me. The Club, which always works extremely hard to promote the marque at these shows, had the complete evolution of the Jensen Interceptor on show – Mark 1, FF and Mark 3. The Mark 1 on display, fresh from a high quality restoration, was particularly impressive and a beautiful light metallic blue. These early cars are still under-valued and many do prefer the more traditional early dashboard. The Mark 3 was period-perfect in bright orange paintwork – the factory and its customers seem to have colluded in some of the most garish colour schemes available.
I also spent more time and money than I intended in the Auto Jumble and trade area. Although perhaps not as good as previous years, the book and brochure stalls are always an interesting browse and I picked up a couple of rare books on the Jaguar XJ6.
I always come away from these shows with a new shortlist of cars I want to buy. This time it my list includes the Lancia Beta Volumex – the ‘estate’ version – which is a great car and hugely undervalued. I still fancy a DeLorean DMC12, whatever anyone thinks, because there is something so great about them as a classic that is essentially what was so bad about them as a new purchase – they are just a mad idea made real. And the world needs that kind of thing rather than always another Vauxhall Vectra. I also liked the SL Shop stand, a Worcester-based offshoot run by my near-neighbour Bailey Classic Cars. Their collection of well-priced SLs reinforced what a great classic buy these Mercedes tanks are – perfect for continental holidays. But if I had to drive something away straight away, it would have to be that Saab 900 16v turbo. If anyone knows of a decent one at a good price….