The Classic Car TV Show: where was the passion?

In 1978 the collected members of 10cc informed us, admittedly without prompting, that no, they didn’t like cricket thank you very much. In fact, they actually loved it. And so it is with me and classic cars: I don’t like them, I love them. So when the close-knit world of classic cars began bubbling and frothing with the news that Channel 5 was launching a TV series dedicated to classic cars, I was not happy, I was excited. Very in fact. Because for a pastime that distracts huge numbers of enthusiasts and casual observers, classic cars rarely make much of an appearance on TV. Apart from Top Gear, where they are generally derided and laughed at, there is just Antiques Road Trip (which of course is brilliant because it features our cars) or the dull-as-dishwater Richard Wilson Drives Around Britain. The Classic Car Show, which aired for an hour for the first time last night, has been heavily promoted and features Jodie Kidd and Quentin Wilson as its main presenters. The first programme followed a Top Gear On a Budget sort of format, cutting between studio sofas and outside features. As a representation of the sheer diversity of the classic car world it did quite well, interspersing a feature on Gullwing Mercs and London Fashion Week with a TR7 and dying Studebaker. This is what it’s all about – we may all like classic vehicles but it’s the incredibly fractured and fragmented nature of what we love that makes the scene so dynamic and self-sustaining.

My problem with the show, however, began there. Firstly, the producers managed to bag a duo of Gullwing Mercedes. Wow: old and new supercars rarely seen on telly. Together. There is much that can be done here I thought. Instead we got a 15 minute Mercedes advertorial wherein the annoyingly Mockney presenter posed and tried to answer the question of whether the embarrassingly disinterested fashionista preferred the old one or the new one. Which, frankly, is like buying a Rolex and wondering whether it would make a good hammer.It’s the answer to a question nobody cares about. Worse, in asking it we missed hearing what we really wanted to know: what is a Gullwing actually like? Then there was a feature on the TR7. This was better, because the TR7’s story is interesting and it is a genuinely overlooked car. But if you have even a passing interest in classic cars you already know all about it: the feature was good, but broke no new ground. Compare how the show treated this subject with Jeremy Clarkson’s feature on Allegro vs Marina (well worth a watch on YouTube) and you wonder what could have been achieved with more thought.

The rest of the show mixed a feature on the Ferrari California with studio chitchat and some low hanging YouTube fruit. The former, with Jodie Kidd, was nicely shot but followed a now-familiar theme of telling us little that we didn’t already know: the California looks and drives beautiful. Back in the studio we heard Quentin and Jodie tells us how much they loved classic cars whilst watching old car adverts that have been doing the rounds of Twitter and Facebook for years.  At various points I nearly switched over, which is a fairly depressing thought given that my life is filled with and my livelihood depends on classic cars. The show’s ingredients are great and promise much but for me at least they missed one vital element: the enthusiasm and the people. I wanted to hear from the grass roots classic car fans who love TR7s, who spend their weekends polishing, displaying and competing. Perhaps this is all best summed up by the show’s sponsor – a watch retailer. Classic car magazines and now it appears, TV shows, seem obsessed with the idea that watches and classic cars go together. And maybe they do. But personally I own over 20 classic cars and I don’t even wear a watch. The classic car scene isn’t really about the cars or watches, it’s about ordinary people and the sheer joie de vivre and passion that feeds classic car forums and Facebook pages. I got the feeling that The Classic Car Show’s producers and presenters like classic cars. But I didn’t feel the love. And that, like 10cc said, makes all the difference. I genuinely wish the show the best because I suspect it’s heart is in the right place. I’ll keep watching but I hope we see some more genuine passion and enthusiasm – and more from the people who make this pastime what it is.

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