8 August 2014

Festival of The Unexceptional: A Concours de l’Ordinaire

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against your average posh Concours d’Elegance. Hell, it’s fun just to try saying it properly without mangling the pronunciation. Not to mention the oysters, champagne, caviar, beautiful people, funny hats and, yeah, there are the cars as well: sumptuous creations by coachbuilders such as Figoni and Falschi and Castagna. But while the cars may be rare, those types of shows aren’t.

Conversely, to steal the line of the day from Practical Classics’ Danny Hopkins: “There are precious few shows that celebrate the cars that were in your mum’s or your dad’s driveway as opposed to the cars that were on your wall.” Until this weekend, that is, when Hagerty presented the inaugural Festival of the Unexceptional—a Concours de l’Ordinaire—at the Whittlebury Hall Golf Course in Northamptonshire.

The call to action was to “Leave the Bugattis, Ferraris, Porsches and Astons behind and bring on the Metros, Chevettes, Marinas, Maxis and Allegros”—preferably in Russet Brown or Harvest Gold.  Participants and spectators responded in the lighthearted spirit of the event, which was calling out the serious issue of attrition among the cars that we grew up with— the ones that seemingly overnight went from being everywhere to being nowhere.

Forty cars were on display from “The Unexceptional Era” of 1968-86, an era that not coincidentally corresponds with the lifespan of British Leyland. The field however wasn’t limited to just BL lovelies. Among the entrants were some of the cream of the crop—or perhaps more like the water on top of the yoghurt—from Rootes and Ford as well as some continental pieces like a very rare Renault 6, a Skoda cabriolet and a totally rot-free Fiat Strada, the latter being something of such mythic status that I would have sooner put money on a live Plesiosaur turning up.  Princess Diana’s 1980 Austin Mini Metro was also on display, on loan from the Coventry Motor Museum.

While not yet an event of international repute, at least one non-Briton turned up. Airline pilot Art Mason of Pennsylvania, U.S., had heard about the event via the American publication Hemmings Motor News and came down from Birmingham where he had flown in the day before. As the owner of a brown 1977 Porsche 924, Mr. Mason said, “This was one of the coolest shows that I’ve been to in a long time with no attitudes on the field at all, just a lot of fun with some cars that everyone can identify with.”

About 300 people attended. Judges were journalists Dave Richards, Sam Skelton, Danny Hopkins and writer Giles Chapman, author of “My Dad Had One of Those”, a book that was one of the inspirations for the show.  A number of people on their way to the Silverstone Classic attended in cars like a 1973 Porsche Carrera 2.7 RS and a real Ford GT40. They failed, however, to garner the attention that the eventual winner, a Nissan Euro Cherry, received.

Like the Goodwood Revival, period dress was encouraged and that which was worn appeared just as shiny and flammable as the petroleum products that made up the interiors of the show cars. Bribes were freely solicited by the judges and just as freely proffered by the entrants. Coffee, tea, bacon rolls and admission were complimentary.  By popular demand, Hagerty are already conspiring to follow up the event and information will be released as soon as plans solidify.

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