4 February 2015

A Word With: Jodie Kidd and Quentin Willson

Last week, Hagerty was granted special behind the scenes access to the team behind Channel 5’s new Classic Car Show, the first such primetime TV programme in the UK. After the press launch, I spent time talking to the show’s two main presenters Quentin Willson and Jodie Kidd, and put your questions to them about their new show.

It was the summer of 1964, and a small boy of seven took a trip with his father to see a friend’s new car. The vehicle was a Mark II Jaguar, resplendent in opalescent silver-blue, complete with chrome wire wheels and the big 3.8 litre engine.
The little boy was Quentin Willson, and that day changed his life. “I distinctly remember climbing into that car for the first time,” Willson says. “The gleaming Smith’s gauges on the dash, the smell of the leather, the sound of the engine roaring and the Michelin tyres skimming over the tarmac- the combination was magical, and it’s never left me. I’ve loved cars ever since.”

Within moments of meeting Willson, it’s obvious that his passion for cars runs deep and true. He leans forward, talking with an almost evangelical enthusiasm. “For me, classic ownership is sensory: the distinct smell of a Ford Cortina, the ‘tick’ of the dry camshaft on a Rolls Royce when you first start her, or the wail of a Ferrari engine as you give her a blip. It’s a tangible link to the past.” As another true convert to the love of cars, I found myself wishing I had a whole afternoon to chat to this guy. We wasted most of the time just swapping anecdotes about the contents of our own garages. I asked about his E-Type- a very early ‘Home Market’ Series 1 Fixed- Head Coupe that he sold last year, having previously stated he would never part with it. I expected a discussion about an overheated market and car values, but the answer I received was much more personal. “I over- restored it,” he explained. “It was just too nice to drive. It sat in the garage next to the lawnmower, and the only time I drove it was to get its MOT. Then I spent ages with cotton buds cleaning the wire wheels. I couldn’t see the point of having something I couldn’t enjoy on the roads.” Willson’s replacement is a 1959 Mini, something he says he can enjoy both as an iconic design (“Isigonis was light-years ahead of his time!”) and as a driver’s car.

It is this passionate character that has made Willson one of the UK’s foremost motoring campaigners. His work on dealer parity and fuel duty has made life fairer for the average UK car owner, and it is obvious Willson feels that motorists deserve more respect for the money they pump into the economy. It’s also the reason why he felt a different type of car show was needed. “We won’t shoot, burn or crash cars,” he says, in a thinly veiled dig at Top Gear, which he co- presented for ten years until 2001. “It’s all about respecting old cars, whether a million-pound Ferrari or a battered old MGB.”

The Classic Car Show team want to appeal to all of these different groups, and their passion and respect for the subject both come through in spades. The show has been filmed in cinematic quality, and the results look great. Granted, there are a high proportion of top- end Ferraris, Astons Martins and Mercedes, but more affordable classics are covered by Alex Riley, fresh from his success on Celebrity Mastermind and Chris Routledge who unearths a series of barn-find cars from around the country. The choice of supermodel and petrolhead Jodie Kidd as Willson’s co-host, plus magazine show style segments presented by Will Best, also make this show attractive to a wide audience. “It’s not just a blokey car programme,” Willson says. “There are a huge number of people interested in classic cars, and we wanted to make a programme for all of them.”

Off screen, Willson and Kidd have a natural banter and have obviously enjoyed working closely together. “I keep changing my mind over which classic to buy next,” Jodie tells me. “Poor Quentin has been running around all summer trying to find me the right car.” It is clear he rates her too- we were shown a clip of her racing at Montlhery circuit in France. “That’s a Bugatti Type 35C on a track banked at up to 60 degrees- that takes some doing,” he told the assembled crowd. Later, he told me that when they filmed a piece on the Mille Miglia it was Kidd, driving the only road- going car, who outperformed all the other TCCS presenters including former F1 driver Bruno Senna.

Just before I left, I put my last question to the pair, posed by one of our readers. He wanted to know what modern cars could become classics in the future. “So many,” started Willson. “At the higher end, the Ferrari 456 is totally undervalued and is now huge value for money. Any of the older AMG Mercedes are a great deal, especially considering the cost when they were new. At the more affordable end of the market, the Subaru Impreza Turbo has to be a good contender.” Kidd agreed, adding “If you’re looking at slightly older cars, the BMW 850 is huge value at well under £10,000. The lines are amazing.”

It is clear that the team behind the Classic Car Show have created something that will appeal to a really wide audience, both in the UK and overseas. I was lucky enough to see some of the forthcoming highlights of the show, and throughout the series they cover a huge range of topics related to classic cars. We here at Hagerty wish the team every success- we’ll be watching!

The Classic Car Show is on Channel 5 on Thursdays at 7pm.
Images courtesy of Wise Old Fox Ltd, Channel 5 and Infinity Creative Media.

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