Among the cars that draw really appreciative crowds at Hagerty’s Festival Of The Unexceptional today – Britain’s unique showcase of motoring’s guilty pleasures that takes place on 25th July– you’ll always find some of the progeny of British Leyland from 40 or more years ago.
Year after year in the 1970s, the malaise of Britain’s ailing nationalised carmaker was a staple of the evening TV news. Comedians stitched the Austin Allegro into their routines, and politicians despaired at the dreadful state of management-worker relations that led to strikes and Friday afternoon cars being made every day of the week.
Yet we were still so patriotic that we dutifully bought those cars, stoically tolerating the faults of the Morris Marina and Rover SD1. We still feel oddly attached to them even now.
Fords and Vauxhalls of the time were more dependable, but usually they were old-fashioned motors dressed up with flashy styling, black nylon interiors and fake everything – from pretend wooden dashboards to ersatz alloy wheels. Foreign cars were often just plain odd to British eyes, and if they came from France or Italy then rust spots would bubble up the moment you left the showroom.
What, though, of the Festival of the future? In another 20 years, what kind of metal souls from a lost car world will we cluster around?
Maybe regrettably, they probably will include the output of BL’s descendent. In 1995 – which will be 40 dim years in the past by then – Rover Group continued turning out the odd turkey.
Although it was called the Rover 100 by 1995, this was the good old Metro underneath, complete with its original limitations. Then there was Rover’s 200, a plucky attempt to launch a British attack on small cars from the multinationals. It tried hard but was never quite up to the job, like its bigger 800 kennel-mate.
The Berlin Wall had crumbled in 1989 and, several years after that, the worst of the second-rate relics from Communist countries were already starting to get thin on the ground.
The rubbishy old Ladas, FSOs and rear-engined Skodas had been sold at such artificially low prices in the UK that it never took long for them to be uneconomic to repair, and so their lives promptly ended. They were replaced by the only slightly better Lada Samara and Skoda Favorit; in 20 years from now, you really would be amazed to see either of those on the Festival lawns.
You’d also be shocked to come across a Daewoo – any Daewoo. These anodyne family cars from South Korea made a brief impact in 1994. They were some of the first cars to be sold from a dealer chain owned by the manufacturer, rather than from franchised premises, and came with a reassuringly good guarantee and buyer package. That was a must… bearing in mind how utterly mediocre the Nexia, Espero and Leganza (see – you’d forgotten them all, hadn’t you!) turned out to be.
Entire marques struggled to find their place in the British market place of the 1990s. Alfa Romeo was certainly one of those. Its 145 hatchback, 155 saloon and 164 luxury car will all be welcomed by wide-eyed Festivalgoers in the distant future, fascinated to see how a desirable name had somehow become attached to vehicles of doubtful style and dodgy quality. Maybe, if we are to be very lucky, they’ll be joined by a Fiat Coupe, whose bizarre looks we will call “very 1990s” as we express wonder that there was even one left.
A rare, vintage Volvo 960 would be a reminder of the last days of Sweden’s ruler-and-set-square design period, although its tank-like build quality might make its guest appearance less astounding then, say, a Nissan Maxima, a big 3-litre executive car sold in tiny numbers in those pre-Infinity days of non-premium names on comfy Japanese road barges.
However, we will be just as likely to gawp and point at two British roadscene stalwarts that will exist, in the main, in the memories of people who will at that time be grandparents. Indeed, they might even be taking their grandchildren to the 2035 Festival Of The Unexceptional, and the kids are sure to be mystified when Grandpa points with excitement at a Ford Escort or Vauxhall Cavalier.