As Saturday 25th July 2015 dawned at Whittlebury Park, the air was full of expectation. Despite a thoroughly damp previous evening, the sun was shining and as the first entrants to this year’s Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional arrived at their golf course destination, the ground was firm underfoot.
Quickly the Concours de L’Ordinaire filled up. First a Morris Marina, then a Humber Sceptre, followed by Jaguar Heritage’s ‘Kermit’: a 1.1 Austin Allegro in lime green. Soon the unexceptional cars began to flood in: An unrestored Fiat 127, a Ford Sierra E-Max and a Morris Ital. Some pushed the boundaries of the unexceptional: John Halford’s 1974 Hillman Super Imp was stunning, as was Chris Yearby’s Flamenco red Vauxhall Firenza. Soon, over fifty entrants in this year’s Festival of the Unexceptional were in place, and ready for judging.
And what a judging panel we had. Baron Jonathan Evans of Weardale is more used to judging the Cartier Style et Luxe at Goodwood, and Danny Hopkins is better known as the editor of Practical Classics magazine. We also had Tanya Field, organiser of the Pride of Longbridge, Jon Burgess, editor of Classics Monthly and our own Sam Skelton. Before long, the panel set to work, speaking to all the owners and thoroughly enjoying hearing the stories they had to tell.
The event also attracted a huge amount of visitors, many of whom brought their own classic cars. Although they may not have met the Festival’s strict criteria of ‘Unexception-ness’ they really added to the event, especially Tasha Rose’s wonderful Mark 1 Transit, complete with custom ‘Hendrix’ paint job (that she did herself) and Mr Tillbett’s superb commercial Austin Seven.
The event also attracted other, more famous visitors. Nicholas Parsons spent four hours in a car to reach the event, as he was keen to see some of the cars of the type he once gave away in Sale of the Century. He also noticed Hagerty team member Tim’s Ford Escort Mexico, and remembered the time he took part in a celebrity race in a similar car at Brands Hatch. The Gadget Show’s Jon Bentley was also seen discussing the finer points of Austin Maestro restoration, and legendary racer Whizzo Williams arrived in his lovely Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV before spending a long time taking in all the cars and chatting to other visitors.
After a lovely day in the sun, the Judges retired to the bar to make their deliberations. Some time later they emerged, and Danny Hopkins announced the results. All three were popular winners: in first place Barry Williams, whose 1978 white Ford Escort 1600 had almost been written –off (not by Hagerty!) before he restored it to concours-winning standards. Gavin Bushby came a close second, with his 1978 Fiat 127 that had stood, undriven, in an old lady’s garden for thirteen years before he brought it back to life (without any welding being needed). Finally Chris Reed was given the public vote award, for his stunning 1974 Hillman Avenger Super Estate.
Honourable mentions were given to a Ford Sierra E-Max, a Subaru Brat, a beige Morris Ital, a red Humber Sceptre, a Citroen Dyane, a Fiesta Pop Plus and an Austin Maestro. Nicola Hughes was presented with the ‘Best Dressed’ prize.
Overall, Hagerty’s 2015 Festival of the Unexceptional did what it set out to do: it recognised and celebrated those cars that were once everywhere but are now very rare. In a friendly atmosphere, like-minded people met and swapped stories about their cars. And every now and again, you heard the line that has come to be an unofficial motto for the event: “My dad had one of those!”
Hagerty are proud to offer classic car insurance services for a range of historic cars, whether they are unexceptional or not.