31 July 2015

Judging without Exception

There’s something about the Hagerty Classic Car Insurance Festival of the Unexceptional that sets it apart from every other show. It’s a show which takes the cars of a largely unloved era and which celebrates them as the cherished classics they are, and that’s why I feel so proud to be involved in it.

Judging a show of this nature is never easy, though. The cars on display are always superb, and so many of them have excellent stories to tell. They all deserve to win and yet only one can be victorious. A perfect example is Sean Greenwood’s Sierra E-Max. For an E-Max to survive – let alone in that condition – is rare enough. But for it to be an ex-rental car is more surprising still. And there is more of a human element to vehicles such as this than you would ever find in something like a concours Bentley SIII, simply because more people can relate directly to it; this is the car that their family or friends once owned.

It’s far easier to judge as part of a panel than it would ever have been to judge alone, and I’m sure my fellow judges would say the same. Why? Because a multitude of views means personal prejudices and biases toward certain models can be left to one side, and the cars can be judged upon their individual merit. We all have memories of different cars while growing up and this can influence how we feel toward particular models. An excellent example of this would be the green Hillman Avenger estate; Danny Hopkins remembered being taken on holiday in an identical car and was overwhelmed to see it on the field. Doubtless an SD1 Vanden Plas in Moonraker with Bounty Blue trim would have evoked similar feelings in me, as my dad had one and it was my first memory. But we have to agree, which means we need to assess these car not for how they make us feel, but for what they are.

Whittling the list from over fifty to ten was agonizing, but whittling those final ten down to three was near impossible. We chose three cars each, (in case one of them had been nominated the Peoples’ Choice). Once we had each stated our case, we decided together on the two cars that we felt most worthy of the trophies.

What were our criteria? We considered the car’s popularity when new, its survival rate now, its condition, and the degree of aspiration which surrounded it. After all, a car cannot be unexceptional if you desperately wanted it when new – a Ford Capri Ghia was always desirable, an Austin Montego L was not the stuff of teenage bedroom walls or desperate pleadings with the fleet manager. Well, maybe the latter, but you’d be pleading not to be subjected to the indignity of it.  While originality scored plus points, we listened to the stories of the cars and we used that to influence our decisions too.

That’s the primary reason we all fell in love with the Ford Escort 1600L. Yes, there’s a wide following for them which isn’t shared by, say, the Fiat 128 3P, but Barry Williams rebuilt that car from a write-off. It used to belong to his father and wore his personal plate from new. The family was so gutted when it was hit by a lorry that even his wife understood when he said he’d rather devote his paternity leave to the rebuild than to changing nappies.

We also favoured stories of survival- Ian Kimpton’s MK1 Vauxhall Carlton demonstrates the point. Carltons were everywhere in the late 1970s – it seemed you could barely turn a corner without catching a glimpse of that Wayne Cherry front end. Now? Five are left, two of which are roadworthy. The fact that so few have made it marks those few out as something special, and worthy of celebration.

As I departed in my diesel Montego (Other judges brought a Toyota Celica, an Isuzu Piazza and an MG Maestro among others) I reflected on what had been an excellent event. As I write, less than a week has passed. And I’m already looking forward to next year. Shows like this which celebrate the mundane are too few and far between, and Hagerty Classic Car Insurance’s efforts with the Festival are like catnip to a select and hardy bunch of enthusiasts who’ve put up with derision for too long.

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