Concours de l'Ordinaire – full roundup from the Festival of the Unexceptional 2017

A beautiful sight - TMG John Lawrence
A beautiful sight - TMG John Lawrence

When reporting on one of high points in the classic enthusiast’s calendar, it is vital to arrive in style. This year’s Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional promised to be the largest and most elaborate yet, so what better way to travel through the gracious surroundings of Stowe in Tanya Field’s 1994 Montego? And on seeing a green Skoda S100, a gentleman dressed like Patrick Mower in Special Branch and a ‘Yuppie Couple’ with their Vauxhall Royale, it was obvious that this would indeed be a show to remember.

Festival of the Unexceptional – in pictures
Festival of the Unexceptional – in pictures

As with all magnificent events, the car park was an attraction in its own right from Adrian Fell’s very early Mini Clubman Estate with its Formica ‘wood’ panelling to an Austin Ambassador and a Honda Quintet. Walking past a Renault 5TL Series One, a Peugeot 104, a Fiat Strada and a pair of Hyundai Stellars it was almost as though I had been transported, Twilight Zone style, to Winchester circa 1986. Meanwhile, the Montego was so overcome with this display of fine machinery that its indicators promptly ceased to function.

Peter Bell and his 1975 Renault 12TL - Credit: John Lawrence 
Entering into the spirit of things, Monseiur Bell? Credit: John Lawrence

It was now time to enter the showground and if selecting a personal Top Ten was a challenging task last year, it was mission impossible for 2017. Gavin Bushby’s Fiat Tempra was a reminder of how remote the 1990s now seem while a cream-coloured Lancia Beta 1600 saloon might have once been the transport for a young solicitor.

The Volvo 340 looked redoubtably sensible and the four headlamps on a metallic purple Hillman Avenger proclaimed its GLS status. Some visitors enjoyed a game of Unexceptional Top Trumps and another of the many attractions of the 2017 Festival was the Feast of The Unexceptional. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be picnics of cheese and pineapple on sticks, tinned evaporated milk and other fine foods associated with a 1978 Bank Holiday outing.

Ambassador - Credit: John Lawrence 
The angle on the boot lid of this Ambassador is quite formidable. Credit: John Lawrence

Finally, after much deliberation, the judges reached their decisions for the highly coveted Concours de l'Ordinaire prizes. The Feast award was bestowed on John Usher’s uber-1980s Maestro – and equally uber-1980s picnic with Rubik cube cake – and Simon Martin and his Volvo 740 were deemed to be the Best Dressed entrants. The People’s Choice was the Austin Allegro 1750SS owned by Colin Corke, a gentleman who has done much to rehabilitate the image of this still controversial BL offering, and the Second Prize went to the DAF 33 of Richard Holness.

Festival of the Unexceptional – in pictures
Festival of the Unexceptional – in pictures

The overall winner was a 1983 Nissan Sunny 1.5GL, a car that Mark Ashbridge has owned for five years – ‘I was recommended to enter the show by Ed Rattley who won the 2014 event. It was my first ever Festival and I certainly plan to return next year’. Even the cloudburst that accompanied the prizegiving, was strangely appropriate  34 years ago, the highlight of a wet afternoon might have been driving the Sunny to the local Spar to return empty Corona lemonade bottles.

1983 Triumph Acclaim - Credit: John Lawrence 
The dashboard of a 1983 Triumph Acclaim. Credit: John Lawrence

All too soon it was time to leave an event that is a deservedly popular fixture on the motoring almanack. The Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional understands how emotions can be inextricably linked to family cars of the past and it fully appreciates how the passage of time can make a once mundane vehicle appear almost exotic. Including a 23-year old Montego Countryman with a dubious electrical system.

10) Vauxhall Astra Mk. I 1.6S EXP

Any non-GTE Astra Mk. I is now more seldom encountered than a watchable programme on ITV2 -  especially a limited edition five door with an “Antique Gold” stripe.

9) Morris Marina 1.8 Super

The most telling detail on this fine Marina was that the highly unergonomic dashboard boasted a tachometer so that sales reps could imagine being the next Jackie Stewart when competing with Cortina GTs at the traffic lights.

8) Vauxhall Victor FE 1800

A prime example of Vauxhall incentivising drivers to climb the corporate ladder via marketing a big saloon with virtually nothing as standard.  ‘One day the fleet manager will issue me with a 2300SL with a cigarette lighter’...

7) Hillman Avenger De Luxe

An ‘76 Avenger De Luxe is perhaps the epitome of an unexceptional family car of the 1970s, conjuring images of passengers baking in the summer heat on seats upholstered in the finest vinyl, the venting draw in warm air

6) Vauxhall Cavalier L Mk.1

The two-door medium-sized family saloon is a form of motoring life that largely disappeared in the 1980s. To enhance his car vintage appeal, Jason Himpson has fitted an MW radio – ‘it doesn’t work but at least it makes the dashboard look less spartan!’ – and who could have resisted a car with such splendid upholstery?

5) Simca 1100 GLS Estate

The 1100 celebrates its 50th birthday this year and while Simca’s first FWD car was once a familiar in the UK, Guy Maylam’s GLS – ‘note the clock and the other extras!’  - is the only surviving estate version on British roads.

4) Renault 12TL

A fantastic reminder that ‘unexceptional’ does not automatically infer second-rate or naff. Peter Bell’s wonderfully Gallic 12TL was once one the most popular imported cars in the UK and, as so many of the cars at the Festival, it was virtually taken for granted during its heyday.

3) Fiat 128 Estate

The great motoring writer l J K Setright once stated that the 128 was the ‘primogenitor of a whole new generation of front- wheel-drive family cars’ and Tom Marshall’s estate is a rare surviving example of one of the finest post-war Fiats.

2) Triumph Acclaim CD

Harry Seager was dressed to match his Acclaim’s image – ‘when the Triumph was new it was often seen as an “old man’s car”’. As a top of the range CD, his car is totally equipped to Triumph, to quote the launch campaign, and is still in regular use.

1) Austin Metro City

Andrew Hopkins’ Metro is my car of the Festival, reminding the visitors that as recently as the 1980s, it was still possible to buy a new hatchback devoid of a rear wiper, a heated back window and a passenger sun visor.  My favourite detail of all is the side ‘indicator repeaters’ the amber ‘lamps’ on the front wings are reflectors.

Classic cars on parade at Moscow's GUM Motor Rally Gorkyclassic 2017
Classic cars on parade at Moscow's GUM Motor Rally Gorkyclassic 2017