As the sun baked Stowe House and its Buckinghamshire surroundings on July 14, vast swathes of classic car enthusiasts assembled to pour over certain automotive offerings. Except, these vehicular aficionados were unlike most. Rather than frequent the Goodwood Festival of Speed, they had chosen to pay homage to Britain’s motoring mundane of yesteryear.
Perhaps the ultimate nostalgia trip this side of time travel, the fifth anniversary edition of the annual Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional Concours de l’Ordinaire celebrated half a decade of championing the underdog.
Originally founded to highlight the attrition rate that some of the most popular and best loved vehicles of our recent motoring past currently suffer, the event has successfully brought so-called ‘endangered species’ to the forefront of public attention.
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The event has become a focal point for core enthusiasts steadfast in their pride of rare and long-forgotten everyday family cars of the 1968-1989 ‘Unexceptional Era’. Yet, some were more ‘unexceptional’ than others.
With a judging panel consisting of Edd China, Jon Bentley and Practical Classics editor Danny Hopkins, the heat was on to find the most unremarkable vehicle against the Stowe House backdrop. A total of 50 cars were vying for Best in Show, and the roster was truly nondescript.
Forgotten classics included a wonderfully original 1979 Citroen GS X3, one of only two road-worthy survivors in the UK, a 1975 Volvo 66 GL saloon – the oldest known example of this ex-DAF model – plus an as-new and very scarce 1971 Fiat 125, an early 1982-built Ford Sierra 1.6L and a Harvest Gold (very, very beige) 1975 Austin Allegro 1100 with accompanying Quartic steering wheel; in the humidity, the Allegro had a trump card – the hot and sticky PVC brown interior trim embedded in our childhood nostrils.
Among the various cars screaming of banality rested Britain’s sole surviving 1975 Volkswagen 412 4-door saloon, plus a seldom seen Mazda 929 Estate (Christ, when did you last see one of those?) and a 1982 Peugeot 104 Z ‘Shortcut’ coupe. A Special mention must go to the 1989 Vauxhall Astra Mark 2; once the steed of salesmen, now rarer than an employed fax machine.
After a day admiring the everyday heroes (and villains) from the past 50 years, judges decided to award:
- Best in Show: 1977 Chrysler Alpine (Guy Maylam)
- Second Place: 1981 Datsun Bluebird GL saloon (Kev Curtis)
- People’s Choice: 1982 Fiat Strada 65CL (Gavin Bushby)
- Junior Judges Choice: 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier L 2-door saloon (Jason Himpson)
- Best Dressed: Edward Morley (1972 Renault 16 TS)
- Feast of the Unexceptional/Best Picnic: Julie Gandolfi (1983 Mercedes-Benz 200T)
Is this the best ‘worst’ car…in the world?
Taking claim as the most ‘unexceptional’ car still haunting UK roads was a pre-Talbot 1977 Chrysler Alpine. A fine example of muted 1970s-flare, the Chrysler was recently subjected to a full restoration by owner Guy Maylam. In fact, it had only been finished the night before!
The Chrysler is one of only 13 Alpines left in the UK, a pioneering family hatchback that won the coveted European Car of the Year title for 1976 but failed to wrestle sales away from more successful contemporary rivals such as the Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Cavalier and Morris Marina.
As a three-time FOTU participant and supporter (his sole-surviving Simca 1100 Estate was commended last year), Guy spent over 1,000 hours ‘of hard slog’ bringing his rare Alpine back from the dead.
He explained: ‘This example was a dreadful car, but once you start the restoration, it’s difficult to stop!” He adds, “My Best of Show win was third-time lucky and totally unexpected. I really appreciate what Hagerty has done for the bread-and-butter car movement and the Unexceptional justifies having these unloved cars’.
Commenting on the Fifth Anniversary Festival of the Unexceptional, Angus Forsyth, Managing Director, Hagerty International Limited, said, 'When we at Hagerty first developed the idea of the Festival of the Unexceptional, we wanted to raise the profile of vehicles which are not seen at Pebble Beach, Hampton Court, Goodwood or other such prestigious Concours events.
'Whilst those events have their very obvious place in our classic car world, we were keen to increase the profile and awareness of the new all-too-forgotten ordinary cars to whom a large majority of people can truly relate; the first car you drove, your parent’s car or simply the car you admired on your neighbour’s drive.'
Angus continued, 'We wanted to create the ultimate automotive nostalgia trip and elevate the standing of these unexceptional and long-forgotten vehicles that used to form an important part of every British high street but have all but now disappeared. The growth and popularity of the Festival of the Unexceptional over the last five years suggests we have really tapped into something very strong and good. Long may it continue.'