CC’s Best of 2018: Car Show Report – The 2018 Festival Of The Unexceptional Featuring The Concours De L’Ordinaire – Part 1 – The UK Brands

(Originally posted 4 August 2018) Car shows come in all shapes and sizes, from the adhoc gathering outside a pub on a summer evening with relaxed, informal conversation to the full Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance with its remarkable and unattainable selection of some of the most beautiful cars in the world. But how about a car show that sets out to celebrate the ordinary, to let us show our enthusiasm for the successful, and unsuccessful, mundane, the fondly remembered but plain, examples of the cars our families used to drive on the real world, the cars you thought were best because they were what Dad drove?  Not always classics, but Curbside Classics.

If this appeals, then this is the show for you – the Festival of the Unexceptional featuring the tightly but good naturedly contested Concours de l’Ordinaire, organised by Hagerty Insurance, one of the UK’s leading classic car insurers. This for free, or the Goodwood Festival of Speed for “How much?” Maybe for today we can call them Kerbside Classics?

This first report will focus on the UK brands and UK built vehicles; the second on the European and Japanese brands.

First up is perhaps the ultimate unexceptional – the Ford Cortina. In this case, a 1977 Cortina Mk4 2.0GL. By 1976, the Cortina was a direct twin in all except name with the German built Ford Taunus and was a re-body of the 1970 Mk3 “Coke bottle” car.

Dad was doing quite well if he had either bought or been given by his employer a 2 litre Cortina in 1977. This was Britain’s best seller throughout its life, through to 1979, when the closely related Mk5 or Cortina 80 took over. But it, and the Cortina in general, was never a great car, or even a good car, in absolute terms.

From 1980, Ford in Europe declared that the cars were going to be better. Bob Lutz was in charge, and the cars did get better, if not immediately great. The 1980 Escort Mk3, closely linked with the first American Escort, was the first one, and apart from a pretty harsh ride and some cheapness in the interior was a complete eye opener for Ford customers.

This is an early Escort Popular, the entry level model, and never was a car more astutely specified to get you into the showroom to buy the next one up the ladder.

Ford followed up in 1982 with the Sierra, which brought independent rear suspension and aerodynamic styling to the everyday customer. This car was a complete step change from the cheerful if lowest common denominator Cortina, albeit at a substantially increased price.

Our feature car is a 1983 Sierra 1.6L, essentially the datum Sierra for many a private buyer.

The interior was just as much of a change for Cortina owners, and remained essentially unchanged for 11 years.

Ford of Britain’s last solo big car was the 1966 Zephyr and Zodiac range. This is a 1967 Zodiac with the 3 litre Essex V6, with understeer to match, and Ford’s first independent rear suspension. These cars are not considered to have been a commercial or technical success, and were succeeded by the European Granada in 1972.

Here we have a 1976 Austin Maxi 1750, with the larger engine and rod operated cable gearbox. Many people remained ambivalent at best about the Maxi for its entire life; others swore by and bought it repeatedly.

Alongside it is a 1984 Austin Maestro 1.3L, competing directly with the Ford Escort albeit with a few extra inches in the wheelbase for more space and more production cost for BL.

The Maestro replaced the unloved (I think that is fair, even kind) Austin Allegro. No such event could be quite complete with a selection of Allegros, and no report therefore complete without them either.

First, a 1975 Allegro 1100 Deluxe – entry level to Allegro-dom – in one of those 1970s BL colours that you can’t name and probably don’t want. Fair dues to the owner for keeping it the way it is, and for sharing his enjoyment of it in public.

You could still have that colour in 1979 as well, if you really wanted.

And this is a 1973 Allegro 1500, with the Maxi’s E series engine and five speed gearbox, and a vinyl roof. The car behind is a Peugeot 309, the British built successor to the Talbot (née Chrysler) Horizon.

The Allegro’s great counterpart was the Morris Marina, perhaps the worst British car of the 1970s.

Here is a 1978 Marina 1.3 estate, trapped awkwardly between the Escort and Cortina on size, and behind both on practically every criteria.

Unusually, this is a later 1983 Ital pickup, visually distinguished by the revised door handles and new front grille and lights. 1983 makes it one of the last Morris vehicles – this was the last year of the Marina/Ital and the Morris brand.

Of course, Ford and BL did not have a duopoly on the unexceptional. Chrysler’s UK arm, formerly the Rootes Group, had something to offer to.

First, the Hillman Imp. CC has seen the Imp and its backstory before, and despite its commercial failure it does have some interesting technical and social aspects.

But it was, in terms of market achievement and technical completeness, at least unexceptional and possibly worse.

This is a 1975, so close to the end as the UK government bailout loomed.

This is a 1974 car, and the photo gives an overall impression of the event as well, in the grounds of Stowe House, now Stowe School (fees £37,000 per year).

The Hillman Avenger was perhaps the mainstay of the Chrysler UK range in the early 1970s.

Our unexceptional Avenger was this 1974 Avenger Super 1600 estate, in quite splendid condition.

Also present was this 1981 Talbot Avenger 1600. Yes, the Avenger had three brand names, Hillman, Chrysler and Talbot, in the home market, and many others round the world. After the Peugeot takeover of Chrysler Europe, the Talbot name was used on the remaining cars, including the last year or so of Avenger production.

The other Rootes highlight was this 1971 Humber Sceptre saloon. The Sceptre was the upscale version of the Hillman Hunter, using the Humber brand. Rootes’ Buick, if you like.

And it was in the colour of my Dad’s 1971 Hillman Hunter, so this was as close as reasonably expected to that definition of unexceptional.

The Hunter (or Arrow) family was effectively replaced in 1975 by the Chrysler Alpine, a UK market version of the Simca 1307 and 1308 hatchback. This car was a derivative or evolution of the Simca 1100 (and 1204), sharing the drivetrain and suspension on a longer Roy Axe styled body. For the UK market, Chrysler assembled the car in Coventry.

This was a show about cars your Dad drove. Mine drove three of these, including one of the first series as this red car. He did indulge, though, in the 1442cc engine rather than the 1294cc of this car. Some will claim it was underrated; others will highlight the noise, the tappets that needed adjustment every 5000 miles and the low geared and heavy steering with the awkwardly positioned wheel.

Still, this car was chosen as the winner of the show, so credit to the owner for that and the car’s preparation and presentation, which was very impressive.

GM’s UK branch, Vauxhall, has had its share, maybe more than its share, of the unexceptional. Perhaps the pinnacle of Vauxhall’s unexceptional pedigree is the Vauxhall Viscount. Take a Vauxhall Cresta with its 3.3 litre Bedford van engine and add a vinyl roof, Powerglide and many interior trimmings and you get the Viscount.  Against the Ford Zodiac, Rover 3500, Triumph 2500 and the bargain that was the early Jaguar XJ6, the commercial result was fairly predictable.

Later Vauxhalls were less unexceptional, probably because of their Opel base and association. The first front wheel drive Vauxhall was the first Astra, or Kadett D, seen as a striking 1982 special edition (Astra EXP, no less) with two tone paint and alloy wheels. In 1982, this was a statement.

The first Opel to form a basis for a Vauxhall was the Ascona B, which sired the original Vauxhall Cavalier in 1975 and was built in Belgium, not Luton, initially.

On road sightings are now very rare indeed. This is a 1980 1.6L version, the default Cavalier for any Cortina owner tempted to change. And there were many, as Britain learned that affordable family cars did not have to be inadequate.

And if you were very lucky, Dad would have had a Cavalier Coupe, an Opel Manta under another name and a car that showed up the Capri in practically every way.

Premium brands were there too – how about a Rover 213? This was the first Rover (and second BL car) to be based on a Honda, and was in fact little more than re-badged Civic, complete with the Honda engine and gearbox.

The Rover succeeded the smaller Triumphs, such as this 1975 Triumph Toledo. The Toledo was part of a family of cars, converted from front wheel drive to rear drive, from the Triumph 1300 originally launched in 1965, to the Dolomite Sprint.

I always look for a Toledo at a likely car show, as much of my learner driver time was spent in Mum’s Toledo, which fortunately wasn’t hearing aid beige. But it isn’t really exceptional for anything else.

My first car was an Austin miniMetro 1.0 litre, a 1982 car in bright blue with a beige interior. It seemed quite tasteful, colour wise, then.

This show has its share of Metros, most note worthy was this 1982 1.0 litre version.

If accountancy training was going well, you could have an MG Metro, like our friend Big Paws did. A 1.3 litre engine, alloy wheels, well trimmed interior and red seat belts. All you needed in 1983.

By 1988, you could have a two tone Metro, as BL tried to move upscale and progressively adopted the Rover brand.

And with a wood and leather trimmed interior.

And to close, two cars that tell part of the story of the British industry through the 1970s to the 1990s. First, a 1991 Rover 820i with Vitesse style bodykit. Based on the first Honda Legend, this car’s style was based on the last truly iconic Rover, the SD1.

In this case, a 1983 Rover 3500SE. My thoughts on this car are well recorded on CC. Seeing one is always a treat; seeing one as good as this is truly a great delight and highlight.

Unexceptional – not really, any of them. These are Kerbside Classics!