Carshow Photo Report – Lytham Hall May 2023 – The Import Section

CC has recently seen of the highlights from the annual classic car show held at Lytham Hall in Lancashire, England in May this year. Those earlier posts focussed on the British built cars, but what about the imports? Let’s have a look at some of my personal highlights, culminating in my car of the show. In what may be a surprise to many, although it’s red, it’s not an Alfa Romeo!

Let’s start not in Italy but with Polish built Fiat, a 1988 126bis. This was the last incarnation of the rear engine Fiat, and a development of the 1972 126 which was very closely related under the contemporary skin to the Nouva 500

The 126bis, from 1987, had a water cooled engine and hatchback configuration, and was adopted by the Poles as a the national car. In total, 3.3 million were built in Poland from 1973 to 2000, a 28 year run few would have expected in 1972.

The slot as the most  affordable car in the market, a slot Fiat had truly made its own with the 500 and 126, was taken in 1980 by the first Panda. Perhaps, this was closest answer to the question the Citroen 2CV has answered nearly 40 years earlier since the 2CV itself. And one of Giugairo’s greatest designs, perhaps one of his masterpieces. Even with flat glass, it got respect for its style as well as its value. Produced until 2003 and 4.5 million were sold.

This example is a 1990 car, decorated up as a special edition to link into the 1990 football (soccer) World Cup which was held in Rome, under the name Italia ’90. And yes, the wheel trims are supposed to look like footballs.

Or may be you prefer a Fiat 124 Sport Spider? This is a 1978 car, registered in the UK in 2022, I suspect after it was imported from either Italy or North America.

As an alternative to the default MGB roadster, I can see a definite attraction, even if the dash is a bit too saloon like.

Or perhaps you’d go for the Alfa Romeo Spider Tipo 105 (aka Graduate)? This is a 1968 1750cc car.

Even better, it was the original “boat tail” version.

The Germans can do red sports cars too – this is a 1989 Porsche 928 S4.

Perhaps my favourite Porsche? Got to be a strong candidate!

The VW Beetle is not given for a British car show, but this one obliged. A 1970 VW 1300 with a genuine unmolested and not overly restored look to it.

Was the Renault 8 the French Beetle? Well sort of, a bit, though the production life was much shorter, but the format was pretty similar with four doors and a rear engine.

This is a 1965 Renault 8 Gordini – Gordini denoting the high power sport version. Nominally this car should have an 1108cc 89 bhp engine but it is fitted with a 1255cc 99 bhp engine from a 1967 on car.

99bhp on a car this size in Europe in 1967 was quite something – no wonder the owner has added wide wheels. And he seemed set on getting a medal for polishing most on the day.

Something a bit newer – a 1982 BMW 318, arguably the range that made BMW in the UK, with its image as the first Yuppiemobile.

Whatever your views on the early 1980s social trends, can I suggest time has not been very kind to BMW styling forms?

Also from Germany, but a but further north and east, a 1967 Trabant 601, obviously privately imported at some point after 1990.

Few will claim (convincingly) the Trabant was a good car in absolute terms, but when it’s the only one offered to many people it becomes the best. Whatever you do, do not mock a former East German for having fond memories of his family’s Trabbies.

Something of a surprise was this 1956 Chrysler New Yorker saloon. 5.7 litres of Detroit’s finest, albeit not with what might be seen as typical 1950s American styling. Size apart, it’s pretty restrained for the period.

For whatever reason, maybe that restraint, the 1955-56 Chryslers have long been a favourite of mine from the period. Reading about the Chrysler 300 only added to that impression.

And I still maintain there’s a bit of Rover 3 Litre (P5) in that windscreen and in the door/roof profile. Maybe the other way round, given the chronology, and you can add the Chrysler with the Citroen DS and Ferrari Daytona to the group of cars that Rover’s David Bache took inspiration from. Not bad company.

Another unusual car for a British show – a 1972 Buick Centurion hardtop sedan, in excellent condition and very well presented.

7.5 litres of Detroit’s preparation for the energy crisis, and a significantly green interior.

I liked it; I might not be in the market for it and it won’t fit the garage but I can see the attraction, and why some people wouldn’t.

Let’s look at Alfas, starting with a 1969 1750 GTV, Tipo 105 Bertone coupe, also known to some as a “Bertie”.

It was lined up next to an MGB GT but while there are some superficial similarities, like the concept and engine size, there are many differences, not least of which would have been the price.

Also, details like the difference between a OHV engine and twin cam, leaf springs and a decently located coil spring set up and a four speed with overdrive against a five speed gearbox. You can sum this up as “Would you like a Morris Oxford derivative or an Alfa Romeo?” Not a difficult question….

Two less frequently seen Alfa Romeos – a 1981 Alfa Romeo Alfa 6 saloon, with the 2.5 litre Busso V6, one of only 7 (of which 2 are road registered) in the country. It’s been owned by the same person for close to forty years and I suspect he is not selling it now, or ever. Only 12,000 were built, and most stayed in Italy. There is a large element of Alfetta in these cars, although it misses the smaller car’s de Dion rear axle and transaxle.

Alongside, in a father and son pairing, a 1983 Alfasud Ti, one of the later cars with the hatchback configuration. One day, there will be a full CC on the Alfasud, as landmarks and masterpieces deserve nothing less.

Talking of masterpieces, a 1972 Citroen DS20, imported into the UK from South Africa in 2016.

This is a South African assembled car, so it carries some variations from the more familiar French assembled models, including of all things the Citroen badge on the front bonnet.

Inside, the familiar DS experience with in this case, a manual gearbox controlled by a column shift.

South African regs dictated these additional reflectors.

Japanese cars are not a given at a British car show, even more so than American cars. Blame some lingering conservatism and a lack of really memorable and considered desirable (rather than capable and dependable) cars from the 1970s and 1980s. Also, rust. But this show had a couple of stunners. First, a Datsun Cherry 102A Coupe from 1979, with the 1.2 litre engine and presented in astonishing condition for a 1970s shopping car. A little bit of restomodding going on, but not more than indicates that the owner is proud of and enjoying his/her car.

When did I last see on these? 1985? 1989? Who knows? It was a bit like meeting an old friend, even if I’ve never driven or riden in one.

And the other Japanese find was even better – a 1972 Honda N600 Hondamatic, in classic Honda white.

Small but perfectly formed, with a twin cylinder air cooled engine driving the front wheels. The rear suspension was pretty basic, being a beam axle and leaf spring but the whole thing was more than capable of taking the fight to the Mini, for just a few pounds more.

There were several advantages over the Mini as well – you could get to the engine, the spare wheel was accessible easily and the wheels larger for a better ride

This car is a Hondamatic – a semi-automatic transmission.

And in a version of the CC effect, it turned out that not only was it being exhibited by the former owners/managers of the dealership that sold it but one of their former employees was viewing it with me.

For some bonus rabbit hole action, why not follow this link? Restoring US market N600 serial no 1000001? Early Hondas get a lot of love here, and this seems not to be limited to the CC world.

And now the star, for me, of the show – a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster.

The 300SL roadster was a partner to immortal 300SL Gullwing, perhaps the coolest car ever, and although the production run was relatively long from 1957 to 1963, the total produced was under under 2000, with 1400 Gullwings produced from 1954 to 1957.  Declining sales of the Gullwing led Mercedes-Benz to develop the roadster.

Power comes from a 3.0 litre straight six, with 240 bhp, aided by mechanical fuel injection and dry sump lubrication. There was a four speed gearbox and the car was built around a tubular chassis, with independent rear suspension using a swing axle, and at the front with double wishbones.

This car was first registered in the UK in 2015 – my hunch is that it was then imported from North America.

Red may be an unusual colour for these – silver seems almost a default choice but with the black interior it works.

That’s my pick for the car of the show, but what’s yours?