A breeze through the NEC show 2017

Thursday couldn’t come around soon enough for this was the day my ‘out of office’ reply came on and stayed on for the following four days. This was the day that Steve, Brad and your scribe would head for the Midlands to enjoy the 2017 Classic Motor Show at the NEC in Birmingham.

Setting out a little after 10.00 a.m., we experienced a gentle and uneventful cruise to Coventry and arrived at the Ramada at precisely 11.58 a.m., exactly the time the SatNav said we would. Too early for check in, we left our luggage at Reception and headed into Coventry, a city in which I lived for three or four years in the early ’70s. Not much seems to have changed and, although there are some new landscaped areas, the dreadful Ring Roads, now a little crumbly in places, still dominate. New build is not in abundance here either, but there is a welcome exception: the Coventry Motor Museum, a free-to-enter delight for all motoring fans, historians and petrol heads alike. A good three hours was happily spent in its halls before check-in and reacquaintance with the local hostelries. More of the Museum another time, for this is all about the Show.

At 09.45 Friday we were queuing outside Hall 2 and saw Mike Brewer and Ant Anstead who chatted with the crowd. Whatever happened to Edd China? With around 2,500 vehicles on display plus countless trade stands, we were keen to make a swift start. Onto Hall 1, then, to collect our souvenir guide (there were none at Hall 2!). Our club stand is in Hall 2, so back there for a look around. Here you could walk the stands of: XJS Owners Club, JEC Club, Daimler & Lanchester Owners Club, Jaguar Drivers Club – Oh, no you couldn’t walk on that stand – various Lotus Clubs, Challenger E-Type and many more.

Hall 3 housed the Dealer Stands to the left with most Club and Specialist Suppliers’ Stands to the right. Family cars from a bygone era, sports cars and more recent machinery were displayed, ranging from MG’s through to Sunbeams, taking in such rarities as Austin Sheerlines and Armstrong Siddeleys – must have one of those Sphinx mascots.

There was probably a car to suit everyone on the Dealers Sale area. Interestingly, there were two XJS’s, both convertibles for sale. One on the Arun Stand (from whom I bought my car), a Celebration in Turquoise at £28K and one older model nearby in maroon metallic for £38K! KWE, the XJS restoration specialist, showed a powder blue convertible with white and pale blue leather….mmmm. We discussed spares availability for the XJS, particularly the convertible – basically, unless you require running gear, there is very little out there. They said they had to make their own body panels. This is possibly because people hang onto the drop tops. On the corner of one dealer stand and going for a record £28K was a beige 420 automatic with low miles. It was very good and, if you like the colour, would be a neat car to own. I wonder if they sold it.  (The clock didn’t look like it worked, however!)

Enough of dealers and back onto the Club Stands where Hall 4 beckoned. Here Skill Shack Restoration Theatre and the tools sellers competed with the clubs which were well represented by a plethora of “family car” clubs as well as sportier marques including the Triumph Sports Six Club, the TR Register, and the Stag Owners Club. But it is the small clubs formed around the ownership of once popular mundane transport that always fascinate me. There is a club for just about anything, including, and not least, certain questionable products from Longbridge. The charming lady on the Maxi Owners stand admitted to owning two and one of them was on the stand with the seats all laid flat to make a double bed. Not a bad party trick and always useful. Next door, and don’t tell Clarkson – sat the Morris Marina Owners Club and Ital Register. The Marina 1.8 Special on display was one of only 6 left on the roads in the UK. I have owned a Coupe, an Estate and several saloons in my day. Good A to B cars, but old when they were new. The Vanden Plas Owners Club stand featured a unique “Landcrab” Vanden Plas – a prototype based on the Wolsey 18/85 – which was transformed into an elegant four light saloon, and which somehow escaped the crusher. Spirited displays from the Rover, Mini, Standard and Maestro/Montego   Clubs. When did you last see a Montego? I have never yet until this show, seen a vacuum cleaner (I think a Hoover upright from the 60’s) on display at a car stand. Well, the Gay Classic Car Group can take the credit. The theme continued with old transistor radios and furniture from the era. Great fun, but I shall not be applying for membership.

Hall 5 is always worth the money. Here you will see the Discovery Live Stage with your favourite TV classic car guys such as Mike Brewer. Adjacent to the stage, the Ford clubs presented some impressive stands as did arch rivals, Vauxhall, backed by their heritage division. I spent a fascinating few minutes on the Citroen Traction Owners stand discussing the differences between the Slough- or Parisian-built Light 15s. In the UK, we had leather and wood in the cabin, plus trafficators, whilst the Gallic models got by with metal and vinyl.  The light 12s of the ’30s, whilst noticeably shorter, actually had a narrower track as well.  Monocoque construction, rack & pinion steering and front wheel drive in the 30s – great innovations. If only poor old André had got that gearbox right, or had time to develop the auto box for which the car was always intended.

The DeLorean Stand is well worth the visit and whilst the range of models is, well, restricted, there is always something interesting to see. The chap on the stand was also the author of the definitive book on the car and he was on hand to correctly answer any question that your anorak could think of. And it’s true, they were all fitted with flux capacitors!

Seven show winners were displayed on the Classic American Stand. These finalists were entrants to the classic American Car of The Year, the winner of which to be announced on the Sunday. Check some of these Detroit bruisers – a 67 Mustang GT390, a ’57 Bel Air, further muscle represented by a Plymouth Road Runner, the oldest there was a 1950 Nash Ambassador, quite rare. Into the 70’s and this decade was represented by a gargantuan Lincoln Mk IV and an equally immaculate Chevy Caprice. But, my favourite there was the second oldest, a ’55 Thunderbird in white with red leather. Our own Richard Gibby also voted this as one of his show favourites.

Finally, with the hour glass rapidly emptying, a quick canter across the concourse returned us to Hall 1. The show sponsor, Lancaster Insurance Stand is a must. The models on display, all glad in body hugging black outfits were terrific and the twenty Pride and Joy finalists also contributed much to the stand. Do try to get there if you go next year. Over at TVR they displayed the reborn Griffith – soon to be on sale at a dealers near you. Jensen showed a barn find which was for sale, whilst the RR Club had a cut-away Shadow to help their owners with their DIY jobs – yes really – and a new Wraith which was open to the public. JDC, take note. Some other top end stands were there also including; Ferrari, Lamborghini, and of course, Porsche.  I asked one of the people on the stand why they should be so expensive. He inquired as to what I call expensive, to which I replied £80 to 90k for something relatively modern that they produced by the bucket load.  Didn’t really receive an answer, but they are well screwed together and a hoot to drive.

If you do visit this hall, another must is the Meguiars Club Showcase. Here you could view the 16 finalists of concourse events around the country, the overall winner of which would be announced by Mike Brewer on Sunday afternoon.  An eclectic mix but with a common theme of truly excellent preparation. Do see the ’89 Metro GS, the ubiquitous Mini, a Mk 1 Capri, a ’58 PA Velox, and not to be missed rare Triumph Italia (not to be confused with the Doretti).

The Chevy 3100 Pick-Up was eye candy. I thought it to be a ’49 model, but the lady next to me said the cab was from that year, but the chassis was a ’52 example. She and her husband owned the machine which had no less than sixteen coats of paint, including four of lacquer at a cost of over £16 grand. I wonder if it won.

Well, that’s it, a shower followed by dinner in the hotel restaurant beckons finishing with a few drinks. May see Doug and Jackie there later. If you have never been, try to go next year. Perhaps we may see you.


Neil Shanley