A Day at Olympia

Did any member visit the London Classic Car Show this year? If not, read on. Your scribe and Steve Potter from the Club plus our friends and fellow petrol-heads, Dennis and John, took a tube to Olympia on Sunday, the last show day, to view the goodies on display in what is likely to be one of the last major exhibitions for some time.

This was the sixth outing for this show and its first at Olympia, a sort of new, but old venue. Coincidently, Olympia was chosen to host some of the first motor shows of the twentieth century. Designed by Henry Edward Coe, it first opened its doors in December 1886 and now, 134 years later, we crossed their threshold to enjoy the first classic car show of the season. How does it compare to the ExCel, its home in the Royal Victoria Dock for the previous five years? Probably in the size really and the number of people attending. Maybe because it was the Sunday or perhaps worries around that virus, we felt there were fewer crowds and exhibits although there were over a hundred listed. One obvious casualty of the downsizing was the Grand Avenue, but this was offset by the Car Stories stand which was an interesting addition if not as dramatic. The quality of the exhibits was, however, top rate. So, let’s have a browse round a few of them.

Olympia 2020
Antiques - Olympia 2020
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Centre stage was the aforementioned Car Stories which featured a tribute to Bruce Mclaren. The racing theme continued with a Maserati 250F, a Lotus 49B and a Porsche 926C. There were three Astons, a DB4 GT Zagato continuation, a Vanquish 25 – a reworked and modernised version of the original – both designed by Ian Callum and a DB5 Goldfinger continuation. Apparently 25 of the latter will be made but Q has not disclosed which of its weaponry will make it into production. The black XK120 on the stand was owned by male model David Gandy (you see him advertising those Wellman pills amongst other must-have stuff). The interior is spectacular with Aged Saddle tanned leather in a lattice design. Finally, a Deusenberg Model J from The Heynes Museum towered above all before it. Boasting a 6.9 litre straight eight producing 265 bhp, it was in 1928 one of the most powerful cars of its time, being double that of its competitors. It would have been good to see more of these stories, but there was the rest of the show to see. Maybe next time.

It was a good year for anniversaries with Audi and Range Rover celebrating their 40th and 50th years, respectively. There were plenty of both marques on show. Early two-door Rangies were for sale at eye watering prices. Who’d have thought? The Quattro heritage was out in force with cars including an early LHD 1981 10-valve in UK spec., a ’91 2.2 litre 20-valve, unregistered with only delivery miles on the clock and an ’85 S1 E2 rally car driven by the Stig (actually, Stig Blonqvist ).

I don’t recall it being an anniversary year for Aston Martin, but there were more here than you could shake a stick at. DB 6’s, 5’s, 4’s, 3’s, DBS’s and V8’s abounded with half a mill price stickers to accompany them on their way. I actually became bored looking at them.

As usual, the dealers produced some tantalising exhibits to tempt your wallet. A superb spread of Mercedes Pagodas near the entrance, together with a 190 SL, all restored to within an inch of their lives, had to be the best display. What stunners! I didn’t dare ask the prices. Speaking of high prices, nearby, you could blow six figures on a Land Rover Defender short wheel base. This thing had more bells and whistles that Santa Claus’ sleigh, but I bet it still leaks.

Looking at examples from across the pond, two Dodge Chargers were looking suitably menacing in black, whilst a Ford Thunderbird resplendent in “Ed’s Diner” red and white, a ’55 model I think, had a sold sticker on the screen. Across the aisle, a real rarity was up for around £26K. This was a 1950 Studebaker Champion, 3-passenger Business Coupe powered by a 2.8 litre six with 6 volt electrics. Designed by Raymond Loewy (he did several Studebakers – and the Hillman Minx) with Virgil Exner (later to become chief stylist for Chrysler), the “Bullet Nose” look is not to everyone’s taste, but I like it. This was the company’s first all-new post war car with only a little over 1500 built in the 1950 model year.

There was one car manufacturer selling his wares at the show – Jannarelly. Heard of them? Thought not; neither had I. They build it (actually called a Design 1) in Dubai with a 3.5 litre Nissan V6 out back with 320 bhp on tap. It has a retro look about it; think AC Cobra. At £86 grand a pop, there’s nothing retro about the price, however. Strangely, the roof tips forward to allow entry and egress and weighing in at only 810 kg it promises to go like a scalded cat …and you get analogue dials!

Coys were holding an auction with some very attractive cars, the least of which was garnering the most interest. Judging from the crowd circulating around it, you would think it was yet another DB 5, but no. Sitting on four nicely flat tyres, was a red Mini Cooper. Apparently a barn find, it had, in the past, benefitted from a “previous restoration”, although which bit was restored was anyone’s guess. Even the rust was rusting. The bonnet and boot were open to encourage viewing. The former revealing something brown with pipes and wires hanging from it with the latter revealing nothing but the auction carpet below it. The actual lid was safely stowed on the back seat. I think the auction estimate was £8,500 to £10,000.

The official exhibitors list detailed around fourteen car clubs attending and all had excellent models on display. I don’t recall seeing any Vauxhall Owners Club, but we did spot a red VX4/90. When did you last see one of those? Based on the Victor FB from the sixties, this was the “hot” one with twin carbs, alloy head and high compression producing a then respectable 71 bhp. Servo-assisted front wheel disc brakes were fitted to tame all those horses and it was visually discernible by the the chrome framed coloured strip along its flanks and vertical tail lamp treatment. Inside, you got full instrumentation, bucket seats and a fully synchromeshed set of four on the floor. A neat looking car in its era.

The Corvette Club were showing a red and white roadster, bedecked with the Stars and Stripes and probably a 1960 first generation C1. Corvettes have been around since 1953 and this model is one of my favourite iterations. The London Vintage Taxi Association displayed models mainly from the twenties most of which were familiar from their appearances on film and TV series such as Poirot. The TR Register had a 1959 Triumph 2000 Italia. It was based on the TR3A chassis but with a more modern body and commissioned by the Italian Triumph distributer. Michelotti styled the body and Vignale built it. Only 329 of the 1000 planned were built between 1958 and 1962 when the much cheaper TR4 replaced the TR3A in 1961 and Triumph withdrew its support for the Italian variant. The similarity in design is however quite noticeable. Is this any relation to the Swallow Doretti?

The day was completed with a review of some of the non-car exhibitors’ stands. From classic watches to purveyors of Yorkshire Gin, they were a varied bunch. The Autoquip Motorsports Company showed and sold hydraulic ramps at £1900 each. Very good quality and would fit in the garage. Original art was displayed at Carjetski Drawings with the artist on hand to describe his technique. Travel Destinations were there to sort out car trips and you could even buy a 1940 WWII Continental Radial Engine Table from Hatchwell Antiques to finish off your day.

Hope to see you at the next show – whenever that may be.

Neil Shanley