Keith Adams spends a day in heaven at the best car show in the world. The Hagerty Insurance Festival of the Unexceptional brings together the finest examples of the UK’s rarest cars in one place – and it’s amazing.
On a field packed with more than 150 rare and exceptional cars, it was hard to choose the highlights, but we’ll try.
The magnificent Stowe House and its gardens are the perfect place for a top-end classic car event. Designed and built during the 17th and 18th Centuries by the Temple-Grenville family, who repurposed great swathes of rolling Buckinghamshire countryside to create the perfect country retreat for the ruling classes. Capability Brown was head gardener, which explains why the venue is so utterly beautiful.
However, for one day only, its neo-classical magnificence was challenged by a remarkable lineup of cars brought together by Hagerty Insurance for its concours de l’ordinaire. It’s a 45-strong concours event like no other – because it makes heroes of ‘ordinary’ cars and their owners – and we love it for that. Add in the 150-or-so handpicked visitors’ cars of the same flavour, and you have the ingredients for the best classic car show in the world.
In 2018, the Festival was held on the same weekend as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, some 150 miles to the south. Although some might think this scheduling clash was a bit of a mistake, for many car enthusiasts (and hopefully all readers of AROnline), the Festival was the perfect antidote for this bloated car manufacturer-sponsored battle of egos. This was – and is – about real people.
The Festival of the Unexceptional is, though, still very much like other classic car concours events in its look and feel – just not the subject matter. Modelled on world-class events, such as the Pebble Beach and Amelia Island concours d’elegance, this one takes place in the shadow of a beautiful country house, with cars lined up perfectly on manicured lawns. And for its fifth running, it looks like the Festival of The Unexceptional truly came of age.
Angus Forsyth, Managing Director of Hagerty said: ‘There is no shortage in the UK of car shows and concours d’elegance that showcase the best examples of some of the best cars ever. While Aston Martin DB5s and Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts can be common at these events, just try spotting an Austin Montego or a Morris Marina on the show field. For that matter, you won’t even find them in the car park.’
The Festival winners
Back in 2012, I met with Hagerty’s Marketing Director Marcus Atkinson and then-editorial consultant, Rob Sass, who spelled out the idea of the Concours de l’ordinaire to me. I was instantly hooked, and knew this was a winner because making heroes of the ordinary is a subject close to my own heart. And a little more than five years on, walking through the grounds of Stowe School, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they’ve pretty much cracked it.
The winning cars chosen perfectly sum up the spirit of the Festival. Guy Maylam, Kev Curtis and Gavin Bushby should be applauded for taking the time and trouble to get their wonderful cars into such show-winning condition – especially when one considers that, a few years ago, the Chrysler Alpine, Fiat Strada and Datsun Bluebird would have been considered automotive landfill.
These guys are true champions to the cause.
Cars in the concours
The cars in the car park
- Concepts and prototypes : Hyundai/Rover Oden (1992) - 9 November 2023
- Opinion : So, maybe the Montego was the best they could do… - 8 November 2023
- The cars : Austin Montego (LM11) development story - 7 November 2023