Events : Preview – Festival of the Unexceptional

Keith Adams


Hagerty, the classic car insurers, will host the inaugural Festival of the Unexceptional, a tribute to cars from ‘an utterly undistinguished era’ – the 1970s to mid-1980s – on 26 July at Whittlebury Park Golf Club in Towcester. The aim is to create a true festival vibe for the less-celebrated, but equally well-loved, classics that your parents used to drive, and it’s right up our street…

It’s a fond retrospective of the family cars that we all know and love and will be the country’s first ever ‘Concours de l’Ordináire‘, a unique car show concept in the UK that showcases the best examples of some of the most routine cars ever built, promising to be the antidote to top-end concours events, stuffed with cars that only the super-rich can afford to own. The Festival of the Unexceptional will be will run concurrently to an altogether more conventional car festival, the Silverstone Classic.

Participation is open to unexceptional classics from 1968-1985 and their exceptional owners. We’ll bring together the 50 best examples of a wide range of models to be judged by Hagerty’s handpicked group of unexceptional ‘experts’, including our own Keith Adams. An award of dubious value will go to the overall winner. Petty bribes for the judges are strictly encouraged, as is period dress. Registration is free, but space is limited to 50 cars.

The organisers aim to attract a gathering of family cars and are actively encouraging owners of classics such as the Austin Allegro, Morris Marina and Triumph Dolomite to make the trek to Towcester and show the classic car world that there’s as much love for the average cars of yesterday, as there is for the more conventional exotica that usually gravitates towards such motoring festivals. There will be a prize for the Car of the Day, and Keith Adams will be one of the judges.

Hagerty is looking for cherished examples of day-to-day classics, such as the Ford Cortina, Morris Marina, Vauxhall Cavalier and Talbot Solara for example – but anything you’d see in your typical street scene of the 1970s and 1980s will be eligible and Hagerty is promising that the prizes will be in keeping with the Festival’s everyman theme!

Angus Forsyth, Managing Director Hagerty International, said: ‘There are no shortage of car shows and Concours d’Elégance that showcase the glorious examples of some of the best cars ever made. We love the traditional concours as much as the next classic car enthusiast, but we wanted to put a twist on the quintessential car show and celebrate the cars that are rarely celebrated.

‘The Festival of the Unexceptional is meant to humorously highlight the serious attrition rate of cars produced in the 1970s-1980s. The paltry number of these cars either licensed or on Statutory Off-Road Notice is truly frightening. Remarkably, there are more Porsche 911s in daily use in the UK than there are Ford Sierras. The Unexceptional Era runs from roughly 1973-1985 when you could have your car in any colour as long as it was beige, mustard or brown, when plaid seats, vinyl tops and bogus Rostyle wheels ruled.’

More at the Hagerty website.

Keith Adams


  1. I wonder how many Datsuns will be there as these totally bland but very reliable and cheap to buy cars changed the motoring landscape in the seventies.

  2. Great! In 1990, a car from 1965 would’ve been seen as a classic.

    In 2014, a car from 1989 is seen as a banger.

    Cars that are 30 years old (Early Sierras, mk3 Escorts, Bluebirds, early BXs etc.) don’t get the respect that they deserve!
    Perhaps because that was the point when the cars started to get modern, reliable, and we actually started running cars for longer?

  3. That sounds like my kind of show! Excellent idea!

    1987, when I made my driving license, our Austin 1800 S was ‘just’ 17 years old, but there were hardly any cars on the road of that age. Most cars were scrapped when about 8 or 9 years old… Today, I would hardly look at 17 year old cars – way too modern 😉

  4. I still see an Austin Metro, Triumph Acclaim and a Nissan Bluebird regularly. All have a certain reason to be classics- the Metro saved British Leyland, the Acclaim was the first British car to use Japanese technology and the last Triumph and the Nissan Bluebird was the first car in Britain to be built by the Japanese. I’d say all three provide relatively cheap and simple classic tranport and the last two are probably still reliable enough for long journeys.
    Classics in the eighties were all sixties British sports cars, Morris Minors and foreign exotica, but now most cars from that decade could be classed as practical classics and many have a loyal following. Indeed even Eastern European cars have their own club.

  5. I would guess that the cars of the 50’s and 60’s must have had something that later cars lacked. The 60’s was really the high point of the british motor industry with some really great designs. As these cars had a shorter life by the end of the 70’s they were really starting to disappear. Reading the classic car press on the early 80’s there appeared to be a realisation that these cars would be lost which spurred on the classic car movement.
    I remember buying a copy of Classic Car magazine in 1979 which featured a buying guide for the P5 Rover, out of production for 6 years, equivalent to a 2008 car today! Practical Classics started in 1981 to cater for cars 10 years old or more – equivalent to an 04 plate today.

  6. Hooray for shows like this- cars of the modern era have even less character than their 70s and 80s forebears. It always cheers me to see some ‘autoshite’ cars still in use on the roads today.

  7. Yes I remember those popular colours of the day – Sahara beige, metallic purple, gold, bronze and bright solid green on 70’s Ford’s, plus Russet Brown Marina’s.

    I preferred the more friendly look of cars in those times but perhaps showing my age when I say that!

  8. How can anyone say an early seventies Ford Cortina GXL is bland, partiucularly an example with a vinyl roof and metallic paint? In their day these were highly stylish cars with an Americanised concave dashboard and the distinctive four headlamp front end with FORD on the bonnet. Also an OHC engine was quite advanced for the time as most cars still used pushrod engines.
    OTOH a purple Austin Allegro deserves to be blown up by Jeremy Clarkson, never has such a vile car made it into production.

  9. I also think the original Chrysler Alpine is a very stylish car and not as bad as some people made out. When everyone else was churning out rwd four door saloons, along came a fwd hatchback with masses of space and similar performance to a Cortina, but with more economy. It was hobbled by an elderly SIMCA engine and rust problems, but was probably no worse than most other cars of the time.

  10. ” Remarkably, there are more Porsche 911s in daily use in the UK than there are Ford Sierras ”

    Remarkable indeed!!

    The notion of unexceptional classics is right up my street. I suspect this is the same for most visitors to AROnline.

  11. Apparently there are only 13 Chrysler Talbot Alpines still running, yet there are 200 Vauxhall Victor FDs still around, and these could rust badly as well.
    However, while the Alpine was quite a good car, its original version never got bigger than 1442cc, while the FD Victor could take engines up to 3.3 litres and this is probably why they’ve lasted better.

  12. @ 16, The Mitsubishi Carisma was an unfortunately named car. However, the GDI engine was advanced for that era and gave a Mondeo sized car exceptional economy. Also like all Mitsubishis it came loaded with equipment.

  13. @12 the Rover 2000 had an OHC engine in 1963.

    For me the majority of cars as the years have progressed have become very much look alikes so distinctivity has gone out of the window and there has been copying, for example, Audis copying of the Rover75 V8 front grille

  14. The GDI unit wasn’t a good engine at all. I had the dubious pleasure of running three company Volvo original V40s powered by the unit. All had top-ends sounding like coffee grinders by 70K, the fuel consumption wasn’t that striking when compared to other petrol engines of their era either.

  15. The problem for the 80’s car is it is the start of the era of the world car. The combination of competition, regulations, and the need to build cars in large numbers to be profitable meant that cars became samey.

    No room for quirks and experimentation. It was also the start of plastic interiors, grey and bland without

  16. The problem for the 80’s car is it is the start of the era of the world car. The combination of competition, regulations, and the need to build cars in large numbers to be profitable meant that cars became samey.

    No room for quirks and experimentation. It was also the start of plastic interiors, grey and bland without the charm of earlier cars or the quality of later ones.

    I find everyday cars from the 60’s interesting, but not those from my own childhood.

  17. @18 – Audi first used that Grill on the 2004 A6. Shown for the first time at the same Geneva show the 75 V8 was unveiled at. So its as likely that Rover copied Audi, or that it was a styling feature that a number of manufacturers where taking an interest in at that time.

  18. @ 19, the Ventora was effectively a Victor with a bigger engine and more equipment. You could for a time get a Victor estate car with a 3.3 litre engine. I quite like the FD Ventora as it was a bit of a Q car and more stylish than the Cresta.

  19. @17. Yes. I have owned a non GDI 1.8 Carisma. Used to get 43mpg on a gentle 60mph run. I currently have a 1.9 DID diesel Carisma. Owned for over 7 years. Dull but so worthy. Very reliable indeed inspite of the Renault engine. And unlike most new cars it doesn’t look as aggressive as Mike Tyson after someones called him a fairy to his face.

  20. @20 I may be wrong but I thought the V40 didn’t use the same engines as the Carisma. Early Carismas weren’t GDI.

  21. If you have a car that’s around 20 years old or over, I see it as a bonus that it is here at all, nowadays they don’t really rust away but merely become uneconomic to repair due to throwaway culture and being gadget driven.

    Mk1 focus, Astra G and the like whilst not terribly important today will be seen fondly in ten or twenty years hence. Same for the BMW MINI

  22. We were having this discussion at work recently.

    In 1980 when Practical Classics was born, the cars of 15 to 20 years old were more stylish, reliable and well built than those that followed. The scrapyard s were full of these vehicles and it was easy and cheap to run one as daily transport.

    Fast forward 25 years and the situation was pretty well reversed.

    Fortunately, there are enthusiasts out there preserving examples of 70s,80s and 90s classics but I think it explains why the survival rate is so relatively small.

  23. Nineties cars like a Rover 600 would probably make more sense as a daily driver than a Morris Marina, with its four speed gearbox, rwd, relatively heavy fuel consumption, sluggish performance and wayward handling. Indeed what we take for granted now, PAS, five speed gearboxes, fuel injection, was common from the early nineties onwards.
    Typically a 1994 Rover 620i will do 125 mph where conditions allow, average 40 mpg on a long journey and the PAS and five speeder will make the journey more painless. Contrast this with a 1974 Morris Marina 1.8 Super with a plastic interior, no PAS, a top speed of 97 mph and 28 mpg and you can see which is more practical.

  24. Festival of the Unexceptional – 1970s to mid-1980s

    Some ephemeral cars of that era are fetching strong money now. Most Fords of that period seem to be appreciating greatly (Mk1 & Mk2 Escorts, nearly all Capris, Mk1 Sierras, Mk 1 & Mk2 Granadas)… and that’s not including the RS & XR variants, which are very strong.

    IMO, it’s the cars that stem from the late ’80s that are more unexceptional; RWD was being replaced with FWD. Facelifts were just softened versions of the predicessor (e.g. Mk3 to Mk4 Escort), insurance companies were pricing out hot-hatches etc.

  25. @ 30, I think Ford design seemed to become totally bland from the Mark 3 Granada to the Mark 5 Escort. The Mark 3 Fiesta and Mark 5 Escort were a low point for Ford, offering nothing over the previous versions, being completely anonymous and in the case of the Escort, being unreliable and badly made. Indeed of this era Rover seemed to produce the most distinctive cars, the 200, 400 and reworked Metro really stood out.

  26. I love the Talbot Alpine, one of the great designs of that era. I guess it was a relatively unexceptional period; caused by industrial and economic strife and two fuel crises. Between 72/3 and 83/4 Id say was the worst of it, cars like the 205 and Benz 190 helped define the more venal era which followed. Nonetheless there were some exciting designs produced such as the Citroen CX and VW Golf.

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