Opinion : Why I love the Festival of The Unexceptional

Firstly, apologies for my absence from the site for the past month. It’s been a busy time, and I needed to take a little break from AROnline in order to maintain momentum elsewhere. In time, we’ll be comfortable calling these things a ‘mental health break,’ but not quite yet I suspect.

Anyway, I’m back at the CMS, so thank you to all for continuing to read the site and contribute to its comments section. It’s appreciated, and always an education. My return to the social scene has been slow, to say the least, following a house move and other stuff, but when the invite to the ninth Hagerty Insurance Festival of The Unexceptional rolled into my inbox, I was keen to join in the fun.

And that’s why I found myself in a Saturday morning queue on the way into Lincolnshire’s Grimsthorpe Castle, joining a lengthy snake of cars that formed part of a 1200-strong display of the good, bad, ugly and amazing cars that now proudly nestle under the ‘unexceptional’ banner. Of course, that description is applied from a position of love, and each and every one is as special as their owner’s individuality.

My own car was a 1993 Audi 100 Avant, and definitely at the rarer end of the spectrum, but as I climbed out and began to take in the cars that had been lovingly parked in the castle’s grand avenue, it felt that I was part of one big, friendly, inclusive gathering. Flanking my panzerwagen were a Rover 45 V6 Connoisseur and a Daihatsu Sirion… and that’s where things just started.

I knew it was going to be an amazing event. I’d dashed down the A1 to be here and, in my rush, I’d overtaken – amongst other things – an FSO Caro, a Talbot Horizon, an Austin Metro, a Moskvich Aleko (yes, really), a Ford Sierra Sapphire and a Peugeot 205 GL. All were piloted by young drivers, generally smiling, and looking like they were enjoying themselves. This is very different to many of the more serious po-faced events I could mention.

Anyway, as for the event, where do I start? It’s sticking to the established format of having the Concours de l’ordinare as its centrepiece. That’s a 50-car line-up of the pinnacle of exceptional unexceptional cars and, at the end of the day’s fun, a winning car (Stephen Pike’s Daihatsu Applause), and pair of runners-up (Siôn Hudson’s Austin Metro and Hugo Naaijken’s Subaru Justy) are crowned. These cars are treated with the same reverence as the showstoppers at Pebble Beach, Emilia Island, Villa d’Este and Hampton Court. Wonderful stuff…

Then there’s the parking for the event’s visitors – here’s where the heart and soul of the event is created. That’s because the Festival is now the signature event for lovers of the sort of cars we’ve been championing on AROnline for more than two decades. The unloved (see Renault 11), the unappreciated (see Alfa Romeo 33) and the downright misunderstood (see Austin Allegro) are here in force, alongside more traditional classics as well as former street furniture – now all endangered.

I’ll let the gallery of images do the talking here, but needless to say, I was in heaven. Wherever I looked, the cars were special, and each and every one said something about their loving owners. The people at the show, too, were passionate, engaged and proud of their cars. It was almost like a drop-in therapy session for the afflicted. I was home, this was my tribe.

There were funny moments among the sighs of appreciation – when Practical Classics Editor, Danny Hopkins, was giving his prizegiving speech, he singled out the person who drove in and parked a Press Office McLaren something-or-other (they all look the same to me), by taunting, ‘READ THE ROOM’. That brought quite an applause. But that, essentially, is the spirit of the Festival of The Unexceptional.

Thank you to all who organised, attended and joined in – if nothing else, you’ve re-ignited this jaded soul!

Rover SD1 Vitesse
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
A pair of Wartburgs
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Rover 216 GTI 16V
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Simca 1100
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Rover 75
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Citroën XM Break
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Ford Escort Mk3
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Audi A2
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Vauxhall Cavalier SRi
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Vauxhall Astra Mk1
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Renault 14
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Austin Maestro
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Talbot Samba Cabriolet
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Saab 900
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Talbot Horizon
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Vauxhall Astra GTE
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Ford Sierra
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Ford Granada Mk2 and Rover SD1
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
MG Maestro
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Talbot Horizon
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Ford Orion
Festival of the Unexceptional 2023
Austin Maxi
Keith Adams

14 Comments

  1. With more and more “costume dramas” from the late C20 being made for the large and small screens, I wondered if there were any talent scouts at FOTU taking note of the great variety of “background vehicles” that are out there and being well cared for. I’m tiring of series which just rotate half a dozen classics into all their street scenes and parking spaces – think of the variety we could be enjoying!

  2. I thought it had gone a bit quiet recently. Anyway, glad to see that your are back, Keith, and hopefully in fine fettle.

  3. Glad to have you back Keith.

    My fave in the pics is the Mk1 Astra as it is the same as my Great Aunt and Uncle had back in the 80s and 90s. The Wartburgs are great to see as I have not seen one for about 20 years, though wouldn’t want to own one!

    • I missed the 5 behind the Astra! Doh. My uncle had one of those in that colour for about 10 years. It was falling apart in the interior after a few 100,000 miles but body and engine were still string

  4. Welcome back, Keith, and I always enjoy looking at The Festival Of The Unexceptional, a celebration of less obvious classics and cars that are very rare now. Amazing how a Simca 1100 and a pair of Talbot Horizons have managed to survive so long as the Simca is probably the ultimate rarity as they seemed to vanish by 1985.

  5. A big burst of nostalgia; most of those photos bring back memories of days when I was younger and those models were everywhere.

    It set me wondering which of today’s cars will be taking part in this event in 30 years time.

    • Probably Mk I Ford Focus, the last GM Vauxhalls, the last Rovers, the first EV’s like the Nissan Leaf and the last ICE models.

  6. What is the judging criteria? Does it have to be an exceptional-unexceptional; or can it be an unexceptional-unexceptional?

    Could you win with a scabby Talbot Horizon, or is it like the Concours events that you mentioned, where it has to look like it was made yesterday, and they obsess over whether the jubilee clips under the bonnet should be shiny or dull for the week of production of the particular car, and you have to lick everything clean, including the judges’ boots, probably?

  7. Welcome back.
    For me it’s that mk1 Astra. There is something so right about the early 80s Vauxhalls. Much more appealing than the. mk2 somehow. And that MG maestro is nice

  8. Keith- welcome back , there really is no need to apologise- you of all people need a break.
    Great article – I really must make the effort to go next year . Loved the photos particularly the Vitesse and the MG Maestro

  9. Just as rare as a Talbot Horizon, the Renault 14, another unloved car from the late seventies and early eighties that miraculously has made it to 2023. This is what I like about Unexceptional, you see cars that were considered OK at the time but quickly forgotten when they went out of production. In a way a Renault 14 is as much a classic as a Golf Gti due to its rarity value and also because it was one of the first fwd hatchbacks.

  10. Wonderful day out and well worth the 320 mile trek from Ormskirk in my K reg Subaru Vivio. Folk seemed to appreciate the sense of humour of the man I bought it from in Derby; I paid just £660 3 years ago (ie £1 per cc) and although I’m trying to keep the mileage down (33,000 and counting) it drove there and back faultlessly. Visited the supplying dealer yesterday in Duffield and got caught up in a major police chase as 10 marked and plain police cars pursued a white Merc; it came to an end at Five Lamps in Derby with a large crash. Good news is they got the drug dealer.

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