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!