This year’s Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show was very different for me. After years of going to the event to manage coverage for my previous employer (Classic Car Weekly), it was good to turn up at a civilised hour and actually look at the cars. It was rather different to feverishly trying and get the story behind them, while conversing with dozens of readers, and simultaneously looking after the needs of advertisers, commercial and marketing people, at the same time as selling subscriptions…
No, this year was an altogether more relaxed affair and, as a consequence, it was good to re-familiarise myself with the cars I really love, and some of the great friends I’ve made over the years.
The thing that always strikes me about the NEC is that the cars which seem to get the most love from the crowds are the normal ones. You know what I mean – day-to-day cars that our mums and dads drove, and which we actually rode in the back of as children. Or, if like me, you’re getting on a bit, ones you drove in your ‘glory’ years, such as the Metro, above.
Classic supercars an attraction? Hardly!
So, as much as I love seeing a supercar or sports car doing its stuff, in the hallowed halls of the Classic Motor Show, I found myself pushing past some serious exotica in order to get a closer look at some humdrum family saloons. Take the Fiat Supermirafiori, below – it was located near some very fine Aston Martins, but I practically knocked over some bemused show visitors in my haste to hustle past the Brit heroes to get a look at this gorgeous 1979/80 example.
Does that make me weird? I suspect many of my work colleagues may think so but, in reality, I suspect that the power of nostalgia is always going to be far more potent than the draw of the aspirational.
Yes, we all desire something a bit special, but the joy of classic cars is that they are very good time machines, capable of taking you back to a bygone age. And when presented with a car like the Supermirafiori, you’re taken straight back to the 1980s – because it was the last time you saw one.
Nostalgia is age related
Of course, I’m now in my mid-forties, so the cars that take me back to my formative years are getting fewer and farther between. I’m sure that many of you do the same thing as me when on a foreign holiday – you reach for your camera when you see a once-common family car parked by the side of the road, and grab a snap.
Recently, when I was in Rome, almost in the shadow of the Colosseum, I was stopped in my tracks by a Fiat 132. Again, I had to photograph it – and enjoy looking at this car. When new, it was unexceptional at best, but it was a reasonably common sight on the roads. Street furniture, if you like. Today, it’s a like a chocolate-covered unicorn. Had there been a Bugatti Chiron alongside it, I’d have still been hot for the 132.
So, for me it would appear that I have maximum nostalgia for what would have been bangers on our roads in the mid-1980s. Yes, and no. Okay, so I have a good example of the breed, with my own current classic of choice, a Citroen GS, but it’s also an exceptional car for its technical complexity and sheer cleverness.
I don’t have the same fondness for, say, a similarly aged Ford Escort or Opel Kadett, so clearly there’s more to it than simply the age of the car. Perhaps, there’s an element of aspiration built in. After all, foreign cars still had the whiff of specialness back in the 1970s and ’80s.
On to the 1990s
Nostalgia plays weird tricks, too. Another car that floated my boat the NEC was this wonderful Ryton-made 1990 Peugeot 405 GTX. Now, the attachment to this is somewhat different – by the time this car rolled off the line, I’d been driving three years, and this was exactly the kind of car I aspired to. Elegant, good looking and fine to drive, some would say it’s one of the best-designed family cars to emerge from France.
I thought so. In 1992, I bought a year-old Peugeot 405 GR Injection in Graphite Grey (over and above a Rover 214 Si, and that’s another story), and loved it to bits – until I crashed it, and replaced it with a Citroen BX. Since then, I’ve never even sat in a 405 and, at Birmingham, I really wanted to climb in and experience that velour-lined luxury once again. I’d love another one, too.
The point of this rambling blog is that for me, the most powerfully evocative cars are the once-common, now-rare family cars that used to litter our streets, and which we most readily related to at the time. It might also seem strange that, although I’ve just bought a Renault GTA (below), I suspect that I’ll still get more joy from my GS on a purely emotional level…
Considering they are just lumps of metal and plastic, cars really are quite emotional things. Or maybe it’s just me…