Festival of the Unexceptional

On paper, the Festival of the Unexceptional may seem like the antithesis of Goodwood, but it retains the same element of civility, passion and sheer delight, albeit on a much more humble scale. The event now in its fifth year was held at Claydon Estate in Buckinghamshire, having outgrown the previous Stowe venue.

The focus of the show revolves around the idea of celebrating ordinary cars, the workhorses and the terminally unglamorous. There has always been a strong interest in the unsung heroes. Perpetuated by the spread of digital photography, street shots on web forums and more recently social media, the cars on display at the event trigger off treasured (and not so treasured) memories.

The cars are split into two arenas, the Concours de l’Ordinaire and the general classic car parking consisting of around 500 mundane motors. Firstly the Concours lawn is the focal point of the event, with a selection of 50 cars on display some of which are in less than perfect condition but each one has a story to tell. There is a particular focus on the ’70s and 80’s cars but is open to any ‘unexceptional’ car made between 1966 and 1996.

The show is completely devoid of pretension, helped by a light-hearted ambience that runs throughout the event. The judging is carried out by a delegation who spend time talking to the owners, finding out the history of the car and most importantly the story of how the car is connected to the owner. There is also a People’s Choice award voted by those who attend the show. Furthermore, entrants are encouraged to participate in period dress as well as display a suitable retro picnic – you’ll never see so much Battenberg cake and Babysham at a car show again!

Car & Classic was there for the day, bumping into old friends and meeting new ones – there simply wasn’t enough time to capture every car but here are the highlights. So, get your drip trays ready and let us find out more.

First off we start with the Best in Show and winner of the Concours de l’Ordinaire. This is a 1977 Morris Marina 1.3 Deluxe Estate owned by Michael ‘Trigger’ Carpenter – the car won the event for several reasons, a much-maligned car that once proved to be an unglamorous but worthy workhorse for much of the UK in the ’70s and ’80s. Partly due to its British Leyland heritage and indifference, even today the Marina is subject to misguided abuse. Michael saved the car from scrap, as the garage where it was stored was due to be demolished. As the creator of the #Eastcoastretros events, Trigger was visibly shocked to win, but was a unanimously deserved winner!

The runner up was this stunning 1978 Chevette E. It’s common for sporting or luxury variants to be preserved, but the base models were generally never converted or at best subjected to DIY upgrades. They were the cars that nobody wanted even when new, as neighbourhood badge envy would knock you down the pecking order. This Chevette complete with a resplendent red interior with PVC seats and vinyl trim belongs to Philip Hunt and has clearly received a restoration but even so, he takes great pleasure in using the car.

Finally, the last car on the winners’ podium gaining the People’s Choice award, we have one of the UK’s most durable and consistent importers in the form of Simon Gaisfords 1982 Peugeot 305 SR Estate. The car perfectly illustrates the ethos of the show; the 305 was a worthy, dependable car, which almost faded into invisibility the moment the car left the showroom. Yet as a master of understatement, this Cortina rival was a quietly confident performer. Simon also owns the predecessor of this model, an even rarer Peugeot 304 Estate – perhaps we’ll see that next year?

We should also have a wander around the classic car area, again Car & Classic has selected a few cars that caught our eye.

This is Mark Saunders’ 1979 Datsun Cherry. It made its show debut after 20 years of storage and completed a 250-mile round journey with the minimum of fuss. Mark wasn’t worried about the road trip, after all, Datsun’s legendary status for reliability is never in question. The car started its life in Hong Kong and is the ultra-basic base specification model.

A healthy spread of every British Leyland product dominated the event. This early Allegro and Maestro was part of the Concours area, the SD1 and Montego estate added to the colourful hues in the classic car parking areas.

Not to be outdone by BL’s impressive representation, there were plenty of Fords to connect with. A refreshing lack of sports models was complimented by several rep’s specials, including this Sierra and Mondeo.

This year the organisers also focused on small commercial vehicles and campers, displaying some unique and evocative liveries. An area dedicated to British service vehicles also struck a chord with the crowds. A now scarce Bedford Astra joined the Welsh Gas Board 4WD Transit.

Large Italian saloons. Not exactly words that fit well with the public, but even so, the event featured these three stunning examples. This Oxfordshire registered Lancia Gamma used a flat-four engine. The fiat 132 was a long-distance traveler, having driven from the East Anglia area. The Alfa 2300 Rio is actually a Brazilian-made car, built for local consumption but a few were imported to mainland Europe.

Quite a few 1980’s Japanese cars were evident, a tribute to their build quality and reliability. Generally overlooked by the classic car fraternity, these often make great starter classics thanks to their bulletproof mechanics. Our picks include this rare Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo, Nissan Cherry Europe (a la Alfa Romeo Arna) and in view of those two, the comparatively common Datsun Stanza.

Word has spread about the event, several cars had travelled from overseas to join in the fun.

There are a significant number of cars from the ’80s and ’90s that have appeared on the endangered list, the event helps put them in the limelight to be saved. This includes cars like the Renault 19, Volvo 460, Fiat Tipo and Citroen AX.