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‘A Cavalier in a canal and an MG in a river… An alternative look at the NEC Classic Car Show 2014’
The Classic Motor Show at the NEC is a big event in the Classic Car Enthusiast calendar, and being from Birmingham, we were looking forward to it. The NEC is a 45 minute drive from home and I figure that my younger brother Jake won’t appreciate the cold if I turn up with the MGF’s top down, but when he jumps in the car he immediately asks “is the roof broken or something?” So we drop the top and hit the road.
At 27 and 22, Jake and I are on the younger side of classic car enthusiasts, so we’ve developed a set of rules for attending classic shows. It’s important to note we love cars, we love driving but we can’t stand dull car talk – we are more ‘Fast and Loud’ than ‘Wheeler Dealers’. We don’t care if the indicators aren’t period correct or whether it’s the original factory colour; we want to know if it’ll smoke the tyres going sideways or get down Broad Street in under a minute on a Saturday night.
The rules we’ve created are as follows:
1. Don’t join an owners club
2. Don’t buy anything
3. Don’t talk to anyone
We also rack up a points system for overheard conversations, 5pts for ‘you know, I had one just like this’, 10pts for ‘that’s not a factory colour’, 15pts for ‘of course the later models were fitted with the 3.2’ and so on. Our plan is to get in, oggle fast sexy cars (and maybe some hot promo girls), get some free loot and get the hell out before anyone offers us a thirty quid chamois. We ditch the MGF next to a Corvette and a Monaro and instantly forget where we parked it. We’re still 200ft from the show entrance when I score the first points. An MG Midget scoots past and the chap behind us used to have one just like that.
After being fleeced for forty quid at the gate we are consulted by a host of Vauxhalls, a company that’s number one on my list of ‘companies whose cars I definitely don’t want to own’. Don’t get me wrong, some of their cars are excellent – I’ve recently driven three of their cars, two of them were incredibly fun and had 6.2 litre engines and the other one was a hire car. Vauxhall are celebrating 25 years of the Cavalier, which seems to me like celebrating having a wart for a very long time. I’m offended by the beige F plate atrocity on the stand, I don’t want to see a Cavalier covered in polish and shining I want to see it in a canal and sinking or on fire. It makes me feel sick. It’s not even an SRi. When we see a group of males admiring a Nova I start to think we don’t belong here. I owned an SR Nova – I got it free and sold it for a tenner. It broke down between junction 3 and 4 of the M5 in the same spot every day for a week. We abandon the Vauxhall stand in search of real cars.
Vauxhalls aside, there are some seriously tasty cars at the show. Anyone who’s grown up loving cars will always appreciate a supercar like an F40 or a Countach, and seeing these calendar cars in the flesh is always a treat. I get the same excitement seeing an XJ220 in 2013 as I did watching it on Top Gear in 1992, before Jeremy lost his hair and became bitter. Only these days at £169,000 it seems like a bit of a bargain.
Around 11am the inevitable happens – we’re on the MG Owners Club Stand. Jake is laughing and telling me to sign up already while I’m reading the 10 reasons why I should join and trying to find a reason I should join. I try on an MG sports jacket and secretly quite like it – though I could never do that to myself. We leave without even buying a keyring and no one mentions head gaskets.
At this year’s show there’s the option to take a 10 mile passenger ride in a dream car, starting at £10. It’s all for charity and looks like a laugh. Though we’re tempted by a thirty quid spin in an Escort Cosworth, we have more fun debating how much trouble we’d get in if we bailed the owner into the boot and took the Cossie on the kind of joyride that sent insurance premiums through the roof in the 1990s. We decide the Cossie terror run is more trouble than it’s worth, drool over a fleet of De Tomasos and then call lunch time.
The ‘King Donut’ is the long wheel base model of the popular Filled Donut; has a v8 sized cream centre and is finished in chocolate icing with optional caramel trim. It’s the muscle car of the pastry world – it’s huge. We tick all the options and plump for the King Caramel. Values are strong at the show, with variants consistently changing hands for around £2.
The King Caramel is intense. Jake actually finishes his gargantuan pastry but I’m not even half way through before considering a return to the Vauxhall stand to throw up inside the Cavalier. Maybe I can pay them thirty quid for the pleasure.
I’m still feeling nauseous when Mike Brewer’s voice starts booming from a sound system. He’s spouting nuggets of wisdom about ‘lubbly jubbly bargain bangers’ whilst sporting a leather jacket he borrowed from the 1990s. Celebrity or not, I’ve no idea why anyone would buy a car from this man. Mike is with his best mate Ed who is predictably wearing his patented combo of too many T shirts and bed hair. What a stylish pair. We head off in search of coffee somewhere that Mike’s voice can’t reach.
Near the Meguiars stand we find two seats and two coffees and sit down to review the day so far. I’m in love with a ’70s Opel GT with non-original wheels and aftermarket mirrors, whilst Jake is trying to work out if he can finance a 1989 Guards Red 911 or a 2013 Quattroporte. I point out he’s not a 1980s stock broker or in the mafia, but he shares my view on classic car ownership – he doesn’t care, he just wants the car.
A couple in their mid-sixties approach and ask if anyone is using the two spare chairs at our table, so we invite them to join us. I try to work out where they sit in the classic car spectrum, and finally conclude that they probably drove here in a Triumph of some sort and are card carrying club members. After small talk we ask the gent which car he would take of all the cars in the show, stating the two of us had unanimously agreed on the F40. He says the insurance and parts cost would be too high on that car, and that he’d probably take a Triumph Stag. He missed the point entirely, but then confirms my suspicions: he already owns a Triumph Stag. The Stag is in the garage right now, they do 1500 miles per year in it and the only stand they’ve visited so far today is The Triumph Stag Owners Club stand. We finish our coffee and I wonder how much Vauxhall would charge me to hit the Cavalier with a hammer. Heck, I could probably get a cheap hammer in the autojumble.
It’s important to remember the rules when at the autojumble:
1. Don’t join an owners club
2. Don’t buy anything
3. Don’t talk to anyone
We both own cars that work. They don’t need hand crafted carpets or monkeywax polish, we don’t collect toys and have outgrown neon lights. Back when I had real classic cars I would have searched for hours through indicator housings and inlet manifolds but the MGF has these things. Jake drags me away from a pair of leather driving gloves and I point out that a wooden steering wheel will add nothing to his Suzuki Bandit. I try on a set of Jaguar overalls for the same price the Phoenix Four paid for Rover and Jake tries a leather jacket worth more than a high mileage MGF. I can’t make a satisfactory deal on a hammer so we go in search of more coffee and freebies.
We come up trumps at the Classic and Sports Car stand, where they’re giving away a tool kit with magazine subscriptions. I think we can talk our way into the tool kit without signing up but Jake insists we do it properly, so we both walk off with new screwdrivers. Well, it is fun getting stuff in the post isn’t it?!
On the way out we have another look at the Morgans before collecting our coats and heading into the cold. As we exit I offer Jake a thousand pounds in cash if he can tell me the name of the car park where we last saw the MG. He can’t, and neither can I. I approach a staff member who doesn’t crack a smile when I say “excuse me have you seen an MG?”. I consider asking him to put out a lost person announcement for Geoff, twelve years old with black mohair and a silver coat.
We eventually find the MG exactly where we left it, not before drooling over a Mercedes 280 in the car park, which has aged far better than the ’99 E55 AMG next to it. The car cranks into life, so we drop the roof and try to find an exit that doesn’t involve paying the £10 parking fee. We fail, and screech away from the NEC looking to spend our remaining cash on Sunday lunch, long before the crowds start to crawl out of the huge car parks.
On the way home we debate the cars at the show, the people and the classic car ‘thing’ whilst I get us hopelessly lost and we decide Solihull is a good place for food. The show has been great, it’s fun for all the family and really does offer something for everyone – sure, we can be cynical because we’re still young enough to enjoy a good poke with the right foot and don’t yet care for part numbers but that stuff will come with age! The show has been well attended and considering the newspapers are saying everyone is broke, the traders all seemed happy.
I make a last minute decision to leave the roundabout one exit early and hit the sweeping bend a little faster than I would have liked…. The back end gets loose and the rear wheels decide they’d like to have a go at being at the front. With such a short wheelbase and rear engine/rear drive, it’s easy to see why these little MGs aren’t used as drift cars! Thankfully the roads are empty because everyone in the world is trying to find indicator housings and chamois cloths for less than thirty quid at the autojumble; so I catch the drift, then deal with it biting back the other way and get Geoff back in a straight line. Crikey, that was a big one! We both nervously kill ourselves laughing and Jake points out that if I hadn’t caught that slide then the MG would have been in the river. I tell him if that was the case then we would have left it there, dried off and gone to buy another one. I love owning a cheap MG, I’ve been there and done that but I’m not quite ready to buy the T-shirt.