After years of not making it to car shows, and not just Covid related, I’ve now managed two in a single week. Following last week’s successful trip to the CCC National Rally, I made it to the Festival of The Unexceptional this weekend. It’s the first time I’ve been and found it’s a very different type of show. Despite some issues on the way in, it was a fantastic event.
What is the Festival of The Unexceptional?
Sponsored by Hagarty Insurance, the show’s unique selling point is pretty simple “celebrate the most marvellously mundane motor cars”. Unlike so many classic car shows that look for well-polished stand out cars, this show is all about those that get left out. Well, that’s the idea. The reality is that all manner of old cars turn up just to be admired and enjoyed by the weirdo’s that love them.
Everything you might have expected to see on a ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s high street is brought together to celebrate the unexpected survivors. From cars that weren’t popular when mass-produced to unique survivors that barely sold in the UK despite technical superiority. I had an idea in my head of what might be in attendance, and I wasn’t let down.
Getting to the show
Having driven 300 miles the previous weekend without making any checks on the car, I figured this time I needed to pretend at least to do some checks. Oil was topped up a little, from just under halfway on the dipstick to just over. Perished seals on the bleed valves were replaced, and lost coolant topped up, only 150ml to bring it back to max. I’ll take that. Some tools and fluids were packed, and off we set.
And why bore you about mundane details? Well, the preparation wasn’t enough. With just two miles to go before getting to the showground at Grimsthorpe Castle, we hit traffic. It would later transpire that the stationary traffic of over 45 minutes resulted from a classic turning its self into a BBQ. No matter, the BX wanted to follow suit, and very quickly, temperatures started to rise.
Eventually, all the usual control methods, cabin heater to max, fan override switch and bonnet open failed to work. Finally, the ‘head gasket replacement’ light came on, along with the STOP lamp. Oh dear, oh, dear. Eventually, I gave in and turned the engine off. Something I’m loathed to do with any car with only a mechanical pump. No engine, no flow, well, not a lot. But worse, the starter motor had frozen, and the car wouldn’t restart.
Well, after much fumbling around, I found the cooling fans weren’t working. A bit of poking and prodding got one working again, but it sounded like an engine with a wobbly bottom end. Then, while watching it go round, it seized, releasing the magic smoke. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. A shortstop in the traffic, and the temperatures began to drop. The starter worked again, with a little percussive persuasion, and we limped into the show.
Wandering around the show
The Festival of the Unexceptional is not like any show I’ve ever been to before, and I’ve been to quite a few. Normally the show is about specific cars and laid on entertainment. A handful of mediocre cars are singled out for the ‘concourse’ paddock, and they were very well presented. But this show is more about the car park than any other aspect.
This year’s show featured a wide variety of classics you simply don’t see anymore, and the quality was exemplary. I certainly had the dirtiest car on show, having caught some rain on the way up. However, I have to confess to being a little sad that there was little in the way of rust on show. Not even a little pickling of a rear wheel arch. And despite checking, duct tape did not adorn a single Mondeo bumper.
Something that did stand out from practically every car show I’ve ever been to was a lack of vendors. Devoid of magic shammies, no miracle oils, not even any waterless coolant. Normally I would consider this a blessing. But when you’ve recently become in the market for a Kenlowe fan, found at all Land Rover shows, this was a little saddening.
Something else that more regular showgoers seem to have mastered is the catering. There was a little laid on, I had a burger and some doughnuts, but that’s not what the show is about. From the boot of the odd ’70s family saloon or ’80s hatchback flowed the most spectacular picnics. This is very much a people-orientated show.
One of the highlights of the show was this Austin Ambassador. Well, I think it’s an Ambassador. I’m not as well read on old cars as some might believe. So for me, this is the embodiment of the show. Something that once roamed the streets but is not a bad memory. Complete in 1980’s computer beige exterior. Orange interior seats, the sort that you sink into in front of a PYE tv back in the early ’90s at nans house.
The Hyundai Stellar, and a far from unexceptional one. This fine example is powered by a V8, the only one of its type. The V8 was beautifully crafted into the engine bay with such skill it’s impossible to tell it didn’t leave the factory like that. Not the first time I’ve seen it, as a very old car friend owns it.
Two of a kind BX’s. Same model, colour and age. It’s almost like seeing double. In fact, one of the chaps leaning against the car is a bit of a celebrity. The creator of Up and Down videos on YouTube.
Metro. Such a common car when I was growing up. I swear at least 1 in every 10 houses had one parked on the street outside. I’d never want another ride in one, but I’m delighted this one still exists.
A seemingly immaculate BMW something or other. A classic rep-mobile. I can’t really tell you why I like this, I’m not a BMW fan, but there is something about this shape that defines the marque.
The highlight of the show
Strangely enough, the highlight of the show wasn’t even the cars. It was camaraderie. Most notably, meeting up with old friends I haven’t seen for years. Or, in some cases, last weekend. To pick up from pretty much the last conversation we had is both weird and rewarding.
Perhaps most notable was the response when I opened the bonnet to try and restore the cooling fans. No piss taking or comments about French wiring. Just really lovely enthusiasts being supportive. From those that saw me struggling in the queue to those looking to see if they could help. Offering and sharing tools simply because that’s the community thing to do.
A blown fuse, probably because of the seized motor, some dirty connections and perhaps a dodgy relay later and the fans were working again. Thanks for the assistance, Matt. We had no issues on the 120-mile drive back home, and it would seem there is no lasting damage done.
I wish more shows were like this. I can’t wait for next year, and I’ll be a little better prepared.