Well, it’s been a few weeks since this year’s Festival of the Unexceptional. While the dust seems to have settled on the event on social media, I’m only just getting stuck into the write-up. The delay is primarily due to being somewhat overworked in the day job. Writing up the fuel leak and the ‘preparation’ saga from the night before also slowed things down. Perhaps critically, I also wanted to let a little time pass before regaling the show. There were also a few observations made on the day that I wanted to ensure were correct. However, now I’m ready to tell the story of FotU 2022.
Travelling to the Festival of the Unexceptional
The run-up to this year’s Festival of the Unexceptional had quite a different feel. In 2021, I felt much happier with the car, having been using it a lot. However, this year I was concerned about having another near-disaster arrival following FotU ’21. The overheating was part of the reason for flushing the coolant system and replacing the radiator the night before. I didn’t, however, expect all the fluid leaks. So by 8 pm the night before FotU ’22, I wasn’t convinced I would make the show at all.
My mood improved significantly, though, when my travelling buddy arrived. For this year’s FotU, I’ve downgraded from travelling with the other half. Instead, I’d be travelling with a long-term car buddy. Matt’s Hyundai Stellar is very much one-of-a-kind and kindles a similar love-hate relationship as I have with my BX. It also seems to mark its territory where ever it goes, so we will both be travelling in similar fear.
I perhaps need not have worried, though. We stormed through much of the 110mile journey without incident. Pretty early into the trip, I’d forgotten about the fuel, hydraulic, and coolant system having been pulled apart just hours before. Following the Stellar certainly brought a smile to my face, especially when it was on overrun. Finally, getting close to FotU, the annual ‘cooling system endurance’ event started.
Sat stationary in the queue to get in, head gasket roulette was a game being played by more than a few festival goers. Naturally, the Citroen BX and the Hyundai Stellar made their owners more than nervous. There was undoubtedly a moment spent calculating just how much fluid we had between the two cars, just in case. In the end, the BX regulated just fine around the 92c mark. Which, unfortunately, is more than could be said for some players of head gasket roulette.
A grand FotU entrance
Driving through the ‘back entrance’ to Grimsthorpe castle certainly added to the feel of the event. The long narrow driveway made for a very pretty, relaxed drive-in. Time to reflect on the journey and prepare for the upcoming onslaught of social interaction. At the very end of the drive, the ‘#FOTU’ landmark was a stroke of genius, a great photo op, and honed in that I had arrived unscathed.
After carefully negotiating out of the queue, I’d managed to park directly next to Matt and, amazingly, around Twitter and YouTube royalty. UpnDownVids and @Wrenching_Wench, to name drop but a few. Having become far more aware of the #weridcartwitter movement, I was a little more comfortable with some of the social interactions and conversations the show might encompass. It’s also reassuring to know I’m not the only one who is crap in these situations.
The sights and signs of FotU ’22
I will approach the descriptions of this year’s FotU in a mildly different way to 2021. There is a plethora of YouTube walk around with varying levels of commentary. They are probably the best way to get a complete show overview. I’d certainly recommend the HubNut video blog. So rather than write prose around pictures of every car at the show, I’m going to try and pick out some of the highlights that were personal to me.
The many Citroen BX’s
This year, 2022, marks the 40th anniversary since the launch of the Citroen BX into the world. While various UK publications have celebrated this milestone, UK car shows and owners’ clubs seem to have passed it by. There is a fairly obvious reason for this. The Citroen BX wasn’t released in the UK until 1983. However, regardless of the support for the anniversary in the community, more BXs are turning up at shows!
In total, I think eleven BXs were present. Unfortunately, I failed to get pictures of a few. A good mix of mid and high-level spec, with only one basic-level spec car present. All in all, I’ve seen the best turnout of BX’s for a long time. Possibly since the 25th anniversary. It was also lovely to meet some owners I’ve known virtually for years but never met in person.
FotU ’22 seemed to have attracted a much better range of cars this year. I know that is a very personal opinion, but let me expand. This year seemed to have many more cars, possibly 1/3rd more. Perhaps more importantly, the range of cars had moved to something I was much more familiar with. The number of ’60s and 70’s cars had reduced, and the number of ’80s, ’90s and ’00s cars increased. Being entirely selfish, these are the cars in which I have more interest.
Bar the significant number of ‘modern’ cars parked in the show arena (’71 plate Bini being of particular note), pretty much everything I used to see on the road as a kid and don’t anymore. A considerable nostalgia trip for me, and nearly a shopping trip too. And talking to a very few owners I could find the courage to chat to, they all offered fascinating insights into their marks and models. This variety is what makes FotU so rich, and I wish I was better and breaking into conversations.
Dealer plates and special editions
While my interest in ‘modern’ cars is quite limited, they seem to miss something incredibly common in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. Special editions, with varying levels of specification, high lighted by external stickers. I’ve known many Peugeot ‘Inca’ special editions, with the subtle full-length decal and choice interior colour combinations. And the Citroen AX ‘Elation’ in either a red or blue background badge. So it was great to see some of these special editions at FotU ’22.
There were a few other badge-related artefacts that caught my eye as well. When was the last time you saw a car with all the glass and light clusters etched? This was a hugely popular thing to have done in the ’90s for reasons I never really understood. This little AX has had the full going over at some point in its life. Seeing the registration lightly etched into the plastic brought back happy memories.
Over the last few months, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by original dealer registration plates. What started as someone else’s request on FaceBook has turned into a fascination with the lost art of dealer graphics. I was immediately drawn to the ‘C&T Widnes’ plate on the AX above, with the small Citroen BX graphic and old ‘051’ phone number. I can see a whole article on dealer plates coming up!
After the BX, the humble Vauxhall Astra was one of the most popular cars at the show. Having grown up just a stone’s throw from the Ellesmere Port factory, I used to see these everywhere. In fact, for many years, I lived with a Vauxhall dealership at the end of the road. The Mk2 especially seemed to be everywhere. From Council vans to local Police cars. But the early vehicles seem to have vanished from our roads.
To be clear, I’d never actually want to own one. I find them uncomfortable, soulless, and generally very, very rusty. This last point might be why there are so few left. But where I grew up, they represented cheap and affordable cars for the masses. And I suspect they were easy to work on, as it wasn’t unusual to see one on a jack, in the road, undergoing some form of fettling. So I’m happy to find that one of the Astra’s on show won the concourse competition!
I have a long-seated fascination with the Austin Metro. As a child, I always saw them as the posh version of the Mini, and I guess I wasn’t far off. Another car that used to be everywhere and is now seldom seen, or that used to be the case. The Metro seems to be a car on the rebound, with more and more returning to the road. It was fantastic to see so many of them at FotU this year.
Warts and all, this is a car I would love to own if I had the money. Please don’t tell my other half, but I even stopped off to have a look at one a week ago. It was commanding steep money for its condition and certainly needed some welding. Ultimately it was the wrong colour, and I would have struggled to hide it with my facilitator being on holiday. Maybe one day, though!
This year FotU had a fantastic range of Peugeots in attendance. I’m obviously a little drawn to the Citroen cousin, and I’ve worked on quite a few over the years. The Peugeots have always been more popular than the Citroen equivalent, although this has meant more in scrapyards for parts harvesting. While I completely get people’s love for the Ryton-built 205, I prefer a 1.4 XS over a 1.9GTi.
I believe that whether it is a Talbot or PSA design, the 309 is one of the best-designed cars of all time. Yes, it is a little basic, but so very well proportioned. From 104 to 406, every model of the Peugeot was on show. Every model except the Peugeot 405, which rather took me by surprise. These are yet another vehicle that used to be seen just about everywhere. I used to run a line in car park engine rebuilds on the XUD engine, a little money earner and confidence builder. I may have to keep an eye out for one.
Get into any AUDI these days, and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell which model you are in. This is because the carryover, copy-and-paste approach to modern cars have stripped them of so much identity. Dominated by screens and questionable design choices, unique methods to the complications of design have been wholly lost compared to the cars on show at FotU.
The opportunity to experience some of these varied designs is one of the highlights of the Festival. Sure, many of these older designs seem deliberately intent on smashing up knees and lower legs in the event of a crash, but they have variance. Straight dashes, curved dashes, curved consoles a plethora of approaches, generally with little regard to reusing the parts for left and right-hand drive.
Highlights from my yoof
For me, one of the key selling points of the Festival of the Unexceptional is the opportunity for reminiscing. I grew up with little interest in vehicle mechanics. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the family shit-box Citroen BX, I would have had a very different career path. But in my ‘old’ age, I recognise I may have had a greater interest in the cars of my youth than I realise.
From the battered early Sierra of a primary school teacher to the Volvo 240 GL that my Uncle had, certain cars stick in my memory. Typically they are associated with a specific person or event in my past, like markers on the highway of life. The Mk 5 Ford Escort I used to travel to school in alongside an old friend was always a journey full of hilarity. The range of BMWs her parents had on the drive, all hanging on to life despite being continually driven to the limit with little regard for maintenance. Or the many wheel bearings I’ve changed on Renault Clio’s for a range of life-influencing people.
Cars that caught my eye
Along with the staple FotU spread, a few cars were present that caught my eye and perhaps shouldn’t have. The not-a-Ford Mazda 121 gets a bad rep for being a badge-engineered Ford Mk4 Fiesta. The result of the two companies merging and being quite blunt about changing very little and shipping out a ‘new’ model. It was a sign of things to come.
The Vauxhall Tigra stood out as, in my mind, this is still a modern car. It seemed miss placed. That was until a bit of Googling reminded me that the Tigra A was released in 1994, only a few years after my own Citroen BX was released. Such a radical concept at the time, they seem very fitting in a ‘minimum impact’ society.
The Rover 25 / 200 Streetwise is an oddity, even for Rover. A plastic body kit and roof rails don’t seem like enough to make this car remarkable. Unless you once had a friend with an MG ZR and a desire for the roof rails. The number of scrap yards I’ve been to looking for a Streetwise mean they now stand out for me, despite the ZR being scrapped more than ten years ago.
According to my family, the first car I ever travelled in was a Gold coloured Scirocco Mk2. While I have no memory of it, and the DVLA suggests the old family car has long gone, it’s a car that has always fascinated me. Most of my memory of the car revolves around a can of paint that is likely still sat in my parent’s garage. Generally, I’m still drawn to the Scirocco and that styling that makes them look like they are always in motion. I love what Katie, AKA @Wrenching_Wrench, has done with her white-on-white car.
Hyundai Stellar V8
And finally, Matt’s Hyundai Stellar. A car I’ve known for a long time, and seen many times, but never conveyed with. For the most significant part, it’s just a bland 80’s box that does the driving thing moderately well. That is until it accelerates or decelerates. Then there is a happy reminder of the work that has gone into the build and the lunacy it represents. The inclusion of the Rover V8 is a work of love and passion that helps me plough on with my own crazy projects.
Getting my Citroen BX to FotU and back
After all the turmoil in the week or so leading up to the show, my Citroen BX actually made it to the Festival of the Unexceptional with no ‘events’. The journey to FotU has undoubtedly increased my confidence in ‘Jazz’ (yeah, I name most of my cars). However, the last-minute leaks and maintenance have also reaffirmed that I would much rather play with old cars than develop new ones. Perhaps for no other reason than the lack of laptop needed to work on this thirty-year-old French banger.
I had a great time chatting with passers-by and (re)introducing them to the driver’s seat. I’ve always found people have a fondness for the BX. So many remarks about how their fathers or uncles, even the occasional mother, had a Citroen BX when they were younger. Getting them to sit in the car rekindles lost memories. One festival-goer even WhatsApp’d their dad from the driver’s seat to show them around.
Final Reflection of FotU 22
For me, FotU is all amount rekindling these connections. With so many cars, holding so many stories for so many people. Okay, the primary purpose of the Festival is to recognise the base spec survivors, the most ordinary of the model. Numerous people, both this year and last, have remarked how the BX 16Valve is not ‘Un-exceptional’ enough. Some of these bloggers have avoided covering my BX in their social media output, and I think they miss the point.
The point of FotU, for me at least, is to reconnect with some of these lot cars. Vehicles that used to be on every street in every town. Transport boxes that raise lost memories. Perhaps even learn something new about the cars. I recognise the Citroen BX 16 Valve is at the opposite end of the spectrum from a bland base spec car, but it certainly fits in with the broader ethos of the Festival. And when there are supercars and ’71 plate BMW Mini’s in the paddock, is the BX that far out of place?
I’m already looking forward to next year’s show. Reflecting during the drive home, this is undoubtedly the best car show I’ve been to this year. The Kelsall Steam rally pips it to the post of the best show, but for more emotional reasons. Show season isn’t over yet either, but only for FotU have I already been looking for next year’s tickets. Hopefully, you will make it too!