This Motor Show Welcomes Winter In England
Photography by Will Broadhead
We all have a dream car, or perhaps even a fantasy garage that we have, over time, carefully curated and stuffed full of the machines we can only drive in our heads. A feast of cylinders, shapely curves, hard creases, carbon fiber and hand-formed aluminum alike. A fortunate few really do get to piece together these groups, but the rest of us will likely never realize our furthest automotive aspirations, and the imaginary garage remains so. Thankfully though, the French invented the concept of the Motor Show over a century ago, and ever since, we’ve all been able to visit these magnificent showcases, and, just for a day or two at a time, immerse ourselves in that daydream.
The pallet of motorized events available these days is vast, but the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show—despite its name—is one of the more interesting of the year in the UK. It’s three long-in-the-good-way days spent walking halls at the NEC in Birmingham, a city itself that is steeped in English car and motorcycle heritage. With over 2,500 classic cars and bikes parked and propped inside, the event fills every leftover space with trade stands, autojumbles (swap meets), and streams of petrolheads. Shoehorned into a million square feet, this is a motoring utopia that brings four-wheeled icons and the oddballs together to be enjoyed by every cut of the vintage enthusiast population.
The five halls covered by the show are already long enough, and with so much to look at progress along the path is slow, taking photos a labor of patience. You can’t help but dither and coast, taking your time, allowing your brain to take everything in to be digested among the onslaught of information that can sometimes dilute all of individual memories away from the experience. This fine tonic is one to be savored, not quaffed like cheap plonk.
Catching my attention early in the day were the Mercedes 300SLs dotted around the various stands. Aston Martin were similarly well represented, the iconic GTs peppered around the hall such that the David Brown No. 5 scent heavy in the air, as it were. Closer to home yet, there is also a small collection of Triumph TR3s that I notice soon into the day, which for my own personal reasons are simply perfect.
Not all will agree with that last sentence, but then that’s the valuable aspect of this kind of show: there is just a staggering variety to pick from, so almost everyone’s favorites are part of the party; the American marques are here as well as more obscure English constructors like Alvis and Allard—in fact, no less than 250 British clubs were represented here. There were more from the continent than just the big names like Ferrari, Mercedes, and Porsche, including some out-there offerings from the stranger parts of the histories of Renault, Saab, and Peugeot.
I could go on about the cars for longer than you’d care for I am sure, but of almost equal interest were the endless trade stands to tempt you from your hard-earned wallet filling. The autojumble was huge, and in the ranks and rows there was old (and sometimes even authentic!) Americana, model cars, the latest garage gadgets, all type of literature, collectible, car wash potion and lotion you could think of. Some of it garbage, some of it irresistible.
Further entertainment was provided on the live stage, which throughout the days showcased a practical classic car build challenge and a number of interviews. This was a family-aimed affair that you would be more than comfortable bringing younger kids too, but for any of us that prefer a more in-depth demonstration, a visit to the restoration theater was an interesting way to build some knowledge; the full program of mechanical techniques and tips ranged just about everything from beating the metal to working in the industry to sell the service.
There is too much to take in even over the full span of the show weekend, and as I circulated the hall for the umpteenth time on my third day there, I still found myself happening upon things I hadn’t seen yet. I was punch drunk on petrol, and there was certainly too much content to relegate to one article. If next year you find yourself near Birmingham and looking for a way to escape the probable chill in the air, I would recommend this. You knew I was going to say that at some point, but I think you’ll understand that I’m genuine in doing so once you see the some of the cars that I did.