Category Archives: Vue de côté de la Manche

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Route des Vacances

John Elwin is currently hitting a rich vein of classic car events, this one came to him in his corner of France and it displayed a true Gallic motoring flair.

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“We’re all going on a summer holiday!”
Who can forget the words to Sir Cliff Richard’s jolly little sing-a-long ditty as he and his pals headed for the seaside in a big red bus? That scenario was created (almost) on a chilly Sunday morning in Northern France recently.
Introduced only a few years ago, the ‘Route des Vacances’ has rapidly become a major event, a must-do for participants and onlookers alike.

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Catering for classic cars and coaches, it retraces one of France’s traditional holiday routes from the industrial and mining area around Lens to the Cote d’Opale seaside resort of Berck-sur-Mer. And being France, there’s a lengthy lunch stop in the market town of Hesdin, attracting throngs of interested bystanders. The event is always run on Pentecost Sunday, which this year was in mid-May and blessed with rather cool weather more akin to a British bank holiday.

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The popularity of the event was proven by the fact that some 400 vehicles took part, together with about 900 people, many of whom travelled in the half dozen or so classic coaches. Cars ranged from pre-war Citroëns and Renaults right up to a BMW Z4, which looked rather incongruous amongst the more traditional classics. As you would expect, French brands dominated numerically with Citroën leading the way, thanks to a huge group of unruly 2CV’s but Peugeot, Renault and Simca were well represented too. British sports cars are popular in France, so MGBs abounded and Triumphs …well, triumphed.

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We caught up with the activity in Hesdin, where the awaiting crowd was entertained by the town’s excellent brass band, before the big bass drum was drowned-out by a cacophony of air horns and the like, announcing the arrival of the first of the cars. From around 11.30 a steady stream of cars, many entering into the holiday theme by towing period caravans or with loaded roof-racks, were marshalled into parking places either in Place d’Armes or one of the side streets – with so many participants parking was at a premium.

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Despite acting like a bunch of delinquent children the 2CV brigade were the most organised, arriving rather noisily altogether but they parked very neatly in a line along a one-way street, albeit facing in the wrong direction!

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Whilst some enjoyed a picnic, many others queued to buy traditional ‘les baraques a frites’ from a couple of friterie vans. One of them is run by Christine, who is something of an institution in Hesdin; having been serving frites to locals and tourists alike for 40 years, she’s said to be the richest woman in town!

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All too soon, 14.30 arrived and it was time to pack-up and head for the coast. All at once of course, which leads to more good-humoured noisy chaos as exit from the square is dictated by a set of traffic lights a short distance away. However, they were soon on their way, with the coaches bringing up the rear. One of them contained a party from Chorale la Lievinoise – I wonder what they were singing?
John Elwin, May 2016

A Meeting of Members

John Elwin crossed The English Channel bound for Goodwood and the 74th Members Meeting, though it was not all plain sailing though as his observations show………Simon Hildrew is on his usual top form with cameras in hand.

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To the wider world the 2016 Goodwood  74th Members Meeting will be remembered for a couple of spectacular, if freakish, accidents which received widespread coverage but for those who took the trouble to go to the track on what was a bitterly cold weekend, it will long be recalled for some thrilling racing.

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In particular the rarely seen Edwardians, the thundering machines warming the hearts of an appreciative crowd. Demonstrations of three disparate groups of relatively modern racers were well received, but are they really necessary?

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A highlight of the event was the Alan Mann Memorial race, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ford’s famous Le Mans victory with an all-GT40 grid – some of which were even original cars! With much of the initial development work having been done at Goodwood, they provided an excellent spectacle as they raced into the dusk on Saturday evening. As a result of a litany of mechanical failures and incidents hitting others Steve Soper/David Cuff emerged as worthy winners.

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For sheer spectacle though, the GT40’s had to give best to the amazing array of machinery that appeared for the SF Edge Trophy race for Edwardian cars. These leviathans, many of them aero-engined, are rarely seen racing and the spectators were spellbound by a fantastic three-way battle for the lead as Duncan Pittaway’s relatively small GN-Curtiss emerged victorious, ahead of 23 year-old Argentinian Mathias Sielicki’s Delage V12 and Julian Majzub’s Sunbeam Indianapolis.

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The Gerry Marshall Trophy Group 1 Touring Car Race was actually two races, with Chris Ward (Rover SD1) winning Saturday’s 15-minute race from John Young’s Ford Capri and Nigel Garrett’s Chevrolet Camaro. Sunday’s 45-minute two-driver race saw father and son Grahame and Oliver Bryant driver to victory with Ward, co-driven by reigning BTCC champion Gordon Shedden in second place. Young, sharing with Steve Soper was third. Soper’s good fortune ran out in the Whitmore Cup race, retiring his Lotus Cortina to leave a slightly disappointed(!) Richard Meaden as runaway victor in another Cortina. Apparently Soper was the rapid journalist’s hero and he was looking forward to a battle.

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The Graham Hill Trophy GT race was ended under full-course yellows after Karsten Le Blanc crashed his Cobra heavily but the race for the lead had become a battle between a pair of Cobra Daytona Coupe’s, James Cottingham beating Andrew Smith to the flag by half a second.

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The Brooks Trophy race was fittingly won by Barry Cannell’s Cooper-Climax T51, an ex Brooks car! The race was marred by the potentially nasty accident that befell Stephen Bond. His Lotus 18 clipped a spinning Cooper exiting the chicane and was launched into the air, clearing the fencing and ending up hanging over the spectator tunnel, which fortunately was empty at the time, Bond suffering injuries to his shoulder.

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The Derek Bell Cup went to Andrew Hibberd (Brabham BT8) who was a comfortable winner once last years’ victor James King was forced into retirement. The Bruce McLaren Trophy was red-flagged after just two laps and not re-started following a serious accident. A body panel flew off Marc Devis’s Lola T70, hitting Michiel Smits, causing him to heavily crash his T70. There were serious concerns for his safety and he was eventually taken to hospital where he was found to have damaged vertabrae. Thankfully he is well on the road to recovery back home in Holland and has vowed to return next year. The brief race was awarded to Nick Padmore in yet another T70.

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Lengthy repairs were required to the tyre wall, with the result that the remaining races were reduced to just ten minutes in duration. Will Nuthall (Cooper-Bristol T23) won the Parnell Cup whilst Sam Hancock simply stormed off into the distance in the replica Cunningham C4R to claim the Peter Collins Trophy some 26 seconds clear of Steve Boultbee Brooks’ Aston Martin DB3S – and that after just ten minutes of racing!

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As has become de rigeur at Goodwood, three high speed demonstrations entertained the crowds between races. The first was for Super Touring cars, the class celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. A colourful array of machinery including Alfa Romeo, Audi, Ford, Honda, Nissan, Peugeot, Renault, Vauxhall and Volvo took to the track, all in original liveries. What’s more some were re-united with their original drivers, including former champions John Cleland, Andy Rouse and James Thompson, whilst the ever-enthusiastic Emanuele Pirro was back behind the wheel of the Audi A4 with which he began his long career with the manufacturer driving in Germany’s STW series in 1997. He was proud of the fact he was wearing his original overalls too!

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A Group 5 Sports car demonstration saw a mind-blowing array of Porsche 917’s, Ferrari 512’s and Lola T70 Mk3B’s blasting their way round the circuit. Adding to the occasion, former Le Mans winners Richard Attwood and Derek Bell took part in Porsche Salzburg and Gulf-liveried 917’s respectively.

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The F1 period being celebrated was the ground effect era; since this was also the Cosworth DFV era there was no shortage of cars. Since Lotus was effectively responsible for bringing both into F1so it was perhaps fitting that the marque dominated the display, Classic Team Lotus alone bringing six cars, including examples of Types 78 and 79. Clive Chapman himself got behind the wheel of the 88B, whilst Indianapolis 500 winner and avowed Lotus fan Dario Franchitti got his first taste of DFV power by driving the twin-chassis 88. He loved it!

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Inevitably questions have been raised once again about the safety of Goodwood in the modern era, but neither accident on the day could be attributed to the circuit. Good fortune played a part in Bond’s accident however. Had it happened at the much busier Revival Meeting the odds of spectators being in the Tunnel would have been higher, leading to a greater chance of injuries or worse. The accident involving the Lola T70’s raises different questions not entirely related to that particular incident.

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The reason the circuit was closed in 1966 was that cars of this type were simply becoming too fast for the venue. Fifty years on, the circuit remains much as it was in 1966, but these ‘historic’ cars have received continuous development, and at the same time whilst the current drivers are mostly competent they are not on a par with the likes of John Surtees or Graham Hill who raced them in period. Perhaps it is the competitors that should be under scrutiny rather than the circuit?

John Elwin, May 2016

Techno Prisoners?

Prize-winning Fiat 8V Vignale

The Techno Classic is one of the great car shows in the historic calendar and we are fortunate to have John Elwin pay his annual visit to Essen and bring us his observations.

Swedish BP tanker on Autostadt stand

Size isn’t everything, or so they say, but they think differently in Germany where Techno Classic Essen has long held sway as the biggest and best classic car show in the world (as Jeremy Clarkson might say). Show organisers’ S.I.H.A. were not content with that however, and the biggest just got bigger.

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Despite having previously had a total floor space of 120,000 square metres to fill, S.I.H.A. have a growing waiting list of exhibitors wanting to join the party; construction work is due to start imminently on an upgrade and expansion to the Messe Essen, but three extra halls were added to the show this year by taking over the adjacent Grugahalle concert venue, together with a temporary structure, to give a total of 127,000 square metres spread over twenty one halls. Squeezed into that space was some 1,250 exhibitors representing thirty different countries, whilst the in excess of 2,500 classic vehicles on display must surely have satisfied the tastes of every one of the record 201,034 visitors who passed through the show during the five days.

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There, that’s the statistics dealt with, but what was the show like? Pretty good actually, although admittedly my visit was briefer than normal this year, meaning that I probably missed as much as I saw.

Droptop Mercs

I did notice that – going against the grain – some of the manufacturer displays were a little reduced from previous years, notably Mercedes-Benz and BMW. They were impressive, all the same. Mercedes’ emphasis was on cabriolets, with a fine display from down the years, well laid out as usual.

BMW 635 Convertible prototype

BMW have a centenary to celebrate this year and so the emphasis was on BMW Classic, with little evidence of Mini and Rolls-Royce history to which they usually like to lay claim. Cars on display were predominantly from the various 3-Series generations as well as the 1500/2002 predecessors.

BMW 2002 turbo

Amongst them was a 2002 Turbo, complete with mirror-image script across the front. From the early days of ‘all or nothing’ turbo power, it was said to be a bit of a handful on the road. Oh, and there was an aeroplane hanging from the ceiling…

VW Golf-based concept

Apparently untroubled by their woes in other parts of the world, the VAG constituent brands once again filled an entire hall with machinery from the back catalogues. VW itself was majoring on 40 years of the Golf GTI, which in keeping with the ‘getting bigger’ theme has put on a bit of middle-aged spread over the years, but then haven’t we all?

Porsche 924 prototype

By contrast, Porsche was also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the transaxle models by showing a 1974 924 prototype, which looked rather more bulbous than the eventual production models. Also on view was a 1995 928 GTS, the very last one built – but weren’t these cars supposed to spell the death-knell for the 911 range, which twenty-one years later is still showing no signs of fading away?

Audi Group S rally car

Audi can always be relied upon to bring along something interesting and this time it was a prototype rally car. Back in the mid 1980’s the World Rally Championship was contested by fire-breathing Group B monsters such as the Peugeot 205 T16 and Metro 6R4, whilst Audi was using the closer-to-production quattro. With a revised set of rules, designated Group S, due to be introduced in 1987 Audi set about creating the Mid Engine Rally Prototype. However, a series of dreadful accidents led the FIA to can both Groups B and S, eventually taking rally cars back to a more production-like formula in a bid to curb performance, consequently Audi’s new car never turned a wheel in anger. It has to be said that the plain white machine is not the prettiest thing to emerge from Audi but no doubt it would have been effective.

Audi Avus concept

Far more appealing was the Audi Avus quattro concept car alongside, which dazzled the crowds with its polished aluminium bodywork at the 1991 Tokyo Motor Show.

Abarth's new rally-prepared 124 Spider

Elsewhere on manufacturer stands, Alfa Romeo gave its new Giulia model its German debut, shown alongside some of its forbears, whilst Fiat and Abarth both had examples of the very appealing new 124 Spider, Abarth’s being in rally trim. Volvo meanwhile was marking the 60th birthday of the Amazon.

Mistral-bodied Jaguar XK120

You can always count on the high-end dealers to bring along some interesting exhibits and this year was no exception. Switzerland’s Lukas Hüni never fails, this time showing a one-off re-bodied Jaguar XK120. In 1954 Californian Bob Young Dahl tried to buy a C-Type to race in West Coast events, but Jaguar had sold out of the model, offering him instead an XK120SE, which he bought although he really wanted the racer. However, he discovered that the British company, Microplas, produced a glassfibre body called the Mistral, so he obtained one and had it fitted to his Jaguar. He contested a number of races but eventually badly damaged the car and lost interest. It lay unloved in storage for many years before being bought and repaired in 1989, eventually finding its way to Belgium in 1999. Subsequently Frenchman Xavier Lebeuf took it on and conducted an extensive restoration, such that it now has an FIA technical passport and is up for sale.

Bentley R Graber Convertible

Thiesen’s had a couple of fine examples of the Bentley R-Type’s with very different bodywork. The 1950 Contintal Cabriolet was one of just four produced with bodywork by the Swiss Carosserie Graber, the rear-end styling displaying similar lines to those deployed on the Alvis by the same company. Meanwhile the aluminium bodywork adorning a 1955 Continental Coupe was a one-off creation by the French company of Marius Franay, working in conjunction with Chapron.

Ferrari 250 GT Boano

Axel Schuette Fine Cars is another dealer that is always worth a visit, and this time the stand was home to the FIVA ‘Best of Show’ concours winner in the shape of a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta. In addition to that award a panel of journalists – including your correspondent – also make their own choices in various classes in addition to ‘Best of Show: Cabriolet/Limousine/Coupé. Here we too demonstrated a definite bias in favour of Italians by picking a 1938 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B Pescara, 1934 Lancia Astura Series 3 and a 1953 Fiat 8V Vignale respectively.

1960 Fiat Abarth record breaker

Two very different Italian machines but with a common link in that they were both styled by Pininfarina attracted a lot of attention too. Remarkably, they both dated from 1960 but couldn’t have been more different. American dealer Hyman had the remarkable Pininfarina X, whilst Auto Classic srl brought the Fiat Abarth 1000 record-breaker on its first journey away from Turin, where it has resided in a private collection, in more than fifty years. Originally conceived as an engine test bed, the sleek silver machine – dubbed ‘La Principessa’ by the mechanics – went on to establish no less than eight speed records in the hands of various drivers such as Giancarlo Baghetti and Umberto Maglioli at Monza in September/October 1960.

Fangio's Mille Miglia Merc, or is it

The Italian theme was continued by show organisers’ S.I.H.A., the subject of their central display being the 1955 Mille Miglia. It was headed up by a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR from the Mercedes Museum and ‘replicating’ Fangio’s car from the race in which he finished second to Stirling Moss. However, amongst the others on display was the fourth-place Maserati A6 GCS and the Ferrari 750 Monza that came home sixth.

1951 BMW Canta

There was just so much more to see at Essen, but time ran out. I’ll just mention three very different exhibits, all with a BMW connection, that caught the eye. Upstairs in the private sales area was a ‘prototype’ 635 Cabriolet – was it a factory job? Looking like new on Rareparts.nl stand was a very low mileage BMW 600, somewhat optimistically described as a Limousine, whilst French specialist La Galerie Des Damiers brought along a 1951 BMW Canta – a combination of a BMW 750cc engine mounted in a tubular chassis and clothed in aluminium bodywork by Canta of Turin. It might be a tiny machine but it’ll want an awful lot of work!

Next years’ show takes place on 5-9 April 2017. For info: www.siha.de

John Elwin, April 2016

All Roads Lead to Arras

Saint-Exupéry may have written of flying to Arras in his classic  wartime account but our man in France, John Elwin, took the Alfa. His target was the town’s car show and autojumble…………….

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The long queues of traffic heading for Club R.A.V.E.R.A.-6A’s one-day event, staged in Arras’s Parc des Expositions, suggest the organisers have hit a winning formula. It is so much more than just a Bourse – that’s French for autojumble. Whilst one of the Expo’s large halls does indeed contain a vast array of autojumble, automobilia and even the odd car, and the other features club displays, for many visitors the real attraction is outside.

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The 500-space car park adjacent to the Expo is reserved for classics and owners respond by bringing along a huge variety of machinery. This year, amongst the stand-outs was a 1920’s Rolland-Pilain, a pair of yellow-hued Saab 96’s and a pretty little DB Panhard. Inevitably there were cars offered for sale, the most outstanding being a sublime Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300Ti offered for a very realistic 16,800 €. Others included a nice Morgan +8 and a very original 1985 Peugeot 205 GR with just 38,900 Km (24,000 miles) on the clock. Having been professionally valued at 4,800 € just the week before, the owner was open to offers.

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Whilst everyday cars from the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and even ‘80’s abound, there’s always a sprinkling of exotica, but whilst a Gulf-liveried replica Ford GT40 attracted a lot of attention – especially when the owner rather obligingly revved the obviously rather potent Ford V8 – a silver Ferrari Daytona passed almost unnoticed, parked amongst Citroen CX’s and so on. A trio of Citroen Maserati’s lined-up together couldn’t fail to catch the eye. There were no less than six of the gorgeous beasts to be seen around the event. Probably more of a beast, however, was a bright red Renault Turbo 2.
Whilst that particular Renault may never have tackled a rally stage in anger there were other visitors that had, notably a couple of Renault 4’s that contest the R4 series (yes, there is one) and also a pair of Citroen Traction Avant’s that have contested long-distance rallies. Inside the exhibition a rally-prepared Volvo 66 could be seen, whilst lurking amongst all the ephemera there was a 2CV-powered Apal single-seater.

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Inside, much of the display space was taken up by a contingent of visitors from Britain, mostly with pre-war cars, ranging from a Simplex racer to an imposing Ford Model T with three rows of seats – who said MPV’s were a modern invention? Indeed, Ford seemed to be the dominant marque on display with other offerings including a very smart 105E Anglia, and a real rarity in the shape of a 1954 Comete Monte Carlo with bodywork by Facel.

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Always staged on the third Sunday in March, this event is well worth a visit, only being an hour or so from the Channel ports, and an entry charge of just five Euros should leave plenty to spend in the Bourse! The exceedingly friendly organisers are always welcoming, so why not give it a look? This year a contingent from the Kent section of the Morris Minor Club made the trip across the Channel, with a low-light Convertible and a Van in Ever Ready livery parked very prominently opposite the entry to the Expo.
For information, visit www.ravera-6a.fr

John Elwin, April 2016

Antwerp Classic Salon

John Elwin graces our pages with his take on the recent Classic Salon at Antwerp.

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Forget the old stereotype jokes about Belgian heroes. For this years’ Antwerp show, organisers S.I.H.A. chose the theme of Belgian Racing Victories. Rather than focus on the exploits of Grand Prix stars such as Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen the central display featured cars that had achieved (mostly) success in the Spa 24-Hours. Cars like the BMW 635 CSi from 1985 that Boutsen drove together with Switzerland’s Walter Brun and German Harold Grohs, or the earlier 530i crewed by Eddie Joosen and Dirk Vermersch with Frenchman Jean-Claude Andruet.

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Tucked away in the corner was a Mini Cooper as driven by well-known Mini exponent Julien Vernaeve. However, they were all upstaged by a quietly-spoken lady who was keeping a watchful eye on a couple of the cars; in fact, someone who could be described as a Belgian heroine.

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Yvette Fontaine made quite a name for herself as a fast lady driver in the 1960’s and 70s. Growing up close to the Zolder circuit, she was soon attracted to the sport, although she actually began by competing in rallying. Racing was her true metier and she quickly made an impression when she switched disciplines, so much so that works-supported drives soon came from first Alfa Romeo in Belgium, then Ford. She won the Belgian national touring car championship outright in 1969 at the wheel of a Ford Escort, and as well as contesting several Spa 24-Hour races she also co-drove a Porsche at Le Mans on two occasions.

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A quite remarkable and unassuming lady, chatting to her at the show, it was hard to imagine her hurling her Capri RS flat-out through Eau Rouge or around the streets of Chimay, but the records show that she did so very successfully. Yvette now has replicas of both Escort and Capri race cars which she regularly demonstrates at events. Indeed, she was leaving Antwerp for another event on the Sunday.

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The fact that Belgium has also had a car manufacturing history of its own must not be forgotten and after due deliberation the concours judges awarded ‘Best in Show’ to the rather splendid 1927 Excelsior Albert displayed by local company LMB Racing. It was a difficult decision but this imposing tourer ultimately won-out over another Belgian-built, but very different car, the 1928 Minerva limousine that Speed 8 Classics were showing, alongside a replica Blue Train Bentley.

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Whilst these pre-war cars stood out, there was some equally eye catching machinery from later periods such as Oldtimer Farm’s 1947 Talbot T26, although this otherwise beautiful car was let down a little by the fact that it is missing a few minor parts. The 1957 Porsche Carrera with Mille Miglia history offered by IMBU certainly shouldn’t have been missing anything with a price tag of around 750,000 euros! It didn’t have ‘matching numbers’ as the original engine had been replaced, but according to my 356 expert that’s not unusual as Carrera engines had a tendency to blow-up. The magnolia-like paint job didn’t do it any favours though. More recent ‘youngtimers’ are becoming increasingly popular – cars like the metallic blue Lotus Europa Twin Cam at BBC Cars, or Car Cave’s Renault 5 Turbo 2. The value of Alpine Renault’s also seems to be climbing faster than the cars themselves did on the Monte Carlo Rally stages too.

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For real rarity one had to dive into the private sale area, where one vendor was offering a clutch of unusual Fiat’s, including a 1959 1200 TV, an 1100 Pick-up, and a 1966 1500 Sconieri, with bodywork by Michelotti – the seller deservedly took a concours trophy home for that one.

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If you fancied getting your hands dirty, there was a couple of ‘barn finds’ on offer. Flying Red Baron has a Fiat Abarth 850 for which they are asking 55,000 euros. You might need to spend a little more to get it back to A1 condition. At the other end of the scale a 1969 Ford Cortina 1600GT Mk2 with light front end damage was on sale privately. Comes with a donor car too.

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As ever, the Antwerp show has much to offer – aside from the high-end dealers (of which there are many in Belgium and Holland) a lot of the clubs, representing a huge variety of makes, put on innovative displays, whilst the wide range of traders in the autojumble areas make for some happy browsing.
John Elwin March 2016

The Art of the Car

John Elwin is a man who enjoys many different aspects of the automotive good life, from Alfa Romeo to Lotus and here the art of customising………..enjoy his observations at the recent Essen Show.

 

Much is made of the BMW Art Cars, whereby somebody who is apparently famous for being famous, has randomly sploshed some paint over an otherwise innocent car and it suddenly becomes a work of art. Your average four year-old could achieve the same result but fame would most certainly not come his way, more likely a thick ear from his dad!
To my mind, the car itself is the art, having originally been created by a stylist who has toiled long and hard to create the right lines but very few car stylists become household names. Then there are those who feel they can improve upon the work of the original stylist, or even the engineers who created the oily bits. Some of these individuals have become well-known for their work, particularly in America, the spiritual home of customising. One might think that the increasingly stifling regulations dreamed up by bureaucrats the world over might have stymied this creativity, but far from it.
Visitors to the recent Essen Motor Show in Germany who remembered those wonderful Custom Car shows at London’s Ally Pally back in the 1970’s could have been forgiven for thinking they had been transported back in time. A goodly batch of cars had been brought over from the ‘States to join a large and varied collection of European cars. The different approaches were readily apparent for – hot rods aside – appearance is the dominant theme with some very detailed and labour-intensive paint work (no splosh jobs!) together with re-worked interiors. The Europeans meanwhile, have a more technical approach although current vogue seems to be how low you can get it.
Choice of vehicles varies; for the Americans it’s either Ford Model A-based hot rods, or large saloons from the 1960’s-70’s. For the Europeans pretty much anything is fair game, from the inevitable VW Combi to all generations of the BMW 3-Series. Why, even a Porsche Panamera got the lowering treatment, but one can only improve upon the looks of that thing!

I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here.
John Elwin, March 2016

Yellow Fever!

John Elwin dropped in on the new Interclassics Brussels show, as ever he found plenty to comment on for our edification.

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It is always interesting to spot new trends as fashions come and go at classic car shows. At the inaugural Interclassics Brussels event a preponderance of yellow cars shone through (quite literally!). Now it may have been because yellow happens to be the national racing colour of Belgium, or more hopefully, perhaps we are moving away from the domination of drab silver, grey and black cars that fill our roads today.

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Actually, one could have been forgiven for thinking one was in Italy rather than Belgium for the full gamut of Italian machinery was on display, from tiny ‘Etceterini’s’ to those from the Raging Bull and Prancing Horse stables. Leading the way was the central Brussels-based Autoworld museum, promoting its own forthcoming Italian Car Passion exhibition by bringing along a vibrant yellow Lamborghini Miura and an OSCA 1000.

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The OSCA was one of many small racers on view and Belgian dealer Marreyt Classics had a particularly delightful three-car line-up comprising of a 1951 Stanguellini Barchetta MM, 1952 Parisolto Sport 750 Spider and a 1953 Bandidi Maserati.The latter claimed to be one of just four built and that too seemed to be a bit of a trait with many cars claiming to be ‘one of just…’. Another well-known Belgian dealer, LMB Racing, had a pretty pale blue 1955 Moretti 1200 Special, this one representing half of the total production! Whilst many of the small sports racers of the day were Fiat powered modifying Turin’s finest was not confined to the track, with some very pretty road-going machinery being produced too, as personified by the Lombardi Grand Prix 850 Sport.

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On a rather grander scale, Bonham’s was showcasing a trio of mouthwatering Italians, all of them rare survivors of very small production runs. The 1959 Alfa Romeo 1900C Super Sprint Coupé, in silver and black, was one of just five cars so-bodied by Carrosserie Ghia-Aigle, the 1961 OSCA 1600GT Coupé was one of only two built by Touring Superleggera, whilst the 1968 De Tomaso Vallelunga (in yellow, of course!) was positively mass produced, with 53 having originally been built. Its dainty lines rather put it in the same class as the Ferrari Dino but somehow doesn’t quite please the eye in the same way. There was in fact a Dino (yes, a yellow one!) on a neighbouring stand, whilst a 246 GT Competition in the more traditional red, could be found elsewhere in the show.

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Back to Marreyt Classics where aside from the cars we have described there were two very different variations upon the Lancia Aprilia. Farina was responsible for the rather glorious white Convertible dating from 1948 and claiming to have had only one lady owner, whilst Francis Lombardi created the more utilitarian Woody estate car. Bugatti was the show’s featured marque, of which more later, but Marreyt was offering a 1938 T57 Atalante chassis that had been part of the Schlumpf Collection, where it was separated from its bodywork at the time the French authorities took control.

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Aside from Bugatti, the 60th anniversary of the Citroen DS was also honoured with a small but select display which as much as anything featured the work of coachbuilders such as Henri Chapron, who created the gorgeous Le Dandy Coupé amongst other things.

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There were ‘Best of Show’ awards presented for different era’s and it was gratifying to see the 1980’s trophy awarded to a metallic green 1980 Lotus Eclat that was once the personal property of Colin Chapman, who in turn presented it to French journalist Gerard ‘Jabby’ Crombac, for so many years a personal friend to both Chapman and Lotus. The Oliver Winterbottom-designed Eclat was developed in tandem with the Elite, representing a big leap forward for the Lotus company when they were launched forty years ago.

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There was a lot to like at Interclassics’ first effort, the show attracting a good attendance with one couple even choosing it as their wedding venue! The organisers have already announced their dates for next year (18-20 November 2016) and also that they will be doubling the size of the show from two to four halls.

John Elwin, February 2016

Bugs in Brussels!

Our old friend, John Elwin, paid a visit to the InterClassics Brussels recently and discovered a treasure trove of Bugattis. 

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A major feature of the inaugural Interclassics show staged at Brussels Expo was an impressive display of some 30 Bugattis, ranging from very early cars right up to the Veyron and including some rare and unusual machinery.

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1930 Bugatti T46
In 1997 this example toured the world in the company of another T46, covering some 40,000 trouble-free kilometres in the process.

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1931 Bugatti T49
Originally sold by the Swiss concessionaire to Prague where it was fitted with a berline body by Uhlik and displayed at the Prague Salon. After the war it was re-bodied as a roadster by the Leipzig coachbuilders, Rühle.

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Bugatti T41 Royale Coupé

Napoleon 12.7-litre engine

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1932 Bugatti T50

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The steeply-raked screen of this T50 coupé made it one of the most aerodynamic vehicles of its type from those evocative inter-war years.

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1954 Bugatti T101 C Coupé

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Wearing bodywork by Antem, this is chassis no. 101.504, the last car to be built by Bugatti. It was purchased when new by Brussels concessionaire and collector Jean de Dobbeleer, subsequently passing through the hands of Bill Harrah, Nicholas Cage and Gene Ponder.

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Display centrepiece

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Bugatti Veyron

IMG_9157-151937 Bugati T57 C Coupé Special

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Designed by Jean Bugatti as a birthday present for his father, as the name suggests it had a few special features such as a Type 101 engine, Cotal transmission and a glass roof.

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1938 Bugatti T57 Aravis
One of two similar cars designed and built by Albert D’Ieteren, the Brussels –based coachbuilder, and delivered to the unlikely-named Mr .Baggage! Since restoration it has appeared at Pebble Beach, in 2009 in a special Bugatti class. D’Ieteren is an interesting organisation, laying claim to be the oldest company in the world associated with wheeled vehicles, having started out as wheelwrights more than 200 years ago. Today, still family owned, it is the Belgian importer for all the VAG brands, which of course includes Bugatti.

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1938 Bugatti T57 Brown

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This 1938 chassis was actually clothed with some very futuristic bodywork designed by Franco-British artist James Brown. It was manufactured from the then-new polyester material in the early ’50s.

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1939 Bugatti T57 Compressor Aravis
Two-seater cabriolet bodywork by Letourneur & Marchand adorns this T57 chassis.

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1931 Bugatti T54

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This 4.9-litre Grand Prix car was originally raced by Achille Varzi, its subsequent Czechoslovakian owner, Prince Lobkowicz, was killed in it competing at Avus in 1932.

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1928 Bugatti T35B Grand Prix
Originally imported into Belgium by its first owner, Rene Dubeck, it was raced on various occasions during that year in France, Spain and Italy.

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Bugatti Blues

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1927 Bugatti T37
Built to compete in voiturette racing for 1500cc cars, this T37 has passed through the hands of many owners, yet still retains matching numbers.

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1927 Bugatti T37
This car, chassis no. 37246, was supplied to Elisabeth Junek for use as a training car for the Targa Florio.

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Baby Bug

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1924 Bugatti T30
Something of an amalgam, based on the T13, but fitted with the engine from the T29, Bugatti’s first GP car.

John Elwin, February 2016

The Lotus Eaters

If you think the current Grand Prix season has been full of unpredictable excitement, cast your mind back thirty years to 1982 when, against a backdrop of the FISA/FOCA wars and the transition from normally aspirated engines to turbos, no less than eleven drivers won races during the 16-race campaign.  Keke Rosberg wound-up as World Champion despite only winning one of the races – and he was driving an ‘outdated’ Cosworth-powered Williams.


There were plenty of other dramas too, the most tragic being the loss of Gilles Villeneuve at Zolder. Shortly before his fatal accident, the French-Canadian became involved in a spat with Ferrari team-mate Didier Pironi over driving tactics. The Frenchman – full of remorse at not having patched things up – himself suffered an horrendous accident during qualifying for the German Grand Prix a few weeks later, badly damaging his legs and so effectively ending his driving career. However, Patrick Tambay salvaged something for the Prancing Horse by winning that race at Hockenheim and Ferrari went on to claim the Constructor’s title despite winning fewer races than both Renault and McLaren.


Amongst the drivers to win races that year was Italian Elio de Angelis, the first his of his two victories for Lotus, when he crossed the line a scant 0.05-seconds  before Rosberg at the Osterreichring.

Amidst great  jubilation on the pit wall Colin Chapman famously threw his cap into the air. Little did we know that this was to be the last Lotus Grand Prix victory to be witnessed by the team’s creator for he would die of a heart attack in December that year.


I can actually say “I was there”, for I travelled to the German and Austrian races with Team Lotus, in some style I might add. I had previously worked for Lotus, leaving at the end of 1979 only to be let-down very badly in a promised new venture. I went on to work for a specialist car builder in London, but that business folded too, so I was job hunting.

With the two races being a double-header I thought it would be a good idea to get myself out there to look for work (well, that was my excuse!) but couldn’t really afford it. During the course of the British GP week-end I spoke to Lotus Team Manager Peter Warr about the possibility of hitching a ride on the transporter. To my surprise he was receptive and suggested I call a bit nearer the time. The response to that call was “sorry, no room on the truck but would I mind driving Colin Chapman’s Elite out to Hockenheim? Well, I really wanted a ride in a lorry but I didn’t need asking twice!


On the allotted day I duly left Ketteringham Hall in the black Elite, accompanying the transporter down to Felixstowe and across to Zeebrugge for an uneventful drive down to Hockenheim. Qualifying was overshadowed by Pironi’s horrendous accident and for the Lotus boys it was not a great day either. They had enjoyed little success so far in the season with the recalcitrant Type 91; de Angelis qualified 13th with Mansell even further back, lining up 18th on the grid.

The race saw de Angelis retire with handling problems but Mansell  salvaged some cheer on his 29th birthday by finishing ninth. We had already celebrated the occasion during the morning when the Goodyear guys marked up one of his tyres in a rather novel way – we all signed it! Despite the disappointments, the Team Lotus boys were as ever in good cheer.

We were sharing our hotel with the Renault team which at the time was hit with some internal strife between drivers Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux. At dinner in the evenings the French crew would raise their glasses with the time-honoured French toast of ‘Proste!’, to which the Lotus table responded very loudly with ‘Arnoux! It then turned into the nightly ritual of a bread roll fight.


I was duly entrusted with taking the Lotus Elite on to Austria, this time accompanied by Kenny Szymanski. Kenny was an American Airlines steward who miraculously managed to arrange his flight schedules so that he always turned up at the right place when a Grand Prix was on and spent the week-ends working as tyre man Clive Hicks’s assistant. Always very entertaining, Kenny was excellent company for the trip – especially as we broke down! Not just anywhere but in a tunnel. A passing mechanic (and a Lotus fan to boot) helped us push it out and we got it going again without really knowing how.

The Elite soon stopped again, our friend still following us. We built-up quite a little party on the hard shoulder as the Renault transporter stopped, the crew showing no hard feelings for the hotel mullarkey! Again we got it going and carried on, only to stop again. This time we were on our own and well into the evening. We were on a hill and couldn’t believe our good fortune when we investigated a side road opposite us to see a small hotel at the bottom, so we coasted down and checked in.

Much to Kenny’s amazement, the person who had checked in just before us lived in the next apartment block to him in New York! The next morning one of the team mechanics came out from the circuit and rescued us; the problem was some dirt in the fuel pump.

The Osterreichring enjoys a beautiful setting up in the hills with excellent spectating, the team’s hotel actually overlooking the circuit. Only downside was a monster thunderstorm that seemed to arrive regularly at 5pm every day! Qualifying proved a tad better than Hockenheim just a week before with de Angelis taking seventh on the grid and Mansell 12th.


In addition to the Elite the JPS-liveried Jet Ranger helicopter was also deployed for the weekend, being used by Colin Chapman to commute from the rather more salubrious hostelry where he and Hazel were staying. Naturally he wanted to land as close as possible to the paddock and was using a small grassed spectator area(!) at the end of the pits as helipad. Mike the pilot and I used to go and shoo the punters away when he was coming in. On race morning Mike and I duly went and taped-off the area and the ‘chopper landed, with the Old Man at the controls, Hazel alongside and Peter Dyke from Players, together with his wife, in the back.

As they landed, Mike went to the pilot’s door, yelling at me to go round the other side to open the door. As everyone disembarked, Mike got in, indicating me to do likewise. I obviously looked surprised, so he repeated it. I did as I was told and before I knew it, Mr Chapman was belting me in and putting a headset on me – I could now hear Mike properly above the rotors. “You said you had never flown. I’ve got to refuel so I’ve cleared it with the Old Man to take you with me”.


Talk about no time to panic! He was right, up until that time I had never flown, the reason being that I do not like heights so assumed I wouldn’t like flying. However, with no time to think about it, here I was in this little helicopter of all things. We flew out to a local airfield to refuel and upon returning to the circuit the morning warm-up was on so we followed it from the air – how cool is that! All fears of flying were forgotten and thankfully I had my camera with me so even recorded the occasion. To this day, I’ve never had a problem with flying.


The Italian Air Force aerobatic team had clearly been inspired by the Red Arrows performance at Brands Hatch a few years earlier and went one better by enveloping us in vapour trail as we stood in the pit lane! Once that excitement was over we settled down for an entertaining race that saw a delighted Elio de Angelis pip Rosberg by less than a car length to take a fantastic win. An overjoyed Lotus team swarmed onto the pit wall in celebration, me included, but little did we know then that Sunday 15 August 1982 would be the last time Colin Chapman would throw his famous black cap in the air.

Celebrations were short-lived as it was time to head for home. The Elite was staying behind so I found myself a lift as far as Luxembourg with Dan Partel, an American who had been responsible for re-establishing FF1600 and 2000 championships in Europe. Indeed a European FF2000 round was a support race at the Osterreichring, a young Ayrton Senna led all the way in his Rushen Green Van Diemen, followed home by Calvin Fish, now familiar to Americans as a TV commentator, complete with his delightful Norwich accent!


Once again we broke down, this time a stone jamming a brake on the poverty-model Fiesta that Dan had hired for the trip. From Luxembourg I got a train up to Eindhoven in Holland to spend a few relaxing days with some old family friends. The drama was not over though. They were driving me up to Zeebrugge to catch the ferry one evening when, as we approached the Dutch/Belgian border, a car we were about to pass suddenly did a U-turn (on a motorway!) across our path – he turned out to be a Greek who was lost. Both cars were written-off on the ensuing accident, fortunately witnessed by a group of Dutch policemen so there was no doubt about where the fault lay. The police even took us back home and I eventually caught the ferry home the next day.


So ended a momentous fortnight, the memories of which have remained with me to this day.
John Elwin September 2012 – All images courtesy of and copyright John Elwin

Deutsche Post

24th TECHNO CLASSICA ESSEN

 

Others may try to emulate or even usurp Techno Classica’s position as the biggest and best classic car show in Europe but they’ve got a long way to go to match the sheer breadth and depth of quality drawn to the Messe Essen where organisers S.I.H.A. packed all nineteen halls of the huge complex and even have a waiting list of exhibitors. The visitors obviously appreciate their efforts too, as attendance figures of 181,400 testify – and that was up by just over 11,000 despite there bizarrely being a rival event staged in Stuttgart on the same weekend.

Techno’s strength is the sheer variety of exhibits from major manufacturers, high-end dealers, clubs large and small and an array of traders and autojumblers. Many European manufacturers are proud of their heritage; Mercedes for instance made much of the 60th anniversary of their SL models which began with the 300SL and that Le Mans victory in 1952, whilst the VW Audi Group now encompasses so many brands that they fill an entire hall with everything from a humble NSU to Lamborghini Countach. Opel meanwhile were concentrating on record breakers from their past.

Numerically, Porsche 911 was probably the most common car with every conceivable variant to be seen, but the factory chose to honour the RS Carrera with a pair of Martini-liveried racers adorning their area in the VW hall. 356’s abounded too with several restorers – most notably Hackenberg – displaying their abilities, whilst one of the dealers concentrated on cars that had clearly spent too long in the Californian sun!

BMW somewhat amusingly put a lot of emphasis on the British brands – Rolls-Royce and Mini – that they now own. But did they shoot themselves in the foot by displaying their latest Mini Coupe alongside a gorgeous Broadspeed Mini GT? The latest product looks truly hideous anyway, only emphasised by putting the Broadspeed gem beside it.

As befits a company that has passed its 100th birthday, Alfa Romeo has had much to celebrate in recent times and this year the boxy-looking but remarkably aerodynamically efficient Giulia saloon clocks up its 50th. Celebrations are taking place in Italy in June but in the meantime the factory brought an example along from their Museo Storico, whilst other examples were to be found on club stands, one of which was also marking the 40th birthday of the Alfasud, almost certainly the best small saloon of all time (well, this writer did own four of them over a 27-year period so should know!).

Moving on to a more obscure anniversary, did you know that the Volvo Amazon Kombi is 40 this year? Well, no neither did I until I got to Essen but Volvo devoted their entire display to the model, with examples in Polis and Fire Chief livery as well as a mildly customised one (it had big shiny wheels). Attracting most interest though was a rather ratty 1967 model that had been converted to electric power in 1995 and has subsequently covered some 200,000km despite having a range of only 120km. For longer journeys the owner takes a trailer-mounted generator with him.

Show organisers S.I.H.A. always mount an impressive central display and this year featured Spanish manufacturer Pegaso, bringing together a remarkable 21 of the total 86 cars built. They made for an eye-catching display arranged around the outside of S.I.H.A’s ‘palace’.

Indeed, look hard enough at Essen and you will find examples of many obscure and long-forgotten marques but who would have thought that a humble Riley would be awarded the ‘Best in Show’ accolade? Actually this particular representative of the Blue Diamond was not so humble, being a one-off coach-built model built for the 1949 Geneva Motor Show by Walter Koeng, who was better known for working on more upmarket brands. However, he created the Riley as his personal dream car and it remained in his ownership for many years until passing it on to a close friend. Only now has it come to market via well-known dealer Lukas Huni, who was showing it at Essen.

Having visited Essen several times in the company of a Riley enthusiast who has always been frustrated by the lack of Riley’s, it is somewhat ironic that he did not come this year as there were several examples to be found. In particular, pre-war sports cars were found on several dealer stands, a reflection of growing interest on the back of a burgeoning series of events in Germany for just such cars.

Whilst many of the dealers inevitably cram as many cars as possible into their allotted space, making inspection and photography difficult, it’s often some of the smaller traders and individual sellers that have the real gems. How about a 1961 Austin Mini Seven with less than 3,000 miles on the clock? This genuine, remarkably original example must be one of the lowest mileage Mini’s to be found anywhere and comes with all its original documents and some very period accessories.

The clubs run their own competition, leading to some innovative displays, some very well done, others a little bizarre (how about the gay car club promoting sex on the beach?) but again you never know what you’ll find. Whilst the Smurfs carrying out maintenance on a VW Kafer was different, equally so was the one and only 4-door version of the original Audi Quattro, restoration of which had only been completed the night before the show opened.

And that’s the beauty of Essen – there really is something for everyone. Next years’ event has already been confirmed for 10-14 April 2013, so make a date. More information can be found on www.siha.de

John Elwin, April 2012