Wheeler-Dealing

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Motorfair, the biannual Earls Court alternative to Britain’s Birmingham international Motor Show, continues to expand and attract more customers. Amongst this year’s innovations were a separate working weekday set aside for motorsport people and exhibits, plus a parking space for the Bugatti Royale on its multi-million “hyperway” to the auction chambers.

The attendance figures tell the story of Motorfair’s gradually growing appeal. In 1981 fewer than 300,000 passed through the Warwich Road turnstiles and security checks. By 1983 organisers Philbeach were please to welcome 311,000; 1985 added another 5000 “at the gate” and this year’s “approximate total” a week after its November 1 closing date was 340,000. What were the highlights for that audience?

Of the major manufacturers, Ford made the effort to underline its market leadership with a large stand featuring the 224bhp Sierra RS500 as its centrepiece. The multinational also treated the motorsport day seriously, changing all but the RS500 to feature most of its interest from Chapman Cup-winning Tyrrell to production saloon car racing.

Ford also confirmed its £1.3-million purchase of the AC Holdings/Cars stock (not a total takeover) and it seems certain that the Ace prototype shown at the 1986 Birmingham Show will now be made, primarily for America.

General Motors also had plenty to say of sporting import, launching the new Vauxhall/Opel Lotus Challenge, a well-rewarded series which will run across Europe on a carburetted version of the new DOHC 16-valve from the fuel injection 1988 Vauxhall Astra GTE.

The deliberately simplified single-seaters appear the design and production work of Reynard at Bicester, but GM wanted them to feature its Lotus division’s name. However, it was the privately-owned Ketteringham Hall Grand Prix racers rather than GM-owned Lotus cars which worked with Reynard on the European challengers to the established worth of Formula Three and Formula Ford 2000.

GM also displayed a 1.6 fuel-injection power pack for the Nova, which is destined to compete against Citroen’s well-timed world premiere (its first outside France) for the 85 bhp AX GT.

The Citroen seems destined for sales life beneath £7000 and to thus compete for a slice of present MG Metro and Ford Fiesta XR2 sales, driving with the flyweight aerodynamic speed which is a feature of many current Citroens.

Citroen parent Peugeot previewed its British-built 405 saloons, Coventry being scheduled to make the charismatic 405 Mi-16 (using Citroen’s DOHC 160bhp engine) by June 1988.

British sporting specialists Lotus, TVR, Morgan, Caterham and Panther all had healthy displays.

Lotus were of the most international importance, having enjoyed a very successful launch for the new Esprit in the USA, as well as Britain. We have been privileged to ride in the car at Hethel and can confirm cabin noise levels have been sharply reduced, along with rattles.

TVR had its Evolution version of the recently introduced S-range whilst Panther confirmed, a day after the show’s closure, that it plans to build the Ford-Cosworth 4WD Solo 2 (and the present Kallista) on a four-acre site in Harlow, Essex. This is a traumatic upheaval for the Byfleet/Brooklands-based Panther personnel, the majority of whom elected not to transfer.

For sheer “ooh-er, look-at-that” speed and striking lines, Ferrari’s F40 had even more impact than its public launch pictures had suggested.

Although it is a simple car by Porsche 959 standards (almost equivalent to motorcycing’s Cafe Racers in philosophy, for no competition programme backs its blatant circuit inspiration), the pre-Stock Exhange crash speculators were talking of buying out existing contracts for double the F40’s ex-factory price.

Beautiful Ferraris from previous eras, such as the Allington 250 Testarossa, sat alongside 1939’s Mercedes W154 on a stand labelled “winners”. It included a 1930 Bentley Speed Six to contrast with Jaguar’s 1987 sportscar World Champion XJR-8 downstairs.

Neil Corner’s Bugatti Type 59 also summoned up the elegance, if not the success, of a previous racing generation. Christie’s held an auction which weathered the breaking stock market storms with remarkable fortitude.

Amongst the prices achieved was £110,000 for the late John Woolfe’s Cobra, though a Bugatti T35 was unsold at £160,000. The ably-publicised Graham Hill quartet of seventies Lola, Shadow and GH1/2 Grand Prix machinery achieved more than £64,000 for the three of the single seaters sold “on the night”.

There was a lot more at Motorfair for the enthusiast, but since dealer sales were also buoyant from the stands, we can take it that the “Man on the Clapham Omnibus” is also supporting the capital city motor show.

For the committed enthusiast, we also recommend the January 7-10 BRSCC Racing Car Show at the rebuilt Alexandra Palace. JW

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