Classic showtime

There is always something to investigate at the annual NEC old car gathering

Can’t say I found a show-stopping item at the NEC Classic Car Show this time, barring a concept car that won’t be built, but it’s good to see clubs have fun with their stands. In its centenary year Morris made a splash, with the oldest Bullnose and a bus built to carry the works band around – including gramophone and one of their 78s. I drooled for a while at a magnificent 1898 Rover meteor bicycle, which luckily wasn’t for sale, recoiled from a Honda Gold Wing trike awash with chrome and glitz, then had my taste buds reset by the 1958 TD prototype that bumped Alvis from demure, unadventurous TC models to the rakish and self-confident TD. Alvis pretty well stuck to the clean, simple lines Swiss coachbuilder Graber had inspired, and it carried the twin-headlamp update perfectly. I raise my metaphorical cap when I watch a convertible TE cruise by.

I’m more furtive about my regard for the late-Seventies Matra-Simca Rancho, though. Cut-price copy, cheap-jack lookalike, supersoft-roader – I’ve heard all the jibes, but I remain secretly impressed how inventively Matra dressed up a Simca pick-up with glass-fibre off-road flim-flam to tag on to the Range Rover cult before anyone invented SUVs. I had to admire the gleaming example here, because the effort and cost of restoration must hugely outweigh any innate value. Which is what’s wonderful about enthusiasts.

The Bugatti OC and Trust brandished Bugs from Veyron to Brescia, but it was an elegant, curvaceous T51A that hooked me. After several different lives it emerged with this attractive faired-wing body, but nobody knows who built it. Seems to have happened in Denmark; if this was the work of a small local outfit – well, any famous carrozzeria would have been proud. Joy Rainey showed me over it, and told me about her remarkable trans-America drive – 31 days and 3000 miles in a 1904 curved-dash Oldsmobile. Very few problems, too. The Olds had to be modified for Joy’s short stature – by putting blocks on the pedals. Still, this was a short run compared to when she did the 10,000-mile London-Sydney.

Nearby I met some Allards – both people and cars. Alan A, son of founder Sydney, and Lloyd A, grandson, still operate an engineering firm and showed a rare Palm Beach model they’ve just restored. Knowing WB was close friends with Sydney it was good to make the connection and learn that they have started a new firm, Allard Sportscars Ltd, for restoration work. And, says Lloyd, they’re considering building new ones too.

Passing by a Mercedes 600 (even now far more stately than the misguided Maybach), I finally saw a Jaguar CX-75. (I missed the launch and so did its talented designer Ian Callum, because I’d inveigled him to Scotland to drive a Ferrari instead.) They won’t be selling any, but the firm has built five running cars for display using a turbo- and supercharged four instead of the gas-turbine boost of the concept. In the flesh it’s easy to see visual genes shared with the new F-type, especially the slit rear lights. A shame it won’t hit the streets, but these things soak up development costs to little profit beyond image. A bit like Star’s Gordon Bennett racer.