Essen motor show

California Dreaming

For one brief bizarre moment, I became so disorientated, I thought I was in some smog-ridden city in California — the ostentation of the displays and the sheer enthusiasm for over-the-top machines being so much in evidence — until I blinked and remembered that I was in some smog-ridden city in Germany.

The Essen Motor Show appears to be all things to all people. It is a Motor Show, a Racing Car Show, a Classic Car Show and a Motorbike Show. Above all, though, it is a Custom Car Show.

It must be the extra income, I suppose, that the average German has at his disposal, by which he can satisfy his quest for individuality and buck the trend to uniformity which the rest of us have to accept, that has allowed a huge number of tuning and accessory companies to spring up in the last couple of decades.

While Brabus, AMG and Zender may not be familiar names to the majority of British motoring enthusiasts, their products are available in this country, but they represent just the tip of an enormous industry. Elia Motorsport, Kurt Gutmann, Hartman Motorsport, MH-Styling and Rieger Design are just a few of the names, for example, spotted showing their wares at Essen.

Generally it is the German models which attract the attention of all these specialists: BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Opel, Audi and Volkswagen, and only a few imports, but of these, it is Honda of all manufacturers which attracts the greatest attention. Obviously the average age of a Honda owner in Germany is far lower than the 57 year old British average.

Appreciation of any conversion is very much in the eye of the beholder, but is encouraging to note that the Germans are as capable of producing things in as bad a taste as anyone else. Indeed some of the excesses seen were on a par with the worst that comes out of California (or Catford). In fact, what was most striking about Essen was that if it correctly reflected the aspirations of the German motoring enthusiast, there is a great deal in common with West Coast tastes. Wide, chromed wheels. chrome tipped, wide bore exhaust pipes, widened wheel arches and wings and side skirts command respect, the more conservative paint jobs of the Europeans perhaps the telling point. Even on this point, though, there were some of the most dreadful colour schemes ever seen on four wheels being proudly displayed.

Fun though this part of the Show was, it was the competition and historic cars which were the primary reason for attending the Show, and neither disappointed.

With regard to the former category, the organisers had ensured a good collection of Formula One and Group C cars, French Le Mans contenders and three Paris-Dakar cars, although pukka rally cars were thin on the ground. Outnumbering all these, however, were the plethora of BMW M3s, Evolution Mercedes-Benz and homologated Audis that have been battling it out in this year's German Touring Car Championship. As if to reinforce its primacy in the German motor sport world, wherever one went the car was assaulted by a guttural commentary of the series which was being screened in every nook and cranny of the Show. Understandable I suppose, since the cars are, in a sense, the ultimate in performance car conversions.

While the 400 or so historic cars were disappointing being, as they were, no more than dealer stock with little thought given to display other than the greater pressed steel per square centimetre so much the better, there were the odd islands of interest. A clutch of five Horchs, resplendent in their late Thirties Erdmann & Rossi coachwork, seemed a little out of place in a dealer hall packed with post-war Mercedes-Benz, American vehicles of all description and some Italian exotica, although the seven Rolls-Royces and Bentleys on the Frank Dale & Stepson stand and the Aston Martin Virage on the Straight Eight stand helped redress the balance. Most noteworthy of all, though, and certainly worthwhile making the trip, was the stand at the heart of the Show. This was devoted to Bugatti, and besides the three Royales present, including the Esders Roadster, there were some two dozen other models representing the marque over the years. The grace and beauty of these cars were in stark contrast to the hideously deformed vehicles that had probably started their lives as French farmers' wives' runabouts, although some did retain their original Citroën 2cv shape.

Waving the flag, literally, was Caterham who had a stand showing their products, but more than a few hackles were raised by the presence nearby of the Lotus 7 clones on the Donkervoort stand. Since that stand was itself adjacent to the Phoenix Cobra Replica stand, we can perhaps see where part of this Show is coming from.

Altogether it was well worth attending, if for no other reason than to look at the machines and displays that one would not normally see in Britain. In fact, just such a Show could not possibly be held in this country, it would not work, the various strands too disparate and the tuning and accessories business not quite so developed. Transport it to California, though, and that's a different matter. But that's where we came in.