A capital show

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New London Classic Car show proves an instant hit… and triggers plans for future expansion
Writer Gordon Cruickshank

Famous names, fabulous cars and Motor Sport’s spectacular Hall of Fame display made the first London Classic Car show a major January draw for the enthusiast.

Formula 1 figures David Coulthard, Christian Horner, Martin Brundle and Adrian Newey joined TV names Chris Evans, James May and James Martin for the glittering opening ceremony, culminating in live-action demonstrations down the show’s Grand Avenue. London hasn’t had a classic event of this kind before, and it began with a bang.

Newey’s impressive career was celebrated by an extensive exhibition of cars he designed or which inspired him, and one of those was only revealed during an on-stage interview with Chris Evans. When the television presenter and classic car enthusiast asked which was the first car the Formula 1 design ace had modified, he mentioned his father’s Lotus Elan – and was bowled over to see the car driving towards him, his first sight of it in years.

Those live demonstrations gave the show a unique angle, centred on the Grand Avenue running down the middle of the exhibition and lined with impressive vehicles from exotic supercars and vintage racers to rally cars and Formula 1 machines. Three times a day the halls echoed to crackling exhausts as they took a turn on the catwalk, executing some carefully judged fishtailing at each end. Stratos, Miura and Ferrari 288GTO joined Bugatti Type 35B, 250F and V8 BRM, with McLaren M23 and Camel Lotus 101 updating the Grand Prix eras.

The most famous race of all featured in the Le Mans Icons display, offering GT40, Porsche 956 and the last ‘road car’ to win there, a McLaren F1 GTR, while threading down between the busy stands brought visitors to the Newey exhibition. Beneath huge blow-ups of his university drawings for high-downforce sports cars stood that Elan and a Mini Cooper S that first got him mobile, March Indy and sports cars from his valued US era, the nipped-and-tucked Leyton House March that made his first mark on F1 and, in the centre, a trio of success – Williams FW14B, McLaren MP4-13 and Red Bull RB5. Nearby stood the Ferrari 430 and GT40 the talented aero expert has raced himself.

Across the hall, James May’s Cars that Changed the World aroused plenty of comment with its mix of obvious – Model T, VW, Mini – and oddball, which included a Lada and a Mars explorer vehicle. But as viewers filed through the stark white corridors there was a dramatic build-up to his last choice – which transpired to be the Corgi James Bond Aston DB5. Well, in 1964 it was the fastest-selling car ever…

Completing the four cornerstones of this new event, Motor Sport’s impressive Hall of Fame display showcased a car for each our eight HoF Founding Members. Lined up in front of huge images of appropriate magazine front covers were a pair of Lotuses – 25 for Clark, 97T for Senna, a scarlet 500 to recall Enzo Ferrari’s first world championships of 1952 and ’53, and a Tyrrell 006 to wave a tartan banner for Jackie Stewart. A gleaming yellow Benetton B193 illustrated Schumacher’s early years, with a glorious Alfa Romeo Tipo B alongside in upright contrast, only missing Nuvolari crouched over the big four-spoke wheel. Finally, two British might-have-beens – Moss famously took Vanwalls to victory, but never in the bulbous streamliner that intrigued show-goers, while for a time the V16 BRM looked promising enough for the great Fangio to get on board… It was a stunning display that kept visitors entranced.

Though this was a show about classics, manufacturers with a proud heritage were there too. Along with its GT and newest Ghibli models, Maserati displayed a lovely 3500GT cabrio, a beautiful 5000GT and a stubby cycle-winged 4CS of 1938, which was buried for safety during WWII. Right opposite were market rivals Aston Martin with a gleaming white DB6 and its current GT3 racer, while Citroën celebrated 60 years since it astonished the Paris Motor Show with the ground-breaking DS, displaying examples of its DS sub-brand.

When the crowd weren’t pressing to see Moss’s 1956 Monaco-winning Maserati sprinting down the strip, busy stands offered cars complete, in parts or even sliced in half, if you fancied the side of a taxi on your wall or a sofa shaped like a DB5 nose. There were people turning car parts into elaborate furniture or remarkably convincing animal sculptures, auto artists galore, period tyres, replica petrol pumps, and desk lights from headlamps if your house needs a makeover.

Among the auction houses H&H showed the Tojeiro-Lister that brought Archie Scott Brown to prominence, JAP cylinders protruding through its flimsy bonnet, while Historics at Brooklands included the lilac-painted one-millionth Morris 1000 – or Morris 1000 000 as its boot badge proclaimed. Delahayes were in vogue on several stands, notably a lovely Pininfarina coupé that Hall & Hall showed along with an ex-Piers Courage De Tomaso 505 F1 car, while over at restorer Jim Stokes visitors could admire a magnificent Grand Prix Lancia D50 recreation.

Overall there was a quality feel to this busy inaugural event, with its indoor live action and focus on the classic field. Organisers say footfall exceeded predictions, and claim next year’s will be half as big again. If they can maintain the standard, it looks as though London has a new winter spectacle.

Motor Sport would like to thank Clive Chapman and Classic Team Lotus, Kevin Wheatcroft and the Donington Grand Prix Collection, Rick Hall of Hall & Hall, Paul Grist, Nick Fennell and Stephen Ottavianelli for their assistance with our Hall of Fame display.