Celebrating the extraordinarily automotive ordinary!

While the glitterati and landed gentry sip vintage Champagne and nibble at caviar-laden biscuits during the annual bling-fests at Goodwood, Iain Robertson is delighted that ‘vin populaire’ (plonk) and Digestives form the diet at the FotU!

There is no denying that glamour can grab attention, catch the eye and generate both adulation and recognition, often creating lasting memories. However, among the Cartier Concours d’Elegance entries, on the painstakingly manicured lawn at the Sussex country home of the enthusiastic Lord March, populated by Bugattis, Bentleys and classic BMWs, you will seldom spot anything less than automotive exclusivity.
Unless you are invited to wear the prestigious metal tag that allows you a closer inspection of some truly extraordinary design concepts, sports cars and restored auction price-busting rarities, at the much-vaunted Goodwood Festival of Speed, shuffling past the surrounding fences, alongside the shell-suited ‘desperati’, is the only option for a brief glimpse.
Yet, in late-July, the week following the annual pilgrimage to nearby Silverstone for that other display of multi-squillionaire excess, the British F1 Grand Prix, a record audience of around 2,000 eminently pleasant but perfectly ordinary people descended on the imposing surrounds of Stowe House, in Buckinghamshire, to indulge in the ultimate motoring nostalgia trip: the fourth edition of the Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional and its concours d’Ordinaire. The irony of such a prestigious backdrop (home to a very costly private school) was not lost on observers.

No less than 50 specially selected but largely unexceptional motorcars vied for the title of ‘Best in Show’ in an event that is the automotive equivalent of Scrufts (the shaggy dog version of Crufts). Among them was a spectacularly original 1982 Austin Metro in pristine Champagne Beige, next to an original 1980 Austin Maxi 1750 finished in Vivid Orange and a French Blue 1975 Renault 12 TL. Flying a ‘modern classics’ flag was the youngest car on the Lawn of the Unexceptional, a 1990 Fiat Tempra SX in surprisingly immaculate condition, its blue velour back seat looking as if it had never been sat in.
In a display of the bland leading the blind, the hard-fought judging of the displayed vehicles saw a five-strong panel of mundane motoring masterminds admiring a selection of Taupe, Primrose Yellow and Lilac liveried family saloons and estates, many equipped with their original rubber flooring, squidgy and shapeless vinyl seats, sans radio but with manual window winders (sure to fox children) and ‘genuine’ faux Formica ‘wood’ trim inserts.

The 2017 Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional winners were:
– Best in Show: 1983 Datsun Sunny 1.5 GL (Mark Ashbridge)
– Second Place: 1972 DAF 33 (Richard Holness)
– People’s Choice: 1972 Austin Allegro 1750 SS (Colin Corke)
– Best Dressed: Simon Martin (Volvo 740 GL)
– Feast of the Unexceptional/Best Picnic: John Usher (Austin Maestro Special)
The winning car was one of the last of the Datsun-badged Sunnys, before the Japanese marque was re-branded as Nissan. Its owner, Mark Ashbridge, described his 1983 example as ‘a pleasant conveyance’, summing-up perfectly what Hagerty’s Festival of the Unexceptional is all about. This might be the first time that a Datsun Sunny has won anything!
The second-placed, Dutch 1972 DAF 33, entered by Richard Holness, had been owned originally by an elderly gentleman who kept it for 40 years, while the People’s Choice award winner – a 1973 Austin Allegro 1750 SS (also remembered as being ‘All-Aggro’) – is the oldest surviving production Allegro in existence, appropriately owned by a vicar from Longbridge, the Rev. Colin Corke.
Honorary mentions from the five concours d’Ordinaire judges were also given to a rare (as most have turned to iron oxide) 1971 Fiat 128 Estate, a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle, owned by the same participant since new, a 1977 Lancia Beta 1600 Berlina, and a 1973 Simca 100 GLS Estate, believed to be the last road-worthy example in the UK.
The Best Dressed prize for entrants wearing clothes appropriate to the era of their car went to Simon Martin and his partner with their 1989 Volvo 740 GL. The winner of the Hagerty Feast of the Unexceptional period picnic was John Usher, with his Rubik’s Cube Battenberg cake and pink sponge fingers being the perfect accompaniment to his 1989 Austin Maestro Special.
A small selection of cars was plucked out of the Unexceptional car park, including a late ‘souvenir’ edition of a Saab 96 L V4, plus a battered Alfa 75, hand-painted in pastel green, which had also been Jeremy Clarkson’s entry to the 2008 Auto Italia concours, as part of a Top Gear TV challenge.
The visitor’s car park was no less of a show, with over two hundred gloriously ordinary and long-forgotten vehicles filling the rows, each one telling a sad story of its own. They included a rarely-seen Fiat 132 2.0-litre, an immaculate Bedford CF van, a Talbot (Hillman) Avenger, Vauxhall Royale, Austin Ambassador, Honda Quintet, Lada Riva, plus a trio of Hyundai Stellar saloons, that made one section of the Festival parking area look like a 1980s’ minicab rank.
These are the base model saloons, hatchbacks and estates that were sold in their millions from the 1960s to the late-1980s. Fortunately, some enterprising souls are prepared to prize these rarities, probably more so than the owners of the exceptional cars at Goodwood. They are the cars that we all remember from our childhoods, many of which were immensely popular in their time. The date for the 2018 edition of the Hagerty FotU will be announced early next year.
While ISQA is prepared to celebrate the exceptional in quality terms for its many clients of today, it doffs its cap at an automotive past that underpinned a fascinating, if not entirely resilient, period of motor industry history. In fact, indulge in our on-line archive, where you can read all about it in our five-part history series created especially for the ISQA website.

‘Make Quality Count!’

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