Who says the British motor show is dead?


Author: James ElliottPublished:

So many people told me over the weekend that it was the best Classic Motor Show ever that any doubts I might have had were dispelled. Truth be told, it has always been my favourite event – the people's end of term party – and I thought it was the best, too, but didn't want to be overconfident without at least a thousandth opinion.

The question for me then became exactly why it was the best ever. I mean aside from the organisers' conspicuous hard work to elevate the size, quality and popularity of the show.

Yes, some of the club stands may be a bit bigger and better than in the past, but that would suggest that the same effort wasn't made in the past. And it was.

In fact, the vast majority of club stands are pretty much as they have always been in terms of quality, so, even though that, like so many factors, has added to a general gradual improvement, it is surely not the whole answer.

So, I asked around a lot. What is different now to the Classic Motor Show of a decade ago?

The primary answer, to my surprise, was that it was the visitors. Even though a fair proportion of the near-50,000 or so who attended over the three days still had a passing enthusiasm at most, their level of interest and engagement is unrecognisable from the past.

Rather than just wandering the halls to kill half a day, they are all over the stands, in and out of the cars, bombarding the clubs with questions and their own anecdotes.

This interaction visibly lifts the atmosphere of the whole show. More than that, the fact that record crowds are showing record enthusiasm speaks volumes about the enduring, even growing, strength and appeal of our hobby. And that is hugely encouraging and massively satisfying.

This manifests itself in other ways, too. I spent an hour and a half on Saturday sitting squat-legged on the floor by the lotusexcel.net stand where Oliver Winterbottom delivered to a handful of people a fascinating insight into the development of Lotus four-seaters.

It wasn't just the ex-TVR and Lotus designer, either. On the Volvo Owners' Club stand you could have a chat to P1800 stylist Pelle Petterson, while Ivor Walklett put in an appearance with the Ginetta Owners' Club.

I can't help thinking that a decade ago, the clubs wouldn't have had the ambition to ask these stars along, and most of the VIPs wouldn't have felt any compulsion to attend.

But the Classic Motor Show is now so big and so good – the Top Gear Live! reviews I received were rather less favourable – that it has a momentum and a power all of its own.

Like classic cars themselves, it is likeable and friendly and a faithful old friend that you can rely on to be there. Unlike a British motor show for modern cars, which seems to flounder from failure to failure with astonishing frequency.

Perhaps this, more than anything, is why motor-show-starved people flock to the Classic Motor Show in such numbers, and why they bring with them such an air of goodwill and enthusiasm.

A sort of great big thank you for bothering and for getting it right when the chaotic modern car industry so conspicuously can't.

For years the modern car rags have been bleating that Britain desperately needs a motor show it can be proud of. It's a shame none of them have noticed that it's already got one.



James, You're right it's the people and the buzz that has made it, along with to be frank, the money. Going back 15 years which is when the November show really got going there were only a few cars worth more than £10,000 - now we have cars on sale there for more than £100,000. The manufacturer support is key as well (Volvo and Mercedes being the most obvious this year). That has made the show look much more grown up. Exactly the same has happened with Techno Classica in Essen.
The clubs continue to put together outstanding displays on a budget, the barn find cars are always great but I don't think anything could top the show about 10 years ago where they brought the car, the barn and even the chickens - one of which layed an egg !
I think what really needs to change now is the Top Gear bit, the exhibition part of that was much smaller this year which is encouraging. Maybe they could tack it all on to the Gadget show (similar demographic) or give it its own weekend.
As for the Motor Show - you Londoners seem to have forgotten that the NEC was built for the 1978 British Motor Show !
In the early 70s Earls Court was considered old fashioned and centres of the British Motor Industry were Coventry and Longbridge so the NEC was built on greenfield between the two complete with a new airport, railway station and the worlds first automated MagLev train service connecting the two (although that did spend a lot of time broken !).


This was my first visit to the Classic Motor Show and a most enjoyable day it was too. As I'm not one to attempt major work on my own car I thought that the Show wouldn't be targeted at folk like me, but the quality of vehicles on show and the freely-given information (which tended to become quite long conversations) on many of the club stands was a high point. As was the chance to be re-united with those wonderful single cylinder British bikes of my teenage years in the Bike Show!

A minor niggle that applies to all these big exhibitions, why can't the guide be issued in advance so that visits can be planned in more detail? As there was a group of us, each with specific interests, we found ourselves re-tracing our steps on many occasions. The pdf on the website had too little detail to be of much use.


I love cars and motor shows always send my spine tingling. Whoever said that the show was dying must have not attended one himself. Thanks for taking the time to write up the article, I totally agree with your points!

Melanie - http://www.carid.com

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