My top 10 classics at this year's NEC

| 12 Nov 2011

Just back from a second day at the Classic Motor Show at Birmingham's NEC and thought I’d share my favourite 'cars of the show'.

Not an easy task, mind, as, with 230 clubs and 1500-plus classics spread across three halls, there were plenty to ogle over and scribble down on that mental dream garage list of mine! A Top 10 could so easily be a top 20 or 30, or more.

1] Mercedes-Benz 500SL

First set of wheels to wow me yesterday was on a neighbouring dealer stand – R107 specialist Sam Bailey’s SL Shop, to be precise.

Heading his selection of smart SLs was a black 1989 500 that brings a new definition to being ‘out of the box’ as it’s odometer reads just 902 miles. That’s right, less than a 1000. Bailey tells me the owner bought two back in 1989 – this and a Forest Green example – and opted to run one into the ground, literally (he did 245,000miles in it) and put the other one in cotton wool!

Imagine being able to really enjoy your pride and joy knowing you’ve got another as a back up? That’s pretty cool. Not sure if it’s a good investment, though, as I’m guessing it would’ve been £30/40k new and might make £50/60k now tops (Bailey hasn’t decided what to chalk it up for, in fact he isn’t sure how to decide). Pity it's not a left-hooker, though, as Bailey would get three figures at Essen if it was.

2] Standard Vanguard Race Transporter

How is this for a classy way to get your classic racer to the circuit? It’s a Standard Vanguard transporter built by historic race preparation specialist Ian Kellett from Holmfirth who decided to replicate the one-off example Lotus racer Mike Anthony built in period to haul his XI around.

Kellett’s version involved merging the chassis' of a couple of rusty donor Vanguards to create a frame long enough to take his beetle-back Standard Mk1 – a Revival St Mary’s favourite. What a great combination; even cooler than the famous Mercedes Rennsport 300SLR transporter!

3] Delahaye Pininfarina 135MS

Can’t recall seeing a Delahaye at the NEC before so this Pininfarina-bodied example was a treat. The coachbuilder bodied it as part of a styling exercise on three different chassis: Delahaye, Alfa-Romeo ad Maserati. It’s one of three examples of the marque on display this weekend courtesy of race specialist Hall & Hall.

4] Burrell Steam Traction Engine

Ok, it’s hardly a fit with the usual definition of a classic (or even a vintage car) and it's probably got the lowest top speed and 0-10mph time for anything with wheels in the whole of the UK but I reckon it's set a record as the heaviest vehicle to grace the Classic Motor Show, possibly even the NEC, ever – all 22 tons of it! Just the fact the club arranged to cart it up to Birmingham and get it inside the NEC is mega impressive.

Unsurprisingly – given its size (the wheels are 6ft 4in in diameter) the steamer was the only set of wheels on display on the Masonic Classic Vehicle Stand. 

5] Volvo P1800

Most people rate the P1800 from The Saint (as driven by Roger Moore in his role as Simon Templar) as their favourite Volvo. That car’s owned by P1800 nut Kevin Price and it's on show as a work in progress project at the NEC this year, but Price also owns this 1962 example and I reckon it's way more impressive, having covered over half a million miles on its original engine!

It was in the same hands for the first 23 years of its life and was once driven from Lands End to John O’Groats in 16 hours 42mins.

6] Frazer-Nash BMW 319 Sport

Loved the fantastic patina of Nicholas Todd’s 1936 Frazer-Nash on the Gay Classic Car Group's stand.

It was ordered new by Violet Watson, who trialled it in period (hence the double spare wheels) and it's one of 18 of the 22 319s imported under F-N’s agreement to re-badge BMWs.

Todd has kept adding to its trialling history, too: apparently the six-cylinder roadster is just back from having the diff fixed after he got it stuck on a tree stump and snapped a driveshaft! Now that’s using a classic for you.

7] Austin 6cwt Van

Something to blow the bloody doors off: a Morris (badged Austin) Minor van packing 165bhp!

And all in the name of originality. Well, sort of. This one-time work horse has been lightly up-rated with a tuned (that power comes in at a lofty 9000rpm) Alfa Romeo Sud flat-four engine – yes, you read that correctly – as a tribute to Minor designer Alec Issigonis’ original concept, which featured a flat-four unit. You can see this serious example of the proverbial 'wolf in sheep's clothing' on the Minor LCV Register’s stand.

8] VW Splittie

I’ve recently grown to love VW campers and vans in huge way (but sadly, it seems, a while after everyone else as the prices have already gone ballistic) and this year there’s a load of them, thanks to a combined VW club stand (featuring an example of the über-desirable 23 window Samba) as well as the dedicated Split Screen Van Club, which has at least half a dozen in various specs including this fantastically original 1200 example.

It’s covered just 55,000 miles from new. Apparently the lucky owner found it lingering in a local lock-up by chance and managed to track down its 80-year-old owner who’d forgotten he even owned it after parking it up 15 years previously! Lucky guy.

9] Bristol 401 Beutler

I’ve only ever associated Beutler bodied cars with Porsche and other Continental marques so this was a surprise on the Bristol Owners’ Club stand.

It’s one of three styled by the Swiss, Thun-based firm (two coupés and one drophead coupé) and was supplied new to an oil company in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Owner Brian May bought it there backin 1967 and imported it. Apparently it was originally white with a black roof which doesn’t sound very tropics friendly. When MAy tried to sell it in theearly 1970s, most potential buyers were put off as it didn't look like a 401.

He's also got one of the early Touring-bodied 400s, too, and reckons that, as beautiful as it is, the Touring cars are a lash-up compared to the detail engineering that went into this car – much like a Swiss watch, it’s as good to look at it is to work on.

10] De Tomaso Pantera GTS The car I most wanted to take home! Yeah, I know, it’s on our stand at the show but if you haven’t made it to the NEC and seen this one (the star of this month's Buying Guide on the model) you need to.

It’s owned by Pantera guru Johnny Woods who bought it 18 years ago at the age of just 22 and has rebuilt it from top to bottom. And he loves driving it, having done 23,000 miles in all, which is lunar level stuff for most supercars. Woods has also taken it to the De Tomaso factory, too, where Santiago de Tomaso voted it his car of the day. No surprise really as the colour alone is as gorgeous as the car's Tom Tjaarda' lines!

What was on your Top 10 list at this year's Classic Motor Show? Tell us on our forum!