Who says the British motor show is dead?

| 15 Nov 2011

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.