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England's Classic Motor Show On This Week-End


16th November, 2008

1953 Austin A40 Somerset

The year? 2008. The place? England's NEC at Birmingham. A venue packed with over a 1,000 classic, vintage, veteran and retro cars spread over five halls, countless trade displays and around 170 car club stands. This year’s Classic Motor Show, held this week-end, is all about numbers – mainly anniversaries.

Its 60 years since Land Rover, the Jaguar XK120 and the Morris Minor were released but did you know that Team Lotus was founded 50 years ago and that the Austin Allegro has turned 35?

The little Austin-Healey Sprite hits the big five-o, the rotary engine turns 40, along with the last of the traditionally engineered Rovers, the P6B. Along with its predecessor, the P5 is celebrating its 50th and the P3 turns 60. And the 40-year-old Ford Escort is also in a birthday mood?

Talking of 40, it’s also 40 years since BMC stopped building its super-sized A125/A135/Princess/VP Princess limousines. Meanwhile you might be shocked to discover that the second BMW 3-series, the E30, is 30, that the VW Corrado is now officially 20 and can Honda really be 60?

The Ford Model A turns 80, the Morgan Plus 8 and Opel GT are 40, the MkII MX-5 is ten, Porsche is 60 – along with the Morris J van – and Skoda celebrates 50 years of rallying. Meanwhile Vanden Plas enthusiasts will mark the 50th of the A105 VP and the 45th of the 1100VP.

There are even anniversaries hidden within anniversaries – it’s 40 years since Rootes Competition Department was founded and it’s 40 years since a Hillman Hunter won the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon.

Oh and it’s 25 years since the Austin Maestro was launched, 20 years since the MG Maestro Turbo first torque-steered away from a set of traffic lights and ten years since the Rover 200 BRM first started assaulting people’s sensibilities with its bright orange-lipped front air-intake.

A stunning trio of cars which will have never been seen before in one place by so many – if at all – will greet classic car enthusiasts when they visit the Panther Car Club stand at Birmingham’s NEC Classic Motor Show. For the Club will be championing rarity in a big way with examples of the Triumph Dolomite-based Panther Rio, the fantastic six-wheeled Cadillac-engined P6, and the mid-engined Solo four-wheel-drive super car.

They will form an extra attraction to the J72, Lima and De Ville models already destined for the stand, with the award-winning Kallista, appearing in the Meguiar’s concours area, adding further to the Panther Car Club’s show presence.

Panther cars, originally the Surrey-based, craftsman-built cars of fashion designer Bob Jankel from the early 70s onwards, and combining Thirties retro looks with modern Vauxhall, Ford and Jaguar mechanics, were never produced in vast numbers, although their several hundred Lima and Kallista models have always attracted a keen following.

In contrast, only two gloriously unenvironmental Super P6 six-wheeler cars were made between 1977-78, with 8.2 litre 600 bhp, twin-turbo Cadillac engines emptying their twin 30-gallon tanks at the rate of 4-5 mpg – enough to rate the model as the first road-going car to exceed 200 mph, although this was never substantiated. Costing nearly £40,000 each at 70s prices, one was sold to the Saudi Arabian royal family, while the other went to Canada. Following indifferent treatment in the USA and rat-infested storage in Greece, this is the car now undergoing the finishing touches of a restoration for the Classic Motor Show. The Panther 6 was last seen on public display at the Panther Car Club’s NEC stand in 1992.

Also making an appearance is a black Panther Rio – Bob Jankel’s inspired attempt, in an era of rising petrol prices, to attract large prestige-car owners with a downsized luxury model. The contemporary Triumph Dolomite 1850 – with the 16-valve Dolomite Sprint providing the higher-performance Especial version – seemed an ideal basis for substantial upgrading. But the £7,993-£9,445 price tag ensured that only 38 Rios were built between 1975-77.

Completing the special line-up will be a red Panther Solo. Registered 4403 UP, this was Autocar’s actual 1989 road test vehicle, and is believed to be one of only 11 cars remaining from 14 sold to customers up to 1990. With a 204-bhp, Ford Cosworth mid-engined, four-wheel-drive spec, composite aluminium and carbon-fibre construction, cutting-edge looks and handling, the model should have gone places, but fell short with a high purchase price and lack of development.  Now, two decades on, enthusiasts will get the chance to see – up close – what might have been.

“The three rare models we are showing took Panther’s spirit of craftsman-built and highly individual motoring to new heights, but not, unfortunately, to commercial success”, said Panther Car Club spokesperson, Val Bridges. “However, this makes them doubly fascinating today, and we feel sure show visitors will be sharing our great excitement at having located these rare beasts for an unforgettable display”.

The classic car followers at the Show, may well have plenty to keep them entertained, but what is there to keep the retro enthusiast happy?

Boy, how long have you got? No retro party would be complete without a line-up of Fords with the RS Owners Club displaying an Escort Cosworth, a Series 1 RS Turbo, a Mk2 RS 2000 and a 1968 Twin Cam while the Ford AVO Club will have a range of rare competition and rally cars such as the Mexico and RS 1600.

To mark 50 years of Skoda rally competition, the Skoda Owners’ Club will be displaying a 1000MB, a cracking Works-replica 110 Coupé and an original 130L rally car. Another rallying rarity will be the Hillman Hunter which won the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon. A car which will surely get you thinking about Rootes’ unappreciated and increasingly-rare saloon.

Then for fans of old Japanese curios, an amble over to the Nissan 300C Owners’ Club is a must to get a glimpse of an exceedingly rare Datsun 200 DeLuxe Six – a reminder of the days when Datsun built reliable yet deadly dull cars.

Moving to something a bit more recent and the Just Opel Vauxhall Car Club has a display focused on the 25-year-old Nova and celebrations are also being held for the E30 BMW 3-series as well as the 20th anniversary of the Birmingham Mini Club. The Mk 1 Golf Owners Club will pay tribute to the golden years with GTis and Cabriolets from the mid-70s to mid-80s.

And if that’s not enough, the British are bound to find the first car that they ever drove. There are over 1,000 cars on display, each one sure to be one man’s/woman's dream car, the next’s guilty pleasure.

1960s Unipower GT

The only known Unipower GT on the road in Europe is present at the Show. The Unipower GT has also been restored to factory specification, right on the NEC’s doorstep. One of the most thoroughly engineered and best built specialist sports cars of the 60s, just 75 Unipower GT’s were produced with most now residing in America and the Far East. The car was based on BMC Mini mechanical components with the transverse engine and gearbox unit mounted in a mid-engine configuration. Combining light weight, a low centre of gravity and low aerodynamic drag from a body that measured just 40.5 inches high, the Unipower offered excellent performance and road holding and handling characteristics.

Other shining examples of the past include the finalists of a concours event, which include a Jaguar E Type, a Mercedes-Benz 190SL, a BMW Z1 and a TR3a. They are joined by a Saphire Cosworth, the NSRA’s 1941 Willys Coupe, a 1986 Renault Alpine GTA V6 Turbo and the Jensen 541S. Other finalists include the MX5 Roadster Mk 1, the Mini 40, a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle and the Ferrari 268SP. The line-up is completed with a VW Golf MK 1, a 1983 Panther Kallista, a Mk 2 Capri, a Crayford Convertible and a 1963 Ford ‘Consul’ Corsair.

Show manager Andy Rouse said, in looking forward to a great show, in light of the buoyancy of the classic motoring market in difficult financial times said: "Why spend £30,000 on something modern, which is exactly the same as the one that lives around the corner, when you can buy something special for far less outlay? Granted some classics are not for everyday use, but people are buying a classic cars as an investment; they are looking at the banking crisis and they want to put their money into something safe, which they can enjoy."

"At the top of the market you have people buying classics as an investment and at the entry level, you have people turning to classics because they are more affordable to run and maintain – and we’re not just talking about pre 1973 cars which are exempt from (UK) road tax. They are far simpler and owners can maintain and repair them themselves; saving money on expensive main-dealer labour rates and buying parts which are far more affordable."

Other historic car content: here.

Other car show content: here.

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