NEC

Why I’m sad that the Manchester Classic Car Show is no more

IT’S the most wonderful time of the year. For wandering around exhibition halls looking at old cars, that is, because it’s too cold and miserable to be doing it outdoors.

The big one for anyone into Jaguar E-types, Triumph Stags and the like is the three-day show down at the NEC in Birmingham, but I’ve long advocated doing your homework, booking a budget flight and checking out the foreign ones, because there’s so many of them. A couple of years ago I had a great weekend wandering around Barcelona’s big classic show – and a bit of sightseeing, of course – because it was cheaper to hop on a big silver bird at John Lennon than it was to spend a weekend going to many of Britain’s bigger car shows. Paris’ Retromobile and the big German shows are just around the corner. Top tip if you’re looking for a Christmas present with a difference!

But I’m saddened this week that the North West’s entry in this big round-up of indoor shows is no more. Over the weekend the organisers of the Manchester Classic Car Show, held every September at Event City by the Trafford Centre, said it won’t be returning in 2019 due to rising costs. Or in “the foreseeable future” either, according to the organiser’s official statement. Which is a shame, because it was a proper, petrolhead day out that dialled down the hog roasts and live bands because it knew everyone wanted to look at Triumph Dolomites instead.

The frustrating thing was that, confronted with rising costs at Event City, the organisers had nowhere else to turn to, because no other venue in the North West can stage a big, indoor car show (neither Manchester Central nor the Echo Arena in Liverpool have that sort of floorspace, since you’re asking). Over in Germany virtually every city has a Messe – a trade fair, or in other words a massive indoor venue geared up to holding Crufts-sized mega-shows, so there are loads of options if you want to put on a car show. But in the UK you’ve got the NEC, ExCeL down in London’s Docklands, Event City – and that’s about it. Even rosy old Earl’s Court, which I loved going to as a kid, is under some swish new housing now.

Which is frustrating, because I know from the sheer volume of cars that turn up to the North West’s many outdoor shows that there’s an appetite for at least one decent indoor one, which we can all enjoy when it’s tipping it down with rain.

Maybe it’s time for a new venue altogether. Anyone got a disused aircraft hanger or an unfeasibly large warehouse going spare?

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The Reliant Robin isn’t technically a proper car – but I still love it

I’VE JUST got back from three days of exploring the national classic car show – where one question seemed to be asked more than any other. What’s it like driving a Reliant Robin?

Regular readers might remember earlier this year I snapped one up for £600, and promptly discovered that virtually all of it was broken. It’s taken several months of frustrating repairs to get the little three-wheeler up and running again, but now that it’s through the MoT I can finally reveal the answer.

Or rather, I was about to, but then the radiator decided to drop all of its coolant across a busy dual carriageway, prompting a tail-between-legs phone call to the fourth emergency service and a lengthy roadside repair. Then it needed a boxful of bits and a morning with a timing gun because it was richer than Donald Trump and coughing like Theresa May at a political party conference. So you probably get already that the Reliant Robin is a proper classic car – the sort that people enjoy tinkering with on a Sunday morning. Or in a layby at rush hour.

But then I – by which I mean the talented folk at the Reliant Owners’ Club – finally got my £600 three-wheeler to behave like a car and I could finally go for a proper drive. I’m now happy to report that it’s addictively good fun to buzz around in.

Anyone who’s seen a certain episode of Top Gear would be forgiven for thinking that every corner is a rollover-in-waiting but it just isn’t true. A Robin that’s set up properly will happily flick through roundabouts or through even quite tight bends perfectly happy, and is only going to throw you into a hedge if you really muck about it.

In fact, the bigger problem is Britain’s proliferation of potholes. You end up hitting them a third more of them than you would in a normal car, and if it’s the front wheel that hits one the ride’s particularly unpleasant. So you end up driving it constantly thinking about where the middle of the car is, which is strangely rewarding because it encourages you to really think about your driving to get the best out of it.

But it’s worth it because the steering – which only has the one wheel to control, of course – is light and nimble, the gearchange is wonderfully direct and the engine loves to rev. In fact, it’ll comfortably overtake things on a motorway at seventy, even if the 850cc lump next to your left knee is doing about a million RPM.

It might be noisy and have a habit of breaking down, but it’s a car that’s overflowing with character. Which makes it more than alright in my book.

The Ormskirk MotorFest is great – but it could be even better

The MotorFest has evolved into a real success story for Ormskirk

YOU CAN’T help but love a show that picks a Vanden Plas Princess – basically a posh Austin 1300 – above a Ford Mustang, Opel Manta and Rover P5 as its concours champion.

Even the 1957 Vanwall Formula One car in which Stirling Moss won that year’s British Grand Prix briefly had to step aside while the beautifully polished BMC baby hogged the limelight. It was a crushing victory for the plucky underdog (and its owner, of course), and one of the many reasons why I loved last weekend’s Ormskirk MotorFest.

I go to far too many car shows for my own good and all the best ones have a single snappy nugget of brilliance that sums them up neatly in a nutshell. Le Mans is a big Brit petrolhead party – that just happens to be held in France. The Goodwood Revival is an overdose of 1960s nostalgia. The NEC classic show is Britain’s big season-ender. And the MotorFest?  Your chance to see the world’s coolest cars parading around Ormskirk, of course. It’s a winning formula that seven years on is still packing the crowds into West Lancashire. Job done.

But even if it ain’t broke there’s still ample opportunity to muck about with it, of course. There was nothing wrong with the original 911 but it’s a far cry from the tarmac burners Porsche puts in its showrooms half a century on.

Which is why the formula’s changed ever so slightly since Ormskirk’s first MotorFest outing back in 2011, even if you hadn’t noticed. An autotest’s been tried to add a little tyre-screeching drama, there’s now a concours for anyone who cherishes their Vanden Plas Princess, and for anyone who (like me) preferred Top Gear 20 years ago the event now comes with added Steve Berry.

But what I think it needs more than anything else are the long gaps between the parades filling in. It’s time to nick a page out of Goodwood’s book and send all those lovely cars out one at a time, so there’s always something doing the rounds on Ormskirk’s big day.
I’d love to see Steve Berry and motor sport commentary legend Neville Hay bringing all those Astons, Jags – and yes, the bubble cars – to life as each heads out around the one-mile circuit. You’d get to see a lot more, as long as nothing breaks down there’d be no awkward gaps, and hopefully you’d learn a few pub facts about the Ferrari F40 while you’re at it.

The MotorFest is a superb event that does Ormskirk proud, but I reckon it can be even better still. Oh, and more Vanden Plas Princesses, please!