Classic World’s Sam Skelton talks The Festival of the Unexceptional and why it must not be spoil with mediocrity.
The Festival of the Unexceptional is one of my favourite events of the motoring calendar. And I’m not going to be very popular when I explain why. It’s because it’s one of few events blissfully free of the classic car world’s common sights – the MGB, the Morris Minor, the Mini, the Triumph Stag and all the rest of those cars you still see on a regular basis. There are so few events where a Nissan Stanza is prized above an 1100, and I think events promoting this level of diversity should be encouraged.
But the problem is that the Festival is now in its fifth year, and has attracted a lot of attention since its beginning on a golf club driving range in 2014. The concours and the parking field are now routinely overbooked, and there’s criticism on the internet from those who unfortunately didn’t make the cut.
Social media is alive with people who think that the organisers ought to go against the wishes of their hosts at Stowe School and allow more parking than has been made available. It’s also alive with people complaining that their cars aren’t in the concours. And even with those who think that the event is attracting the wrong kind of cars.
Let me say, here and now, that as a judge at this event since its inception we want to see the cars which littered street corners a couple of decades ago, and any suggestion that these are not proper classics should be dismissed. But if you’re still in any doubt, I think I’ve developed the perfect criteria for judging whether or not you should enter your pride and joy into the Festival concours. And it’s an alarmingly simple one which takes account of the generational small-mindedness which in itself carved a niche for the Festival in the first place. I like to call it the Rotary Club test.
Across the nation scores of well-meaning Rotary Clubs, Round Table groups and similar put on classic car shows throughout the summer, in the process raising an impressive amount of money for worthy causes. And you might have noticed that the gates are often manned by people who think that real classic cars stopped with the 1998 tax-exemption freeze. You might even have vented frustration as your Sierra, Metro or your early MX-5 has been directed into the public car park, despite your protestations that you are indeed booked onto the show field. Personal experience with my Montego at one unnamed show in the north suggests that when they finally capitulate and let you onto the field, you get parked in a corner and blocked in where you won’t disturb the owners of ‘real’ classics.
It’s wrong, and we all know it. But these people have begat what I have come to refer to as my Rotary Club test. If the man with the clipboard says no and pushes your classic to public parking, then it’s prime Unexceptional fodder. If he doesn’t think twice about letting you in, then your car probably isn’t right for the Festival. So to the MGB Roadster owner who thought his car was ideal, sorry but you’re at the wrong event. The man in the Peugeot 405 who doesn’t think anyone would be interested – no, we want to see your car there.
Because the Festival of the Unexceptional celebrates those cars which were ubiquitous when new, and apathy has made rare in their old age. Routine doyens of the classic car scene like the Jaguar E-Type are the exact opposite. I wonder if their owners know where to find the public car park?