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 thinks events promoting this level of diversity should be
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. Facebook 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 rotary clubs put on classic car shows throughout the summer. And you
might have noticed that the gates are mostly manned by the same sort of person – the sort who
thinks 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?
Sam Skelton will be judging at the Festival of the Unexceptional on Saturday 14 th July at Stowe