The London Classic Motor Show

Excel, London February 14-17th , Words & Photography: Ben Klemenzson

For several years now The London Classic Motor Show has now become a popular fixture on the classic car show calendar. Held at the Excel exhibition centre in London’s docklands it’s easily accessible by car or public transport and being indoors means the weather can’t spoil things (which in February is not unlikely!). This year’s event was held in just one hall, a very big hall, but in previous years there had been two halls, the second of which had variously held motorsport and club exhibits. This year there was a motorbike show on in the other hall, although tickets for this had to be bought separately.

Club stands were dotted around the show, the most prominent from an American perspective being the Classic Corvette Club UK’s stand and relatively recently established Corvette Appreciation and Restoration Society (CAPS). Probably the most unique aspect of the show is ‘the Grand Avenue’ which is sponsored by ERS classic car insurance and is effectively a road that runs down the centre of the hall and which cars at various points during the day are paraded up and down. This year visitors were treated to the sights and sounds of one of the earliest combustion engine vehicles ever built, a Daimler which looked more like a Penny Farthing bicycle than a car, as well as a Ford Model T and Edd China driving a Thirties Cadillac.

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            There was plenty of American metal on show this year, including some extremely rare and valuable cars including a 1938 Buick wearing a British-crafted body by Carlton Carriage which was heading to auction and a truly stunning dual cowl 1937 Packard 12 with a 473 cu in V12 engine which had been restored by Trevor Hirst. Classic American advertiser Clive Sutton was on hand with a large stand displaying a 1967 GT500CS ‘restomod’ Mustang and Sutton Bespoke Mustang GT700CS as well as Sutton’s very own Super Raptor truck. Over on DT Vintage’s stand was a truly stunning black 1950 Oldsmobile 88 convertible. This immaculate example was absolutely spotless underneath and in fantastic original condition.

            Apart from clubs and car dealers, there was just about every automotive business on hand, as well as plenty of weird and wonderful vehicles of every era and description imaginable. A display of vehicles that were either in or copies of the four-wheeled stars of the Italian Job was tremendously popular. So too was a stand that had a display of aero-engined cars, including the Babs aka the Higham Special, a World Landspeed record holder which achieved over 171 mph in 1926. The following year it crashed at Pendine sands and was buried there, only to be dug up 42 years later and restored, a feat which apparently took 2750 hours! Power is from a 1917 600bhp 27-litre Packard Liberty aero-engine.

Now you may not think Rovers would be of any interest to American car fans, but on display on one stand were two Rover Sdi models from the same year, both with the Buick-derived 3.5-litre aluminium V8. However, one of them was an American spec version built for the US market, as witnessed by the odd headlights and park bench federal bumpers. It was interesting to compare the two cars and sobering to think it was these Rovers that finished of the company’s reputation in North America. When Rover returned to the US to sell cars there two decades later, they had to be badged as ‘Sterlings’ as Rover had become such a toxic brand to American car buyers!

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            One theme that did seem to emerge was the number of ‘electrified’ classics, there were stands offering electric minis, MGs and even old school style Defender Land Rovers. Whilst certainly being ‘interesting’ the thought of gutting classic cars and installing electric drive trains seems an odd one and probably not something that would appeal to most classic car enthusiasts!

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