You know that feeling when you’re at school and it’s 3.55 pm on a Friday and it’s nearly time to get out. That feeling of anticipation, the promise of freedom and enjoyment is just around the corner. Your roving reporter felt like this today, as the country attempts to get back to normality, a handful of classic car shows have been given the go-ahead rather late in the season and the annual BMC & Leyland Show at the British Motor Museum in Warwickshire was one of those rescheduled events. It’s always a lively event with every scope of the BMC/BL empire attending, from the grace and poise of Daimler to the cheekiness and universal appeal of the Mini.
The drive up the M40 in the near-perfect temperatures of a Sunday morning in September was rewarded by the glorious site of dozens of British classic cars waiting to enter the venue. Clubs organised stands in front of the main building and car park, with the effort towards the dedication of planning evident on every stand. The attendance was very good, by evidence of the overspill car park being filled with classic BL cars.
As often said before the British Motor Museum is a natural venue for such a gathering, as the museum has an impressive array of BL cars, prototypes, racing vehicles from the last 140 years. However, the shows main appeal is post-war machinery, with most of the attractions coming from the fascinating but ultimately doomed period of the organisation.
Starting with a milestone, this year’s event coincides with 40 years of the Metro. The Mini and Metro show often hold its own event at Gaydon, but due to the ongoing pandemic (I will not make any more references to this again, I promise) they joined forces to an additional bonus at the BMC & Leyland show. With so many variations, specs, engines and trim levels produced over the cars 18-year lifespan, the Metro was well represented today.
This pre-production car was known as the MetroPlus. It was built as a prototype performance package by the BL Motorsport team in Abingdon to test the feasibility of performance and bolt-on pack to the Metro. It was available with a modified manifold, weber carb, free-flow exhaust and oil cooler kit on top of the body styling accessories. BL chose not to go ahead with the car and it was bought by BL technical advisor who stripped it to a bare shell. It was then prepared and rebuilt for motorsports to a high technical degree where it competed in several events up until 1988. It then went into storage until fairly recently, where it has been sympathetically restored and took the centre spot in a particularly impressive Metro display.
The Metros sister, the ubiquitous Mini was not surprisingly the most common car at the event, with so many original, historic and well looked after examples, it was difficult to pinpoint one specific car to focus on but this car was highly worthy of a mention. Seen here by proud owner Sharon, she obtained the car 8 years ago via a Mini specialist who was about to restore her Mayfair. The owner of the garage mentioned that a very original 1973 Clubman was available and suggested she bought it. Using the logic that it would be easier to buy a decent, unrestored car rather than go through the lengthy and expensive process of restoration, she organised a deal and took the Clubman on board as its second custodian. The car had been owned by the same London owner for almost 40 years and was in remarkably good shape. Other than a respray it is all original and sports some gorgeous period accessories.
We slide across to the Morris Marina Owners Club & Ital Register now, the latter also celebrating its 40th birthday, with the club itself celebrating 30 years. Despite the constant mauling in the press of these cars, they sold well when new, meeting the requirements of simple upkeep, reliability and cheap running costs. A particularly impressive line up of early cars was in attendance.
The Marinas predecessor, the Minor had a whole car park area dedicated to itself, which provided a little more space to allow these well-liked stalwarts to be enjoyed. Several notable cars including a well worn, unrestored Morris 1000000 edition from 1960. 350 were produced (representing the number of Morris dealers of the time) to celebrate 1 million Minors leaving the factory. There was also a former British Army 1970 Minor Traveller, which was used MOD Mechanical Engineering school, complete with detailed artefacts and documents.
While the BMC organisation is well known for its Pininafarinas and Michelloti styling input and the ‘60s was a particularly fertile time for the Italian connection. This beautiful 1962 Innocenti Spider is built on Austin Frogeye Sprite underpinnings with styling from Ghia. This earlier 948cc car was one of 4,790 built and was never officially sold in the UK, for the obvious fear of taking MG sales away. The car initially sold well in its native Italy and was also developed into an equally attractive coupe.
Modern classics also play a huge part in the show, with the last of the Rover cars often appearing in significant numbers. The Rover R8 is fast becoming an ideal classic car, with plenty of examples still being used as daily drivers – a tribute to its excellent build quality and useful ability to cope with modern traffic and conditions. Also present were members of the Mini Y Register, who exclusively work to preserve as many 2001 BMW Minis as possible. Hard to believe that the car is nearly 20 years old, so now is a good time as ever to keep your eyes on any Y plate Minis in your area!
Bought a second car by Liz’s husband, who worked in the motor trade. He added a few unique features, including a sunroof sourced from a Saab 99. Liz also requested a colour change on the Riley, and her husband promptly sprayed the car as the same hue as her old trusty Morris Minor. The car remains in the family despite the sad passing of her husband in the mid-’90s. Luckily for Liz, her son, who works as a professional engineer, keeps on top of the maintenance and upkeep, which also included a recent engine build. The car is likely to stay with the family for the foreseeable future as both Liz’s son and daughter have stated they will not be happy if it was sold on!
There is always a decent Triumph turnout, with almost every one of the brands illustrious display, particularly from the ‘70s. Triumph managed to install their sporting ability in their saloon, with the Dolomite Sprint and bigger 2000/2500 models. The Triumph 2000 belongs to Andrew which has had a fairly pampered lifestyle. Originally bought in London it was thought to have a connection with the MAM Record company. It was then sold to a Teeside museum where the car was kept as a display piece until its closure. It was placed in an Auction but had unfortunately lost its history which could have shed light on its unique sunroof or evidence of the possibility of transporting Engelbert Humperdinck to Oxford Street clubs. The yellow Triumph belongs to Michael ‘Trigger’ Carpenter, a former award-winning Morris Marina owner (yes!). The car had belonged to a former BL Executive and Michael cheerfully admits that this is his dream car, and the prospect of a 2.5-hour journey back home was there to be enjoyed.
One thing to expect at a large BMC/BL gathering is the opportunity to find something obscure, without even realising it. This car-obsessed anal-retentive car spotter clocked this one a mile off though. In 1975, when BL was deciding what to do with their considerable library of names, the original plan was to badge engineer Austin 1800/2200, Morris 1800/2200 and Wolseley 2200 with the opportunity to host the new family saloon. In the first six months, the cars were launched simultaneously with not much other than different grills and badges to differentiate them. BL management then decided to just use the Austin badge and from late 1975 all models were known as the Austin Princess. Just a handful of Morris versions are known to exist, with this unassuming white car being one of them.
However, it wasn’t all just unglamorous middle market cars, some of BMC illustrious elegance also shined through. The V8 Daimler SP250 and Austin A90 cars offered a glimpse of the elegance offered with the organisation in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Sporting one of the finest British built V8s, the fibreglass SP250 was not a looker, but became popular with the Police as a speed enforcement car. The Austin A90 Atlantic was created to woo American tastes to help the export drive as the UK recovered from the War. However, its lack of badge prestige and its potential as a parts donor to the mechanically similar Austin-Healey 100 meant it is rare today.
Let us return back to more common ground, with the another ADO16 series car. The car which shared honours under the Austin, Morris, Riley and Wolseley badge. However, we picked a unique and tastefully modified MG version. This car is only on its second owner, David, who bought this car in 1991. He bought it in memory of the family car, which had naturally struck a chord with him. The car has seen plenty of use, racking up 250,000 miles and still serving as a daily driver. It has been suitably tuned with a series of period accessories, including a stage IV head, ungraded camshaft and updated ignition.
A truly interesting day out, and a great opportunity to enjoy what we have until recently taken for granted. To ensure we can continue to enjoy car shows like this we have to take precautions to make certain we are all safe. These measures were impeccably followed at the show, which sets a perfect example of how BL (and their owners) are still setting standards!