This coming Saturday (the 31st) is the day of the, I’m assured, rather wonderful Festival of the Unexceptional by Hagerty. I say assured, as I have never been. I am this time though, and I’ll be making the 167 mile trip in my beloved (don’t laugh) Citroën ZX. Though in the car’s defence, it is the rarest 2.0i eight-valve Volcane model, which makes it un-unexceptional to me, but the organisers have assured me I will be allowed in. And at the same time, a great many other cars will be gained entry into this most unusual of shows. An event that celebrates the bland, the staid and the often slow. More The Last and the Curious than The Fast and the Furious if you will. And I couldn’t be more excited.
I love an automotive underdog. I always have. When I worked on Retro Ford magazine I was surrounded for the most part with Mk1 Escorts running YB engines and Anglias with more carbs than a fry up. I however, drove a beige MkV Cortina estate. When I later worked on Performance Ford I was surrounded by ST this and Cosworth that. I drove a Mondeo Ghia X. And a 1996 Escort GTi, but we don’t mention that. And this is a trend that can be found throughout my motoring history. I’ve always gone for the car less popular. Proton Saga? Oh yes. Nissan Sunny? Sign me up. Is that a Ford Orion? Don’t mind if I do. Rover 800? Yes (though it might not count, as it’s a Vitesse – they’re cool, right?). And now, with the Vitesse, there’s the ZX. A car of which there are believed to be fewer than ten remaining in this specification.
Now, don’t think I’m going to say that you need to like these cars. If you do, smashing. If not, that’s fine. I like an underdog and I’m okay with it. I truly believe that people like me – who can take the same pride in a Cowley-built 800 that another might take in a Mk2 Jaguar – are important. Shows like FOTU stand to back up that train of thought. And this is what makes me love the classic car world so much; the diversity. I love that while my car might be worth four quid, I can still chat to the man whose car is worth four million. That’s a special sort of unity that not every ‘hobby’ can boast. Some can be quite tribal, which I have no time for. But I’m going off the point here.
The bedrock of my rambling here is that the underdogs are just as important as the high-end traditional classics. Cars of all shapes and sizes play big roles in the rich tapestry that is our life. Today, you’ll be passed by many Mondeos and Micras, but you’ll also be passed by the odd Porsche, or maybe an Aston. Yet despite the ubiquity of the former, they will be forgotten in favour of the latter. The unexciting, the *cough* unexceptional dodn’t cling to our memory banks. At least, not until we least expect it.
FOTU is more than a car show. It is an assault on the senses, and a trip for the mind that very little else can jolt so vividly. Sure, you walk around Goodwood and marvel at the machinery, but you do so in the same way you might go a bit goofy if you were confronted by a famous person, or someone you really, really had the hots for. Walk around FOTU and your memory will be jolted into drawing up images of people, places and memories long forgotten. That F40 you saw five years ago might be sewn into that aforementioned tapestry with bright cotton, but the Datsun 120Y your mate at uni had is there too, just not as bright. FOTU and the passionate enthusiasts that have made it such a success shine the light on those cars of holidays past, of old teachers, of first girlfriends or boyfriends, you get the idea. This gathering of cars once given little thought serves to instead put the spotlight on them. You’ll soon forget about that F40, trust me.
My Rover 800 seldom gets a reaction, but when it does, it’s from someone who had one, or whose dad had one. It’s met with a kind of glee and enthusiasm that other cars don’t get. I’ve had my fair share of press cars in the past, like Bentleys, Morgans, a Bullitt Mustang and the like, and while they have appeared in the lens of more camera phones than my 800, they have been received in a less ‘personal’ way. It’s almost an expectation to fawn over such machines. But to get all goofy over a Triumph Acclaim? That only comes from a deep, long archived memory. And that’s special.
If I can be a small part of prompting the dusting off of such memories, then I am more than happy. Cars are more than machines, they are part our – forgive the heavy-handed pun- journey. They feature in our adventures and are often the facilitators of the logistics behind events that form happy, warm memories. If I can assist in that, great. And if you’re sitting there reading this with a quizzical expression on your face, may I suggest you get to FOTU. Because trust me, these underdog cars are going to send you down memory lane faster than any Ferrari could. Unless your dad had a Ferrari, of course.