Celebrating unexceptional vehicles

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Some of the more than 400 entries in the Festival of the Unexceptional | Hagerty photos

In the United States, we have the Concours d’Lemons. In England, a similar event is called the Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional/Concours de l’Ordinaire and this year the Best in Show honors went to a 1977 Chrysler Alpine, one of only 13 that still remain in the UK.

Lemons celebrates cars that might otherwise best be forgotten. Unexceptional bestows honors on “rare and long-forgotten everyday family cars of the 1968-1989 ‘Unexceptional Era.’”

Junior judges presented their award to this 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier L, which is parked at Stowe House

Another difference is that the British event is held on the magnificent grounds of Stowe House, Buckingham, the sort of place you might expect as a backdrop for a true concours d’elegance of ultra-expensive collector vehicles.

The fifth annual festival was termed by Hagerty as “Europe’s greatest gathering of the uncelebrated, humdrum vehicles we all grew up with, accompanied by period picnics and fashions to match the cars.”

Among more than 400 entries, 50 vehicles were selected to compete for Best of Show honors. Among them were an original 1979 Citroen GS X3, one of only two still roadworthy in the UK; the oldest known surviving 1975 Volvo 66 GL sedan; an as-new 1971 Fiat 125; an early 1982 Ford Sierra 1.6L, a 1975 Austin Allegro 1100 with Quartic steering wheel and “very beige” Harvest Gold paint.

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Best of show honors went to this 1977 Chrysler Alpine

“With the bland leading the blind, the hard-fought judging of the 50 vehicles displayed on the immaculate Festival of the Unexceptional lawn saw the six-strong judging panel of mundane motoring masterminds – including TV’s Edd China and Jon Bentley – admiring a selection of taupe, brown and yellow coloured family saloons and estates, many equipped with rubber flooring, squidgy vinyl seats, no radio, manual wind-up windows and ‘genuine’ faux Formica wood inserts,” a Hagerty news release said. 

Best of Show went to the Chrysler Alpine owned by Guy Maylam, who completed the car’s restoration on the eve of the show. 

“The Chrysler is one of only 13 Alpines left in the UK, a pioneering family hatchback that won the coveted European Car of the Year title for 1976 but failed to wrest sales away from more successful contemporary rivals such as the Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Cavalier and Morris Marina,” Hagerty noted.

“Guy spent over 1,000 hours ‘of hard slog’ bringing his rare Alpine back from the dead,” Hagerty added.

Winner and runners-up

“This example was a dreadful car,” Maylam responded, “but once you start the restoration, it’s difficult to stop!” 

Runner-up honors went to Kev Curtis for his 1981 Datsun Bluebird GL. People’s Choice trophy went to Galvin Busby for a 1982 Fiat Strada 65CL. 

Junior judges picked a 1979 Vauxhall Cavalier L while Edward Morley, owner of a 1972 Renault 16 TS, won the best dressed accolades and Julie Gandolfi and her 1983 Mercedes-Benz 200T (purchased new by her father) were honored for best picnic.

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Curtis really got into the spirit of the event as he and friends dressed up a “dodgy” used car dealers, “replete with period pork pie hats, an old car showroom desk, period beige plastic telephones and old copies of magazines and car valuation guides.”

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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