Unexceptional Vauxhall Astra wins exceptional concours

The 2022 Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional attracted wonderful examples of the kind of cars that many grew up with but rarely desired.

The beautiful setting of Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire is the perfect place for a concours event, the kind that features rare and expensive cars that many once had posters of on their bedroom wall. 

The Festival of the Unexceptional is not for those cars though, instead hundreds of passionate owners drove up the long and winding driveway to the castle in basic specification Vauxhall Astras, Austin Maestros, Ford Escorts, Rovers and the type of Skoda that people used to make jokes about. 

It was an event for cars from 1968-1989 now worth hundreds, maybe thousands but definitely not millions. However, the passion was the same, with owners lovingly polishing the bodywork, brushing the velour and adding period correct pieces such as Radio 1 stickers, original sales brochures and furry dice.

These are the cars many of us grew up around, the family cars we owned or our parents drove, the ones reps used to add miles to on our motorways, the cars we were crammed into for the school run and even the camper vans we went on holiday in. 

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The winners are…

The focus was on the Concours de l’Ordinaire, with 50 cars selected to adorn the lawn in front of the castle and face the judges. The overall winner was an immaculate 1994 Vauxhall Astra 1.4 Merit, owned by Samuel Allan. The three-door Astra didn’t have s single option fitted to  and while hundreds of thousands were made during its production run, incredibly it’s believed only four still exist in the UK.

The runner up was a 1986 Skoda Estelle 120L, a car careful restored by owner Matthew Bareham after he bought it for £600. The Repmobile award for the Ford Sierras, Mondeos, Vauxhall Cavaliers and Nissan Primeras that occupied the third lane of our motorways in the 80s and 90s went to a 1991 Nissan Primera. Owner Chris James used to make seats for the Primera at the Nissan factory in Sunderland and saw the car at the festival in 2021 after which he eventually persuaded the former owner to part with it.

Honourable mentions went to a 1972 Simca 1501 Special and a 1997 Renault Megane Scenic, but beyond the castle’s front lawn some of the highlights were to be found in the hundreds of cars lining the grass on either side of the main driveway. 

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Blurring the lines of unexceptional 

Some we spotted were definitely more exceptional than others, including a Rover SD1 Vitesse, a pair of Bond Bugs, a Ford Fiesta XR2, a Toyota Celica GT, Triumph Stags and a Jaguar XJ-S convertible. There were Peugeot and Talbot camper vans that undoubtedly have provided thousands of miles of memories, rare sights like the Fiat Punto convertible and probably the most unexceptional of all cars, the Morris Marina (apologies to Marina owners but you know it’s true). 

There were even a few celebs, including Salvage Hunters Classic Cars’ Paul Cowland who brought along his latest acquisition, one of only 100 two-tone stretched Rover 75 limousines ever made and Jon Bentley of The Gadget show. Mike Brewer of Wheeler Dealers was there and so too was Richard Hammond who drove into the event in Oliver, the 1963 Opel Kadett he use in the Top Gear Botswana special and for which he received a Best Effort to Enter an Ineligible Car award. 

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Something for everyone

People travelled from far and wide too, with owners from all over the UK and there was a lovely Renault Espace from the Netherlands and a 1991 Hyundai Pony which its owner drove all the way from Slovakia just for the event.

Don’t think it was just a bunch of 40 and 50 somethings either, although admittedly they did make up a big part of the owners and visitors, there were plenty of young people there too. It was great to see so many young people (yes, we sound old saying that) sharing their love of unexceptional classics and the superb Starter Motor charity which aims to get more youngsters involved in classic cars was also there. 

All in all a proper grand day out for owners and visitors. It was amazing how many cars there would look dated on our high streets but looked so at home in the castle grounds surrounded by the kind of cars that they would have shared the B-roads, dual carriageways and motorways of the UK in their time. 

It might be billed as the Festival of the Unexceptional, but for many of the thousands of visitors to the Grimsthorpe Castle, it is a very exceptional event indeed.