I'll admit that I don't go to the NEC Classic Car Show to ogle classic cars. Much as I love 'em, I spend enough time around them in my day job. Instead I go to people watch. I go to admire the sheer diversity of enthusiasm collected under one very large roof. No other UK car event gathers such a variety of people and interests in one place. And I don't think I'm alone - judging by the crowds on the Zastava Yugo stand, visitors are just as enthralled by Yugoslavian tat as Italian exotica.
The NEC Classic Car Show is a homage to the human condition, one where the Allegro can elicit as much enthusiasm, devotion and passion as the Ferrari Owners Club. Frankly, probably more. This is a world where loyalties run deep and an affection for detail and minutiae rules. In such a cauldron passions, inevitably, run high. Don't get me wrong - I'm not mocking. I love it. But for goodness sake, there are two separate clubs devoted to the Rover 75 and MG ZT. And similarly, a Police Vehicle Enthusiasts Club and a Police Vehicle Owners Club. Presumably emotions run deep around Rover's last chance saloon.
This year's show is massive and undoubtedly the best I've seen. The introduction of live stages works well - and provides a useful place to sit - and the huge area devoted to clubs makes the show what it is. All this is thankfully at the expense of commercial enterprises, which gives the show a unique, relaxed atmosphere buoyed by genuine enthusiasm. The traders are present but they aren't in charge. My only disappointment was the massive Jaguar Heritage stand, which felt out of keeping with the spirit of the show and seemed to prioritise show over substance.
The Club stands this year seemed to have shied away from the twee gimmickry of previous years in favour of a less 'humorous' approach that put the cars centre stage. The stands were well planned with complementary marques near each other. I particularly enjoyed the Allegro, X1/9, Lancia Beta, Leyland Princess, Mustang and Saab stands, which felt like they were manned by real enthusiasts who wanted to share their passion.
I welcome the live stages, although I think the organisers would benefit from mixing 'celebrity pundits' with other, less showbiz, experts. It would be good to see seminars focussing on specific issues, such as how to manage a classic car restoration, or what to consider when buying a classic car.
The 'cars for sale' area always surprises me, even though I ought to know what's coming. The plethora of 'sold' signs doesn't seem to bear any relation to the interesting pricing strategies employed. Proof, I suppose, that any classic car is worth whatever someone is prepared to pay for it.
As usual the variety of visitors proved interesting. By variety, of course, I mean mostly men (some younger chaps had unwisely dragged along their partners - good luck chaps), and mostly white. Which feels disappointing - we still haven't cracked the diversity issue in our classic car world. But amongst the alarmingly high percentage of beards (including my own 'can't be bothered to shave' contribution), there were a lot of lads and dads and older retired couples, clearly enjoying a day out with a shared interest.
My car of the show had to be the Highland Green '67 Mustang, which I could easily have stolen if I could have just found the keys. Ditto the black Pantera on the De Tomaso stand. Filth.
I was less enamoured by this Series 2 E Type FHC. It's Sable paintwork and LHD US spec did little to support its £45,000 price tag, despite covering just 27,000 miles from new. I know buyers prize low mileage but it always seems to lead to astronomical prices. I'd always prefer a well-used car over a hardly used one.
At the opposite end of the scale this Barkas Eastern European camper van could have been an early forerunner of the current trend towards small, fuel efficient engines. Its not inconsiderable bulk is powered by a 1000cc engine. It was for sale...
Some aspects of the show rather made me feel my age. Back in the 80s as a bright-eyed teenager I pilgrimaged to the NEC for my home in Surrey for the annual Motor Show. Many of the cars I saw there were there again now, albeit now classics. Including this rare Zastava Yugo hatchback.
For top notch lunacy there was the Allegro stand. As an Allegro owner m'self I don't consider ownership of an Allegro or indeed membership of a club devoted to said car to be in itself mad. No. What is a little bit crazy is an Allegro tea towel. For sale on the stand. Nobody asked for one, nobody needs one and yet I now own one. Which is perhaps what the show is all about.
Dominating all it surveyed was the Jaguar Heritage stand. On display was this admittedly gorgeous E Type recreation, one of the handful of 'continuation' cars that the company is building, ostensibly to push its new workshop facilities.
No, it's not a Jaguar XJ6, although it is a virtual facsimile of one. This is a De Tomaso, part of the Italian company's attempt to do mainstream. Didn't work. Still. Looks good.
On the Practical Classics stand were this pairing of odd back-to-back Morris Minor and Arthur Daley's Daimler. I was a bit surprised in all honesty to discover that Arfur drove the Daimler version as I had him down as a used Jag man. Still, bubbles burst.
Great Escape Cars was there in spirit supporting the Honest John and Classic Line stands with competition prizes. But our cars do have a habit of popping up everywhere, in this case our Morris convertible upstaging Quentin Wilson as a backdrop to the Classic Car Club stage. Which looks better I'll leave you to decide...