Your Local Car Show Needs YOU!

by James Mills
26 June 2024 4 min read
Your Local Car Show Needs YOU!
Photos by James Mills

When I turned 13, my aunt decided it was time to take her nephew to the sort of live concert that would be an unforgettable, formative experience, one that would let me see the world in a new light and marvel at the possibilities on the journey through life. 

She took me to see Genesis, which was coining it in with its near year-long Invisible Touch Tour. Our night at Wembley Stadium should have been a thrilling moment for someone entering their teenage years, up there with a first kiss or learning how to handbrake turn. 

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Instead, it was a dull affair. The stage was way off in the distance, I was surrounded by middle-aged couples who’d packed picnics, and the absence of energy was noticeable even to a first-time concert goer. It may have been a globe-trotting, mega-bucks production, but the atmosphere had all the excitement of a spell in a hospital ward. 

In years to come, the London live music venues I frequented were small, sweaty, and intimate. You could neck your pint at the bar, take a few steps and be on the stage, and then crowd-surf your way back to the bar. At the end of the gig, you might just have enough money left over to buy a T-shirt for a tenner and sneak backstage with the band, where you’d blag as many beers as you could under the pretence of getting the shirt signed. 

You’d always come back with the best stories from those small venues. And in that respect, it’s much the same when you make the time to go to a local car show.

Things got off to a flying start when my son and I popped up the road to the Hub Classics show, near Goudhurst in Kent. You don’t need to register and there’s no fee – well, other than a donation to the air ambulance charity – and everyone and everything is welcome. On the drive there, when a Fiat Uno Turbo i.e. loomed into view in my rearview mirror, I knew this was going to be a grand day out.

Seeing one today is a four-leaf-clover moment. My mum ran an Uno Turbo i.e. from new – and it was rusting within three months. The owner parked up next to us and we proceeded to hear all about his story with the car, and my 10-year-old son seemed slightly dumfounded that his grandmother used to bomb about in an Italian hot hatch

Another car I had to know more about was an original Ford Focus RS. I ran one for a year when they were current, while working for Top Gear magazine, and it was a divisive thing. I loved its slightly unruly nature, as did Chris Harris, who ran one at the same time for Autocar, but some of the other motoring media weren’t as enamoured – notably EVO magazine.

Needless to say, its owner adored it and had – mercifully – left it in showroom-standard condition. Many have been boosted beyond belief, while others have succumbed to rust.  This one still looked a picture in its Imperial Blue paint and with those flared arches almost kissing the O.Z. Racing alloy wheels. 

Next came a local supercar show, again a free, unticketed event, and somehow I and my little old BMW M3 ended up being ushered into the display arena where we were park directly in front of . . . a Ferrari F40. 

car show BMW M3 Ferrari F40

Mills Jnr was beside himself and even I was having a pinch-yourself moment. But what made the greater impression was that its owner had simply left this £2.5 million supercar without a care in the world and gone off for an ice cream and some car chat, just like the rest of us. 

Further up the line of cars, drawing in the crowds with its scissor doors aloft and Rosso Siviglia paint shimmering in the sun, was a Lamborghini Countach LP500S. And in one brief moment, the owner’s generous gesture made a memory that will stay with one Countach fan forever. After asking whether he could sit in it, the fan was not only told to climb aboard, but take the key, fire up the 5-litre V12, flex the throttle, and hear it in all its glory. 

car show Lamborghini Countach

And then came show number three, organised by a local school. There I met Clive Haynsford, the owner of a true survivor – a 1973 Mazda RX4. The rotary-powered coupé was sold from new in the UK, appears to be just one of two left in the country, and has been lovingly restored by his own fair hand – but not cut or welded, Clive told me with pride – to showroom condition. Like everyone else attending, I’d never seen one in the wild before, but thanks to Clive, now I had. 

We’re fortunate that our hobby has so many highlight events, from all things Goodwood through to the Silverstone Classic; London Concours to the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace. Even Hagerty’s own Festival of the Unexceptional. But in my experience, it’s at the smaller, local car shows where the most intimate experiences, conversations, and memories are made.

Just as we should support our small, independent music venues, so we should get out and about and explore what’s on our doorstep. They’re the lifeblood of the hobby, and best of all, you never know what you might find or who you might meet.

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