Unveiling the awesome and the odd at NEC Classic Motor Show

Words and Pictures: Nathan Chadwick

The oldest Fiat in existence, Bertone’s Lancia Stratos Zero concept and a Merlin-engined Rolls-Royce one-off typified the varied delights of the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show with Discovery+ at the NEC, Birmingham, UK.

Over three packed days, six halls, many hundreds of cars and several savoury pies, the UK’s biggest classic car show returned with a bang. The UK’s club community was out in force with fascinating oddities popping up everywhere you looked, from a one-of-one Zagato-bodied Bristol to a unique Graber-bodied Alvis. Add in a busy Silverstone Auctions sale – which saw an unregistered 1989 Jaguar XJ-S 5.3 Convertible with 100 miles from new sell for £131,625 incl fees – and there was plenty to enjoy. Here are some of the highlights…

Marcello Gandini crafted this shape of the future for Bertone in 1970 as a way to challenge Pininfarina for work from Lancia. It was ignored by Lancia at the Turin Motor Show, so Bertone decided to drive the 33in-high car under the Lancia HQ’s barriers, which got the
suits’ attention. It’s now being brought back to life by Classic Motor Cars, with attention being paid to the engine and bodywork.

Believed to be the oldest Fiat in existence, and certainly the oldest in the UK, this 3.5hp dates from 1899, the year a group of Turin investors got together to form Fabbrica Italian Automobilia Torino. Fiat had absorbed a bicycle manufacturer that had produced a prototype car called the Welleyes, which formed the basis of the first dozen Fiat prototypes before the firm moved into a new factory in 1900.

With more than 800bhp, 1500lb ft of torque at 1500rpm and a Merlin aeroplane engine, the 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Handlye special on Graeme Hunt’s stand caused a stir. The build began 36 years ago, and uses an Alex Jenner-built aluminium body. The 27-litre V12 was originally a Hawker Hurricane unit, but had been converted in period to Meteor Mk1 specification by Henry Meadows Engineering, working on behalf of Rolls-Royce Derby. The ‘box is a GM400 manual; the gearing will see first top out at 75mph, second hits 140mph and third… well, no one’s quite sure, but it’s entirely possible it will hit 190mph. “160mph is the fastest anyone has dared achieve, as we ran out of runway – 3000rpm was all that was required,” Graeme explained. Since the build has been completed, it’s cracked 111mph over the standing quarter mile at the Brighton Speed Trials. “It’s done around 1800 miles in about five years, and has gone through five sets of tyres,” Graeme adds, with a smile.

At the other end of the scale, this 1957 Frisky Sport is one of two built for the 1957 British Motor Show. It differs from later production cars in several ways, such as flush-fitting door handles and hinges, polished grilles and a right-sided gearlever. In January 1958 it completed the Monte Carlo Run in 23 hours, and has been restored to that specification.

This Alvis TF Series IV wears a unique body from Graber. Although six similar bodies were produced by the Swiss coachbuilder, the first owner specified individual changes such as wide-bezelled single headlights and two horizontally set round rear lights. It also has individual bucket rear seats, differentiating it from the usual Special 2/4-seater configuration.

This Nash-Healey is the prototype X5, which was entered into the 1950 Mille Miglia by Donald Healey himself, alongside Geoffrey Healey. An accident made overdrive inoperable, which resulted in disastrous fuel economy. The small tank meant many fuel stops, but there was better to come at Le Mans that year. Tony Rolt and Duncan Hamilton took the car to fourth place overall and third in class, with only final-lap gearbox problems denying the car a podium slot.

This is the last 1100cc Maserati 4CS built. In supercharged form, it was sold to Ettore Bianco, who used the car to win his class at the 1935 Mille Miglia, setting a new class record along the way. In July that year, Bianco won the 1100cc race at Varese. He won his class at the Mille Miglia in 1936 before selling the car to Radice Fossati, who’d finish second on the Stelvio Hill Climb. Sadly, Fossati would perish at Monza that year after hitting a stray dog. The car was then bought by Count Giovanni Lurani and Luigi Villorsei, who rebuilt it and fitted Tecnauto independent front suspension. Their 1937 Mille Miglia ended in retirement when the engine blew, but after a rebuild Villoresi won his class at the Colle de Moncenisio hillclimb. The car was then sold to Fillips Tassara, who had it rebuilt to 1500cc specification and rebooted to look like the then-current Maserati 6CM Monopostos. After the 1938 season it was sold to Singaporean owner Wong Check Lee, who later sold it Joshua Lee just prior to the Japanese Army’s invasion of Singapore. The car was confiscated, and Lee was tortured and killed by the secret police. Lee’s family enagaged Lim Peng Han, a Singaporean racer who worked in the vehicle maintenance depots for the Japanese. On the pretext of a road test, he got the car out of its compound between shift changes. It was then dismantled and the chassis disguised as a roof support for an air-raid shelter, while other parts were buried. After the war, Lim Peng Han brought most of the bits back together and competed in the Jahore Grand Prix.

This 1949 Jaguar XK120 is a pre-production prototype for the steel-bodied right-hand-drive XK, and differs from the production versions with individual headlamp nacelles, inner wings and door frames. It was first sold to Australian Hilton Nicholas, of the family that founded Aspro, following a trip to the Jaguar factory’s Experimental Department.

This 1976 Lancia Beta Coupé 1600 was first owned by the family of 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Richard ‘Dickie’ Attwood, and is affectionately known as the Chocolate Lime, thanks to its Marrone Parioli paint and green interior.

This 1965 Jensen C-V8 is one of only ten cars built with a manual gearbox, and one of only two in RHD with such a set-up. Its chassis number is EXP 109, which means it was an experimental car; as such it features several firsts for the model, such as a Triplex heated rear screen and dual-circuit brakes. However, its biggest claim to fame is its victory in the 1965 Snetterton Cup 24-hour race, with Roy Salvadori behind the wheel.

XJR-2 is the first racing Jaguar XJ-S, built by Bob Tullius’ Group 44 team to take part in the 1977 Trans Am series, although it appeared in four races in 1976 to prepare for the next season. Its 5.3-litre V12 produced 500bhp, but most of the engine is said to be standard apart from the camshafts, pistons, valve spring and con-rod bolts. Tullius would win the 1977 Trans Am series title with this car.

This is one of two Bristol 406 Short Chassis cars constructed. Bodied by Zagato, it was built for the owner of Bristol’s daughter as an 18th birthday present.

This 1967 Ford Escort was built by Ford’s heritage department for the 25th anniversary re-run of the 1970 London to Mexico World Cup rally in the 1990s. Ford replaced its original Kent engine with a 200bhp Ford Cosworth BDA item, but put in place the original crew – the late Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm. The duo would go on to win the event.

This 1973 Jaguar XJC is a pre-production car built for the 1973 London Motor Show. Its colour is a one-off – Champagne Pink – and it also features pink carpets and seat piping. It spent most of its life in Australia and only returned to the UK in mid-2022.

This BMW 316 Bauer Convertible notched up 218,000 miles with its first owner, who used it everyday and for tours across the UK and France, keeping every receipt – including those for petrol. In 2007 it was deemed as scrap after rot had taken hold. It was then saved by a friend of the family who’d known the car since new, and purchased it as a retirement hobby. He was a bodyshop engineer with 40 years’ experience – something he’d use to good effect by restoring the bodywork in his home garage. The body was resprayed by BMW specialists, while the engine was rebuilt in 2020.

Another survivor of the 1970 London to Mexico rally is this Ford Capri 2.8 V6. It was purpose built by a team of 22 at Ford’s Dunton research and development team. It also competed in the 1974 London-Sahara-Munich rally, and is one of only two such cars to do so.

This Andy Saunders creation began life as a Cord 812 Westchester Four-Door Sedan. One of only 27 right-hand-drive export models, it was sold new by RSM Automobiles of Berkeley Square, London, to its first owner, the Earl of Derby. Its second owner was Jerzy Wojtowicz, a world champion stock car racing driver in the post-war era. He turned the car into a rear-wheel-drive stock car, but died before he had a chance to drive it. It was then left in a Yorkshire field for 50 years, before Andy bought the car for £500. More than 7000 hours have gone into panelbeating this body.

Another Andy Saunders creation, this project began life after the famous UK customiser found a set of rusty wings at the Beaulieu Autojumble. This sparked an idea to build something amalgamating the styles of Saoutchik and Figoni et Falaschi. The donor chassis is a Riley 2.5RM, but the 6500-hour build also incorporates wrecked cars as diverse as the Jaguar MkV, Mini and Ford StreetKa.

This 1947 HRG 1100 is chassis number S76. Its 1100cc Singer OHC engine powered to first place at the Craiganlet hillclimb in 1947, to start the British Hillclimb Championship. It competed in several hillclimbs and circuit races over the years, before spending 50 years in the US seeing very little use. It has been rebuilt by the current owner as a lockdown project, and has recently returned to action at the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb.

This is one of what’s believed to be three remaining Windover Coachwork-bodied Essex Terraplanes. One of 50 Essex cars bodied in Windoverette style, it was used by Sir Guy Dornville in the Baronets Challenge at Brooklands in 1933. The event – which saw cars compete over the standing half-mile – ended up in victory for Sir Guy. It continued its competition life into the 1940, whereupon it fell into disrepair. It’s since been restored twice, the last time in 2004.

This is a prototype Brough Superior first revealed to the press at Hatfield Aerodrome in 1935. It’s powered by an eight-cylinder engine, and is the type of car George Brough wanted to build, but pressures from Hudson restricted him to six-cylinder cars. It features an Atcherley of Birmingham body, was in the hands of one owner for 55 years up to 2019, and is fresh from restoration.

This is one of four Alvis 12/70 Anderson Tourers ever built, and one of three known to still exist. It’s lived in Dorset all its life, and was rescued from a scrapyard in the late 1960s. Its gradual restoration was completed in the early 1990s.

This Renault 5 Turbo 2 was totally restored for Travis drummer Neil Primrose in 2005, but he never took delivery of it. The car sat in dry storage until 2011, when the current owner bought it and spent hundreds of hours on paint correction and detailing. The suspension components have been refurbished, and the engine now produces 220bhp, a jump from the standard 163bhp.

This Lancia Beta Montecarlo – or Scorpion, for American readers – is Pininfarina RHD build number 00002, constructed for the 1977 UK Motor Show. It was returned to Turin to be scrapped due to several non-standard items – solid rear buttresses, for example – but Lancia agreed to sell it to the current owner, who has kept it ever since. In 2006 he commenced a five-year nut-and-bolt restoration.

This 1952 Bentley R-type is one of ten rolling chassis sent to leading coachbuilders prior to the launch of the car properly, in a bid to have different bespoke-built cars on display at the 1952 Earls Court International Motor Show to sit alongside the factory-built saloon. Of the two chassis delivered to Freestone and Webb, this one was built with the Empress bodystyle. It took four months to complete, and features a drinks cabinet, fitted picnic set and tables, vanity mirrors, cigar lighters, heated rear window, radio and matching set of luggage. At £6500 it was nearly three times the cost of an Aston Martin DB2. Only eight other cars were built to Empress specification. This car was ordered by the West German Embassy in London, before being sold to a Harley Street doctor who would use the car daily until 2006.

This Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth is DJR1, the first of six Sierras built by Australian motor racing legend Dick Johnson. It started life as a normal Sierra Cosworth before being upgraded to RS500 specification in 1987, and duly won its first race, the Australian Grand Prix support road. It was raced by Johnson’s teammate, John Bowe, in 1988, notching up several wins and finishing second at the Bathurst 1000. For 1988, the car was sold to Trackstar, the team set up by Robb Gravett and BBC Radio 1 presenter Mike Smith. Robb won several races in 1989, before the car was sold to Graham Hathaway for the 1990 season. After the Group A regulations ended, it was raced in several championships before being restored to 1987 specification.

In 2001 this Jensen C-V8 competed in the Historic Endurance Inca Rally in South America, notching up 16,000 miles in 55 days. Along the way, the brake caliper lugs were weld-repaired in a backstreet garage after a wheel-bearing failure led to the wheel being ripped off, taking the brake disc off along with the caliper. It also had various accidents during the rally, the artefacts of which are still present. It was declared an insurance write-off after the rally, and the owner received a payout, but the car was bought back and donated to the Jensen Owners’ Club. After a spell as a museum piece, it was bought by the current owner for a solitary £1. It was then treated to an eight-year restoration that saw the lower section of the chassis replaced and the mechanics totally overhauled, and a new interior fitted. However, the body has been left as rallied to show its battle scars – and it will soon be entering time trials.

This 1962 TVR Grantura was entered into the 1963 Sebring 12 Hours by US importer Gerry Sagerman and Mark Donohue. It was fully restored by Nigel Reuben Racing in 2016 with its original bodyshell, and wears its battle scars from this year’s Spa 6 Hours with pride.

This 1954 Maserati A6GCS was originally bought by amateur racing driver Dr Alberico Cacciari of Bologna, just in time for the 21st Mille Miglia. He warmed up for that event with the 750km Coppa della Toscana, and after the Mille Miglia he continued to compete in Italian races for the next three years. In 1958 it was bought by Sauro Battistini and shipped to Venezuela. It was discovered in a sorry state in the early 1970s by Massimo Columbo, who commenced an exacting restoration. It’s been competing in Historic racing ever since.

This 1933 Bugatti Type 59 started life as a prototype that ran with the works team until 1936, notching up a win at the Deauville Grand Prix in 1936 along the way. It was crashed in practice for the Vanderbilt Cup, and shipped back to Molsheim at the end of the year. Work began on turning it into a Type 59/50B single-seater, but it was never completed. It stayed that way until 1968, when it was sold to Ray Jones in the US. In 1985 the current owners bought the car, and a new supercharged straight-eight engine was built, as the original engine had been lost. The restoration was completed in the late 1990s, and the car has since been rallied, raced and hillclimbed extensively.

Known affectionately as Hedgehog, this 1934 Aston Martin Mark II was the third car produced and first owned by Sir Ralph Richardson, an esteemed stage actor and contemporary of Sir John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. After some club racing during the 1950s and ’60s, it was left in a barn for 51 years. It’s been brought back to life by Ecurie Bertelli, with an eye on conservation rather than restoration.

The BMW 503 Cabriolet is one of only three right-hand-drive models built, and was displayed at the 1957 Earls Court Motor Show by AFN, the BMW concessionaire at the time. It was first ordered by Dr Noel Bee, who kept it for ten years before selling it back to AFN, who displayed it in its museum. Its next owner was motorcycle and Formula 1 champion John Surtees in 1992, who took an active part in its maintenance and upkeep alongside his mechanically similar 507 Roadster. He kept the car until his death in 2017, and the current owner acquired it from the Surtees family in 2020.

These Maseratis have lived a busy life – both started as one-make racing cars, but are now registered as road cars. The Ghibli Open Cup in the foreground was used as a development mule for the one-make series of 1995 and ’96 that largely followed the DTM/ITC championship around Europe. This car was used to develop the package for the 1996 season, one that was cancelled after two rounds allegedly because the car was quicker than the Ferrari F355 Challenge car. Most of the cars were hastily bought back at great expense and converted for road use with whatever was lying about; this one had a Shamal interior when the current owner found it. It’s since been restored back to 1995 specification by Emblem Sports Cars, while still retaining its road-car status. The GranTurismo in the background was an MC Trofeo car built in the early 2010s, and has been converted into a road car while retaining all its race-car trimmings. It’s significantly lighter and more powerful than the road car, too…

This is one of six marketing vehicles built to promote Outspan Oranges between 1972 and ’74. Five were kept for use in Britain, France and Germany, while one was sent to South Africa. Two subframes are fitted to the short spaceframe chassis, providing a wheelbase of 48in; the front subframe supports the Mini-derived engine, automatic gearbox and front suspension, and the rear subframe holds the rear suspension and 200lb of ballast needed to keep the car stable. Travelling faster than 30mph apparently causes the car to roll…