Last Saturday, August 2, 2021, the truly unique and world-famous Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional was successfully held at the Grimsthorpe Castle.
A record number of car enthusiasts excitedly displayed their completely mundane and ordinary motors in what is arguably the greatest concours of the season.
The Grimsthorpe Castle is a 1516 Tudor and Baroque architectural masterpiece and for the weekend, the grounds displayed 50 carefully selected Unexceptional concours cars. The cars were displayed on manicured lawns, and the owners proudly presented their vehicles to a committee of six judges to undergo grueling inspection techniques, and to also answer some really tough questions. All the owners stood their ground while regaling the judges with stories while also not-so-subtly bribing the judges with biscuits, and cake. A glass of sherry was even offered.
In 2014, Hagerty held the first Festival of the Unexceptional to celebrate long-forgotten everyday family cars that were popular from the years 1968-1989, which is now fondly called the ‘Unexceptional Era’. In the seven years since the festival has been celebrated, the 2021 selection is definitely one of the best concours as cars from all over the nation arrived for the chance to be called as one of the best of the best.
In attendance are really interesting examples like an Audi 100E Avant, a Fiat Strada, a very rare Lancia Trevi, and a Mazda 929 Estate. A base model of the Escort Popular was also displayed, as well as an unexceptional Daewoo Espero that had a really exceptional ownership story.
The esteemed judges took their Thermos flasks – less the sherry – and they debated and discussed the awards in all seriousness over custard creams and cups of tea. They eventually reached an agreement and announced the 2021 winners as follows:
Best In Show: Jon Coupland – 1989 Proton 1.5 GL Black Knight
Runner Up: Danny Wilson – 1991 Peugeot 106 XN
Feast of the Unexceptional/Best Picnic: Matthew Long – 1986 Volvo 340 DL
Best dressed: Mark Pallatt – 1979 Ford Escort
The winning 1989 Proton is owned by Jon Coupland (30) from Boston in Lincolnshire. It is one of only 201 examples, and the only one that has survived. In 1993, the previous owner of the Black Knight placed it in a garage with only 3600 miles. It only surfaced in 2017. It currently shows 13,000 miles and is the highlight of Coupland’s three Proton collection.
The Peugeot 106 was the runner up, and it was bought at Facebook Marketplace for only £500. Danny Wilson (27) from Driffield, East Yorkshire, was the one who painstakingly brought the car back to life himself. The judges immediately noticed the carburetter and choke that was fitted in the example as ones that were only seen in early models, making it a real survivor. For many years now, Wilson had always wanted to be part of FOTU, so it was a great honor for him to be picked to display his car at the concours.
Special mentions at the event were the 1989 Nissan Bluebird owned by James Green, the 1986 Volkswagen Polo C Formel E owned by Charles Whilems, and the 1971 Triumph Toledo by Chris Howells, and the 1977 Fiat 128 owned by Simon Hucknall. The cars grabbed the attention of the judges, and each of them were worthy of their place in the 2021 Unexceptional Hall of Fame.
As was the norm, the Festival car park also served as an additional display in the main event as hundreds of unexceptional cars were parked on the heritage grass of Grimsthorpe. The event saw a few of Bond Bugs, a nicely preserved Mk1 Ford Granada Coupe, numerous Skoda Estelles, pre-VW Favorits, and a very basic Land Rover Discovery 3-door, as well as a Sri Lankan Toyota Terecel 4WD as some of the notable displays.
Hagerty columnist, television presenter, and Concours de l’Ordinaire Paul Cowland is new to the event, but he noted that it was great to see young drivers saving and embracing old, everyday cars, stating, “For me, it is the diversity of the scene and the affordability and accessibility that makes events like the Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional so appealing. The fact that the second-placed car cost just £500 car shows how inclusive this scene is – everyone is welcome and there are no egos.”
Hagerty’s UK Editor James Mills who also spoke at event shared, “What stood out for me this year was the number of fantastic cars fielded by younger entrants. It’s great to see the next generation of enthusiasts showing a real passion for everyday, ordinary, and unexceptional classics and demonstrates the growing love for this accessible scene. Our Festival started out as a small, cult event but today we saw thousands of visitors make the trip to admire the unsung heroes of the classic car world.”
Hagerty UK Managing Director Lee Mathewson quipped, “This was my first Festival of the Unexceptional and I really enjoyed the friendliness, enthusiasm and dedication shown by both the vehicle owners and all the visitors joining in the fun. It was a delight to see so many people enjoying a welcome return to car shows, sharing stories with like-minded enthusiasts and enjoying celebrating car culture once again. Hagerty is proud to be at the forefront of the unexceptional movement and looks forward to hosting the Festival of the Unexceptional once again in 2022.”