An Unexceptional Day Out

For the second year running, I was looking forward to the Festival of the Unexceptional, a celebration of long-forgotten cars.

First staged by Hagerty in 2014, the festival has earned its place in the automotive calendar as an attainable concours event offering a mix of rare cars and a prestigious location in an informal and friendly atmosphere.

Showcasing ‘ordinary’ classic cars of the late 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the Festival of the Unexceptional remains the only concours to champion everyday cars we all know and love.

This year I decided it would be a great opportunity to travel in style, in the 1991 Mercedes-Benz 230E I had just bought, sight unseen, from a friend. Perhaps not an unexceptional car, but one that would look good in the car park.

I don’t have much success buying cars that I have not seen, and I blame eBay and beer for past forgettable purchases. An R107 Mercedes SL should have been ok, but the vendor had re-covered the seats in a kind of dralon fabric. It didn’t drive very well either and was soon sold on.

Then there’s the E30 BMW 325i that was being sold by a distinctly dodgy dude in London. When I went to collect it, I felt it would not make the 250-mile trip home so left it at a friend’s house and had it collected by trailer. It went back on to eBay more or less straight away.

Back to the E-Class then. With time always in short supply, the car was left for me by its emigrating seller with a friend and so the first time I saw it was on the eve of the festival.

To my shame it had been sitting there for a number of weeks and therefore wouldn’t start. My boost pack didn’t help, but hastily bought jump leads from Halfords soon saw some signs of life.

A quick spin around the block confirmed it drove as I expected a ‘90s Merc to drive – i.e., not fast. The oil level was checked, the coolant looked fine and after a quick wash it was ready for the 60 miles spin up the A1 in the morning.

The gentle cruise north was uneventful, but the fun started when I joined a very long and slow-moving queue trying to enter the grounds of Grimsthorpe Castle. I watched the needle on the coolant temperature gauge begin to climb and the old trick of turning the heater on to its hottest setting made no difference.

Before long there was the inevitable cloud of steam, so a quick turn into a handy car park was made. Lifting the bonnet, there was coolant spraying everywhere. Disaster!

My dear friend, who had been following me, once he had recovered from laughing hysterically, graciously offered me a lift into the event. The errant Merc would have to wait until later.

Later, having managed to source a large canister of coolant from one of the show organisers, I topped up the now empty reservoir and pointed the 230E northwards once more.

Another 150 miles awaited, and Waze seemed to suggest no holdups on the A1. I plotted a convoluted route which would avoid any potential town centre delays, even though this added another 50 miles to my journey.

Arriving home was a relief and the next day I had the chance to inspect my new purchase properly. In the boot was a new thermostat, so I guess that was the cause of all my drama.

Next year, I shall travel to the festival in whatever shiny new press car adorns my driveway.

Originally published in the 2022 Winter Newsletter.