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Postcards from the

Inventing the Wheel?

John Elwin has been on his travels again, this time to the NEC for the latest
incarnation of the Motor Show……….

The British Motor Show

Britain’s bi-annual motor show has struggled for an identity in recent times,
lacking as it does a strong indigenous industry to use it as a platform to launch
new models. Further, its traditional October date usually saw it following in the
wake of Paris, a more attractive venue to unveil new cars. Consequently, the
Birmingham Show has gone through something of a makeover this year. For a
start it has shifted to a May/June date and has been rebranded ‘The Sunday
Times Motor Show Live’ but will that be enough to give the event the boost it

Got Live if you want it….
On the plus side the ‘Live’ bit enables punters to actually drive cars, take part in a
4x4 Experience and the like, and this certainly seems to have led to an increase in
advance ticket sales. The flipside though is that many manufacturers simply don’t
take the show too seriously. Alfa Romeo and BMW, for example, are not exhibiting
at all and others like Audi and Mercedes-Benz are only showing a single model. In
Mercedes’ case that’s the Mercedes McLaren SLR – hardly a mainstream model.
Sadly, the Birmingham show all seems a bit downmarket compared with Frankfurt
or Geneva. We are certainly paying the price here for the decimation of our motor

New kids on the block
It’s not all doom and gloom though, for although many of the ‘new’ models had
already been seen in Geneva such as the Peugeot 407 for instance, the local
manufacturer took the wraps of the SW estate version. Renault meanwhile gave
the Modus its world debut; following on from the Espace and Scenic it’s a down-
sized MPV based on the Clio and no doubt will be followed by a rash of rivals from
other manufacturers. Toyota now is as much a European company as it is
Japanese, and new versions of the UK-built best-selling Corolla made their debut.

Wood Burners
The thought of a diesel-engined Jaguar would have led to shock-horror not so
long ago but the Coventry manufacturer was making much of it’s new 2.7-litre
twin-turbo V6 oil-burning S-Type. And indeed diesel-engined sportsters are in
vogue at the moment with various prototypes to be found around the halls.
Vauxhall’s VX220-based machine has been seen before but others such as
Mazda are getting in on the act with the Kusabi. The company says the concept
points the way ahead for Mazda.

Concepts, Concepts
Indeed it was good to see so many concepts at Birmingham even if they were not
all new – that’s the preserve of Geneva. Whilst Vauxhall again showed their
acclaimed Lightning, Lexus displayed LF-X. Whilst not expected to make it into
production the six-seat 4x4 crossover is a good indication of current thinking at
Lexus. Nissan too showed that they are thinking along similar lines with the
Murano and Qashqai. Meanwhile low-rent makers such as Hyundai and Kia seem
to be looking towards a more sporty image with the former showing the rather
attractive HCD8, a 2.7-litre V6-powered concept coupe whilst Kia went for an open-
top solution.

Underneath the Arches
As to the Brits, it was rather left to the specialist builders to fly the flag. Farboud
and Invicta supercars again made appearances (the former with rather attractive
adornments!) whilst TVR probably added yet more models to their bewildering
line-up. I wouldn’t want to be a production planner in Blackpool! More unusual is a
newcomer from Marcos, but they took the wraps off the pretty TS500 whilst Morgan
amazed the world with a Series 2 Aero 8. Noble used the occasion to reveal M400
and GTC variants on their M12 GTO. This is one company that is on the up even if
they have just sacked all their dealers in order to give their customers a better

Never Raced or Rallied
In the dim and distant past competition cars were excluded from the show
altogether, then came a designated Motorsport Day but now exhibitors are
incorporating competition cars into their displays. Vauxhall, for example, are
showing not one but two replicas of the mighty Monaro currently being
campaigned in the British GT Championship. Also on the stand is the BTCC-spec
Vectra they considered using instead of the trusty Astra Coupe this season. Word
is it may appear later in the year in diesel form. Elsewhere, Citroen, Fiat, Ford,
Peugeot and Subaru were all showing rally cars.

Centre Stage
Naturally it was sportscars that stole the show though, with Maserati’s MC12
taking pride of place, whilst Audi had their two R8’s and a pre-war Auto Union
accompanying the A6 on their stand. However, it looked like a case of ‘Honey, I
shrunk the drivers’ when basketball player John Amaechi posed with superstars
Allan McNish and Johnny Herbert. Allan even had to perch on Johnny’s shoulders
in order to see eye-to-eye with the big man! Marcos too brought along a Le Mans
racer. Jaguar hung an F1 car on the wall, and Lego have built a replica of Michael
Schumacher’s Ferrari. Probably best not to head-butt the Monaco tunnel with that
one though!

Quality Street
Inevitably it will be the exotica most people remember when they go home, with
pride of place going to Rolls-Royce’s 100EX, commissioned to mark the makes’
100th birthday. It was difficult to know which way to look however, what with the
MC12 glowering across the aisle at the MacMerc, a trio of Ferraris reposing next
door, and Lotus’ pretty collection of Elise and Exige models. There was an
impressive line-up of Porsches too, a Carrera GT taking pride of place on a stand
that was apparently larger than the Stuttgart plot in Geneva. That’s a measure of
how important the UK market is to them. A Carrera order placed now would see
you waiting until late ’05 for delivery evidently. Incidentally, they also had a bare-
bones chassis to drool over – it’s remarkably compact.

Not a great show then, but the innovations and live-action should at least assure it
of success.

John Elwin
June 2004

sportscarpros Scrutineering Bay

John Elwin and others on technical and other non racing activities
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