Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Essen 2013

A few weeks ago a DDK mate called me to ask if I fancied a road trip. He and a friend were planning to drive over for the big classic car show in Essen and had a spare seat. Did I fancy it? 

I thought long and hard for 1/10th second and said "Yes".  Not only was I going to be at a loose end for a few days, but I was also in the middle of trying to decide on a colour for my 911T project. After all, where else could I almost guarantee to see old Porsches in every available colour than at Germany's biggest classic car show in the 911's 50th anniversary year?

Techno Classica Essen (to give the show its full name) is certainly the most important, if not the biggest classic car show in Europe. Its been going for 25 years, and around 200,000 old car nuts turn up for each one. In contrast to the UK's strictly amateur hour event at the NEC, Techno Classica enjoys major support from the home manufacturers - not only a recognition of the importance the Germans place on their heritage, but also a reflection that for a long time the centre of gravity of the European motor industry has lain just to the west of River Elbe.
BMW Motorrad celebrates the ditch pump

We travelled up on Thursday afternoon, took the Eurotunnel (who else remembers how far away France was before they dug that?), and overnighted in a Belgian hotel before completeing the drive to Essen the next morning. It would have been completely painless had we not spent a lot of time driving around the exhibition centre trying to park before throwing in the towel and ending up at the Park & Ride, a full autobahn junction away.

It really is big. There were four massive exhibition spaces, and a whole series of smaller halls, corridors, nook, crannies, basements, mezzanines and courtyards. Every taste in old cars is catered for, from Pebble Beach grade Bugattis with a price tag that would fund a BBC pension to tatty 'Youngtimers' at  money you could almost afford. 

Steve McQueen's 911S; $1.4m to buy and
then restored to within an inch of its life. 
I say 'almost', but you would have to be very, very keen or a recent Lotto winner to buy anything at Essen. A mass hysteria overtakes vendors, and everything is marked up to an incomprehensible level.  I took lot of pictures but bought hardly anything other than a sustaining Wurst mit Bier (or two). Shame, really. I hadn't travelled equipped with a shopping list, but the very least I'd hoped to find was a 1/43rd scale model 911 in my chosen colour.

Germany and great automotive art, going together
 like pizza and pineapple  for 25 years
Eye-watering prices aside, everything automotive related was available at Essen, from dodgy art to rare parts, including any sort of clothing and memorabilia. All of the top flight European dealers take space, plenty of UK based firms come over too, along with a huge range of restoration specialists. It really does take a couple of days to see it all. 

How would Sir like his hotrod?
Later on we booked into our colourful and reasonably priced hotel on the other side of town, and spent the evening in a pizza restaurant where we enjoyed dinner and the sort of conversations that would provoke sighs of sad incomprehension in mixed company. Next day, eschewing the joys of parking miles from the halls, we used the inevitably clean, cheap and punctual public transport system and spent a second day at the show.

The signs of domination by the three big German car combines were subtle but easily seen. As a Brit proud of our industrial heritage, it was heart breaking to see Monte Carlo winning Minis celebrated in the BMW hall, and a 1926 Le Mans team Bentley sitting proudly in the middle of the VAG display areas - along with vintage Bugatti's and (whisper it) Porsche's classic arm. 
Porsche's stand in the VAG hall; not rammed with
jewels from their museum.

More VAG heritage, a 1926 Le Mans
team Bentley
Funnily enough, although I expected to see the choicest selections from Zuffenhausen's museum at Essen, the company thought fit to bring only a few cars, one of which was a 2013 vintage 991. 

Now there's an idea.....
But it wasn't a worry, old 911s of all varieties (and colours) were present in abundance, so I had plenty of opportunity to choose the ones I liked.

The third of Germany's automotive Goliaths, Mercedes Benz, had a hall the size of a First Class Cricket ground all to themselves, and laid on an incredible display fitting for the company that invented the car.

VW making a splash of the
7th generation GTi

Two full days were enough; after having covered endless miles on foot, rummaged through countless stalls, stared at priceless classics, gawped at lunatic prices, and pretty much decided what colour 911 I wanted it was time to head back to the UK.
The DS, amazing motorshow crowds for 63 years
Alfa booked a corner to display their
 stunning Tipo 33s
After a civilised breakfast on Sunday, we loaded up the lumpen riding (but abstemious) SportLine Audi A6 and returned along Belgium's poorly maintained autoroutes to Blighty. 

One of the Audi's occupants leavens his patrician Porsche habit with a rootsy enthusiasm for old Dagenham dustbins, so we stopped in a scruffy field off the M23 where a 'Classic Ford Car show' was taking place. 

The shaven headed, heavily tattooed Ford enthusiasts with their modified Escorts (baseball bat not quite hidden behind the front seats) and Sierras couldn't have been a bigger contrast to their fellows over the channel, and the vendors sitting behind trestle tables proudly displaying rusty, oily and unidentifiable components were a long way from the slick dealers at Essen ("Original works 917 steering wheel? Certainly sir, we have one in stock, a snip at 14,000 Euros").  

It was ironic then that those Kentish traders proved to be a happy hunting ground for valuable Porsche bits at below market prices. We left clutching a set of 356 horns, a rare 911 Sportomatic gear knob ("Any idea what its off guv? No? How about a fiver then?") and a 1/43rd model of a 911 in just the right colour.

Excellent trip.



Mick said...

Actually it was £2 for the sporto knob ......

Mick said...

Actually it was £2 for the sporto knob ......

Shoestring7 said...

But how much was the car you bought to go with it?