British International Motor Show 2008
Last held in 2006, the UK’s only motor show returns to ExCel, the riverside exhibition complex just a short drive from Canary Wharf. Despite large holes in the exhibitor list (no stands from BMW, Audi, Volvo, Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Porsche, Ferrari or Maserati), there was just enough to interest a Classic Driver reader wishing to while away half a day off from the office.
The sad fact of the matter is that ‘old school’ motor shows are devilishly expensive now. From a premium manufacturer’s perspective, targeted exposure to the ‘right crowd’ can be gained on a much more cost-effective basis via events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, or Salon Privé.
It’s a different matter for the mainstream, of course, and Vauxhall used the London Show to launch its next-generation, mid-size Insignia, and Alfa the goggle-eyed MiTo.
Up in Classic Driver territory, the main sphere of operations was the Ultimate Collection, based in the Platinum Suite, high up on the third floor of ExCel with access available only to specially invited guests, or those joining a hospitality package. In a slightly night-club-ish, air-conditioned atmosphere, visitors could sample cars from Ferrari (599 GTB, 612 Scaglietti and 430 Scuderia), Maserati (GranTurismo and Quattroporte), Aston Martin (DBS and ‘Kilgour’ V8 Vantage) and many more from Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, Koenigsegg, Lamborghini and Invicta.
You could also order a hand-made suit, hire a super-yacht and buy a Bentley by Breitling watch. As if you didn’t have anything else to do. The idea – a good one – was that it enabled genuine purchasers to have a leisurely look at their car/watch/boat/suit without the crush of everyday humanity and what’ll-she-do-mister catalogue collectors.
Downstairs with the heaving populace (well, journalists on Press Day, at any rate), the Ultimate Collection had another, more accessible, display of much the same material, including a noteworthy line-up of Spykers, such as the remarkable Zagato. So, little Johnny can still have a good look at a Ferrari or Aston... from a suitably respectful distance.
On the stands, Bentley gave the recently launched Continental Flying Spur Speed its global debut, the four-door enjoying stand-space with a GT Speed and an Azure. There was no room for a Brooklands but the Crewe manufacturer just found space for a Perspex display containing one of the big coupé’s colossal CCM front discs, fitted to Speed Bentleys, too. I never tire of gazing at these 405mm Frisbees: the largest brakes of any production passenger car on sale today.
Mercedes-Benz showcased its BlueTEC version of the stylish CLS, as well as several top-level AMGs, while those searching for ever-more M-B horsepower need only skip lightly across the carpet tiles to BRABUS. On the Bottrop manufacturer's stand was the recently launched Bullit Black Arrow, the matt-black 730bhp, V12-engined C-Class. I had a chance to talk with the company’s owner, Prof. Bodo Buschmann, and it’s likely we’ll be driving this car - on de-restricted Autobahns - before the end of the year. I cannot wait.
Lotus made news by launching its much-heralded Project Eagle. It turns out that the new car is a mid-engined 2+2, named the Evora, powered by a Lotus-tuned 3.5-litre V6 engine producing 280PS, and weighing just 1350kg. A lot of these figures relate to the ‘prototype’ so, although the revealed car appeared to be a running production model, there may well be many changes before the sleek GT appears on a street near you.
Over at Jaguar, the company’s XK/R-S took centre-stage, with the XK60 – a limited-edition version of the ‘standard’ XK8 coupé and convertible – launched in celebration of six decades of XKs. You get around £5000 of optional extras at no extra cost on every non-blown XK; that can’t be bad. Next door at Land Rover were the LRX concept and the most luxurious Range Rover yet: the Autobiography edition, with 'more leather than any Range Rover before'.
And yes, there was a trugful of ‘green’ cars, the most interesting of which being The Lightning Car Company’s Lightning, a 100% electric GT sports car. It did look good and, were it not for the fact that I expended several Joulotherms opening the hermetically sealed press pack, I’d say it was one of the highlights of the show.
Finally, if you fancy a break outside, there’s the Heritage Enclosure and Parade, a display of supercars past from AC, Ferrari, Maserati et al that drives in convoy four times round the block daily.
For further details, see www.britishmotorshow.co.uk.
Text: Steve Wakefield
Photos: Classic Driver
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